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Occupy protesters offered new campsite at AFL-CIO property

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Protesters aligned with the Occupy Wall Street movement have been guaranteed a new place to set up camp should Charleston officials require them to leave Davis Park.

Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer for the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said about 30 protesters could stay on a lot at the organization's property at 501 Leon Sullivan Way.

AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue met with the protesters Monday and promised them the space along with any other needs they may have, Matheney said.

Davis Park closes at 6 p.m. It is a crime for any person to remain, stroll or play at the park after it has closed, according to a city ordinance.

Last week, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told the protesters that they could not establish a permanent encampment at the park. The protesters have been there for about two weeks and have set up more than nine tents.

Electricity was cut off to the park Friday night to deter overnight camping, said Charleston mayoral assistant Rod Blackstone.

However, some protesters said they have no intention to leave the park until the national government makes strides in socioeconomic equality. The protesters are assembled at the site in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in New York City in September. Every state has had an Occupy movement, according to the movement's official website.

Protesters across the country say they represent the "99 percent" of the American people suffering because of the economic policies of the wealthiest "1 percent."

A supporter from Logan County donated a gasoline-powered generator and a kerosene heater. The protesters use the generator for food preparation and huddle around the heater for warmth.

Maggie Fry, a protester from Charleston, said the move to the AFL-CIO lot would be a "last resort."

Fry said Davis Park was meant to be their permanent camp until city officials began catching heat from people who oppose the movement.

The protesters set up at Haddad Riverfront Park earlier this month but were asked to move because the site is frequently rented for wedding ceremonies.

Theresa Casto, a protester from Cross Lanes, said she understands the concerns of city officials. However, most community members are in favor of their messages and accept them staying at the park, she said.

"I'd hate to be in [Mayor Jones'] position because he has pressure from the other side," Casto said. "But we've been really pleased from the community's support."

Former U.S. Congressman and West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler visited the protesters Monday and donated $500 of his own money to their cause.

Hechler said he supports the movement because of its push for workers' rights and taxation of the nation's most wealthy.

"We hope this will bring balance to the economy rather than just enriching the richest people on Wall Street," he said.

Matheney said his organization supports the movement for the same reason.

"The labor movement and the Occupy Wall Street movements are linked to very top levels, right down to Charleston," he said.

Some protesters said they will do whatever it takes to make their voices heard -- even if that includes being arrested for trespassing at the park.

"A lot of people are afraid of getting arrested, but we are committed to do so if it comes down to it," Fry said.

Hechler said he told the protesters he wants to be arrested alongside them if that should happen.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.

 


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