As of Sunday morning, Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown Pensacola sported doughnuts, milk and a makeshift library. Participants in Occupy Pensacola made it through the night.
The occupation in Pensacola — affiliated with the broader movement, taking its cue from New York’s Occupy Wall Street — started Saturday.
“I don’t want to call it a revolution, just because of the stigma behind that,” said Gary Paull Jr., one of the organizers behind of the local Occupy event. “I think as the movement continues it will continue to evolve.”
In mid-September, people began protesting a wide variety of issues in the financial district of New York City. They’ve been there since, and inspired similar “Occupy” events across the country. The group draws inspiration from this year’s Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, and loosely aims to overhaul what they view as a rigged power structure.
“The root of it is corruption,” said Katie Krasinski
Krasinski sat under a canopy in the Plaza Saturday holding a sign depicting Jesus Christ upending the temple’s marketplace.
“I’ve been called a communist, I’ve been called an atheist,” she said. “I’m a good mom who doesn’t want to go through another great depression.”
Owner of local Dolce Vita Art Bar, Krasinski hasn’t always been into politics, or issues in general. She said last year’s oil spill opened her eyes.
“That got me looking into the corruption and it’s just shocking,” she said. “You have to educate yourself. It’s a burden. It’s like opening Pandora’s box, once it’s open there’s no turning back.”
Krasinski talked about a system which sees “greedy corporations buying politicians to get what they want” and how it needs to be reformed. She hopes the Occupy movement is the beginning of such a large-scale change. To that end, the business owner has offered up her store as a place for the local group to meet, discuss issues, make signs, or whatever else needs to be taken care of.
“I’m in it,” Krasinski said, “to do whatever I can.”
Watching the Plaza’s main circle, Pensacola Police Department Officer Jamon Johnson sweated out the afternoon heat. In other cities, demonstrators and authorities have clashed. Pensacola’s event has seen very little police presence thus far.
“I don’t know that much about the movement,” Officer Johnson said, observing the occupation. “I think it’s a positive cause as far as I can see.”
Johnson said that the police didn’t expect to have any problems. If the Occupy event didn’t wrap up when its permit expired at 7 p.m., he said, the authorities would steer away from any possible confrontations.
“Yeah, we’d try to,” Johnson said. “As long as there weren’t any problems.”
Stealing a moment off to the side of the event Saturday, Paull said he wasn’t sure what might happen if people decided to stay.
“I don’t know how the city is going to respond,” he said. “But I do know that there are people that want to occupy in earnest.”
Sunday morning, Paull was casually lounging in his lawnchair along side other Occupiers. Chalk messages popped out of the Plaza’s sidewalks in rainbow colors. Slowly a few more people joined the overnight campers.
Will any of this have any real effect? As he looked out over the hundreds gathered on the downtown plaza during Occupy Pensacola’s first day, Paull said he didn’t know, but was hopeful.
“Our forefathers asked the same exact thing,” he said. “I consider myself a realist, but I have high hopes for change.”