This afternoon I talked to the artist who made this — we’ll call it an artistic lean-to — that is outside the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s journalism school, as he began setting up a second tent next to it as the Occupation of Lincoln expanded north from its home a couple blocks away on Centennial Mall.
The artist responsible for this art on plywood wore sideburns, aviator sunglasses and a red and white striped shirt as he began assembling a second tent next to his artsy shelter. He said his name was Troy Davis, but seemed so reluctant to divulge that information I cannot be sure of it. On the inside of the lean-to is a picture of Che Guevara, the Argentine doctor who worked to emancipate the poor and has become a ubiquitous symbol of unyielding resistance.
“I just do art to make the world a better place,” Troy said.
Also working to expand the Occupation was a young man who said his name is Charles Holm. He graduated from UNL two years ago and has struggled to parlay his degree in international studies into a job. He worked for the AFSCME (union that represents public workers) in another state for awhile but returned to Lincoln and now works as a barback (bartender’s assistant). Holm has helped organize Lincoln’s version of the Wall Street Occupation, and said there are now about 60 people on the mall — 30 to 40 of them campers willing to brave the elements. He said they have nightly meetings in their camp, but they’re thinking about moving that meeting to the capitol steps to make more of a statement.
He said many of the protesters are college students, people who work downtown and a couple of families. He said the group is trying to get more students to join the protest (hence, the creep toward campus).
They serve three square meals a day, and yes, some homeless people have been partaking in the free food. He said the protestors went to the local food bank to get blankets for the homeless and when they saw how barren the shelves were, they decided to try to help raise funds for the bank. So far, the city hasn’t hassled them about camping out on the mall.
That’s because city officials can’t find anything illegal about what they’re doing: Centennial Mall is not a park. When it was converted from a street to a mall, it remained a right-of-way, so it’s a public space with no closing hours. Mayor Chris Beutler told radio show hosts Jack & John that the camping protests are a concern, but the city can’t really do anything about it without infringing upon their free speech rights.
Beutler indicated the law “needs further refinement” — but indicated that won’t be done right now, because it would be seen as targeting this protest. One caller questioned the legality of serving three meals a day without any permits, and the mayor said he’d look into that. The caller also questioned where the protesters are, uh, relieving themselves.
To which the mayor said, “You raise pertinent issues.”