Occupy NH takes on dual forms

Last modified: 7/23/2012 12:00:00 AM
If yesterday's any proof, the newly divided Occupy New Hampshire will live on, in two distinct groups, each claiming to be the real voice of the '99 percent.'

Yesterday, while several Occupiers who recently incorporated the movement's name and evicted all Free Staters gathered in Manchester to protest Republican Congressman Frank Guinta, nearly 40 other Occupiers, along with some Free Staters, met on the State House lawn to plan their next actions.

The latter group came up with a solidarity statement declaring their Occupy New Hampshire open and inclusive.

'There is one Occupy New Hampshire,' Sherry Gould of Warner told the crowd outside the State House yesterday. 'We are all in this together. We care about a common enemy, and the enemy is not each other.'

At least that's their hope. And the other group, for now, isn't objecting.

'If they want to be Occupy New Hampshire that is fine, I guess,' said Mark Provost of Manchester, who helped lead the split with Free Staters and attended the Manchester protest yesterday.

The Occupy New Hampshire movement, whose size is hard to judge beyond the 6,290 people who have 'liked' it on Facebook, is going through some growing pains.

At issue is the relationship between the Occupy movement, which favors better wages, stronger unions and more social services, and the Free Staters, who by and large oppose all those causes.

Members of both groups had been co-existing under the Occupy umbrella for about a year by focusing on their common goals: making government more transparent and eliminating the influence money has over politics and public policy.

That relationship hit a hurdle last week, when several Occupiers filed paperwork with the secretary of state's office to make Occupy New Hampshire a nonprofit. In doing so, they said there is 'no room' in the movement for the Free State Project.

Nor will that collection of Occupiers allow Free Staters or anyone else to openly carry handguns at their events because guns have made some members nervous.

So, what does the Occupy New Hampshire movement look like now?

First, it has two, separate pages on Facebook, the movement's primary tool for communicating and organizing. The new, nonprofit/no-Free Stater version is at facebook.com/OccupyNH. The other one is facebook.com/OccupyNewHampshire.

Second, they are having their own events.

About 15 members of the nonprofit version of Occupy joined another group in Manchester yesterday to rally against Guinta, who was at the Fisher Cats stadium. Carl Gibson, spokesman for a group called Take Down Frank Guinta, said the Occupiers joined about 30 others to line the road to the stadium in time for Guinta's arrival.

Their main prop was a 50-foot sign that said Guinta is the Most Vile Politician; Gibson said Guinta has voted against women, students and veterans.

Meanwhile, the other Occupy group met on the State House lawn. For more than an hour, members aired their feelings about the split and their hopes for the future. They then went on to decide what causes they want to partner with and what outreach efforts they'll do next.

Katherine Pheanis of Manchester said she supports Occupy because it shares her belief that the federal government needs a public audit. The split over guns and ideology 'is a distraction,' Pheanis said. 'We should be focusing on the issues we already have solidarity on.'

Autumn Kent of Manchester choked up when she revealed that she had voted with the other group last week to form a nonprofit. She explained that she did so because she realized the others were going to incorporate with or without her. She went along with them, she said, to be a voice of reconciliation with the Free Staters.

'I was very naive a week ago,' Kent said before announcing she was leaving the Occupy movement because of that divide. 'My heart is broken.' When several in the group pleaded with Kent to stay, she did.

Matthew Hunt, a Free Stater from Manchester, said he valued Occupy's method of decision-making. Everyone is allowed a say in everything, from what's on the agenda to what the group's mission will be.

'I think this is an opportunity for bridge-building,' Hunt said.

A Milford man who did not want to give his full name, urged the group to file a letter of protest with the secretary of state's office objecting to the incorporation of the name. That move did not have much support yesterday.

A woman who also did not want to give her name defended anyone who wants to openly carry a gun to an Occupy event. 'It's not meant to take away your rights,' she said of someone's decision to arm oneself. 'It's an expression of their rights.'

Theresa Earle of Henniker said last week's internal strife proves what she has said since joining Occupy over a year ago.

'The hardest part (of being in Occupy) is having to talk to people you disagree with at your core and still work together for progress,' she said. 'This is a good opportunity to reconnect and decide what we want to do and get that work done, because we have a lot to do.'

Will Hopkins of Belmont, director of NH Peace Action, arrived with a written statement but realized the intended audience - the Occupiers who split off - were not there. He read it anyway.

'I don't think any of us can afford to exile, schism or expel who challenges (the corporate state),' he said. 'I have made a personal commitment to nonviolence, but figuratively speaking, we have a long war ahead of us, and we are desperately outmanned, outgunned and out-financed. As far as I'm concerned, we need every blade we can call up.'

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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