COLUMBIA, S.C. — About four dozen Occupy Columbia protesters marched around the University of South Carolina campus Thursday and then returned to the Statehouse grounds, a day after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ordered them off the lawn after sunset and 19 of them were arrested.
"All she did was pour fuel on the fire," protester Calvin Bennett, of Sumter, said of Haley's order. "Arresting people was an accelerant. All she did was help us out and let people know what we are about."
Bennett, 40, a self-employed car detailer who wasn't arrested on Wednesday, said the group marched several blocks away to the USC campus to inform students of the protestors' return and to show solidarity with others on the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Holding signs and getting periodic honks from passing cars, several of the protesters said they intend to continue their activities and maintain their right to protest under the Constitution.
They said they planned to meet Thursday evening, but just across the street from the Statehouse so as not to be threatened with arrests again.
"We're back!" said Dillon Corbett, 21, of Columbia. "Regardless of what the governor says, we are going to continue."
Corbett said he was not among those arrested Wednesday evening, nor were several others who raised posters in the air and were greeted by periodic honks from drivers. Corbett said he and others decided not to join the group that was arrested so they could return Thursday.
"Democracy. Government by the People," his placard read. "Freedom of Speech ends at 6 p.m." read another.
Richland County officials said all 19 protesters were released from jail early Thursday. A spokeswoman declined to say what type of bond they had posted.
On Wednesday under a driving rain, the protesters made a stand between a Confederate flag and a monument to Confederate war dead on the Statehouse grounds.
Haley had ordered them to leave after complaining about public urination and toilet paper strewn in bushes. She said the occupation of more than a month had cost $17,000 in police overtime and other expenses. Haley's office had not responded to a request for the breakdown of those costs by late afternoon, but a spokesman said they were researching it.
Michele Hobart, 53 and from Columbia, said she paused to watch the protesters Thursday afternoon "because it does my heart good to see these young people speaking up."
Hobart, who said she had just graduated from a medical technologist's degree from Midlands Technical College, said she shares their worries about the economy and lack of jobs because she has been forced to leave South Carolina to find employment in Wyoming.
"I understand where these kids are coming from," she said.
South Carolina's budget for this fiscal year locked in Medicaid program cuts at the Department of Health and Human Services. It eliminated or reduced a variety of Medicaid services, including adult dental and vision services, home health care visits and more.
Columbia lawyer Jay Bender said the decision to arrest protesters recalls a 1960s arrest of black protesters who marched to the Statehouse. Columbia's city manager at the time told them to leave in 45 minutes or be arrested. The protesters appealed convictions then all the way the U.S. Supreme Court and won.
Bender said the Occupy Columbia protesters seemed to be a model of cooperation. They complied with a no-tent rule, didn't hassle Statehouse visitors, didn't interfere with traffic and agreed to stop drumming and chanting by 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, Haley's order raises questions about freedom of speech and unpopular messages.
"In a democracy, you don't have to have the government's permission to protest what the government is doing," Bender said.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin questioned the governor's concerns about protests that have been nonviolent so far.
"The Statehouse doesn't belong to 124 representatives, 45 senators or one governor. It belongs to the people of South Carolina," Benjamin said.
Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, also questioned Haley's approach.
"Putting property before people and their constitutional rights suggests our state government has the wrong priorities. Peaceful protest is the right of every American," Middleton said in a statement.
Tim Liszewski, one of those arrested, said by phone that all those detained were released without putting up bail money after an 11 p.m. bond hearing. He said all face a Dec. 14 trial date on the same charge, unauthorized use of the Statehouse or its grounds.Comment on this story
Corbett and fellow protester Lauren Rhue, 23, of Columbia, said the group will fight the charges.
"Until the legal fight plays out, we'll be here," Rhue said.
Rhue said the group may choose another location to protest. They also said they chose not to be arrested on Wednesday so they could return the following day.
As they spoke, workmen behind them in three bucket trucks continued to prepare a Christmas tree for a lighting ceremony set for Nov. 28.
Associated Press writer Jim Davenport contributed to this report. Susanne M. Schafer can be reached at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap