SALT LAKE CITY — Wanting to get a heads-up on the outlook for the New Year, I moseyed into Salt Lake's newest and, I might add, most affordable community: Occupy SLC.
I think someone with a sense of humor decided on the occupiers' current location. Their dozen or so tents are stuck like a displaced REI showroom in a corner of the Gallivan Center plaza, directly in the shadow of American finance.
To the north is the huge One Utah Center building with its commanding "Chase" sign on the top. Across the street is the new, gleaming-glass headquarters of Goldman Sachs. And to the south, close enough to reach out and touch, is the towering Wells Fargo Center, the second tallest structure in the state.
"I have many issues with Wells Fargo," says Seth Neily, the 31-year-old de facto community leader of Occupy SLC as he cranes his neck to look up at the 24-floor building. "But my biggest one right now is they block our sun."
He shakes his head.
"From noon to four," he says, "we get nothin'."
How's that for a metaphor? The movement that started because the bankers get to make (and break) all the rules can't see the sun because too many bankers are in the way.
Still, they persevere, although in a much scaled-down fashion as December turns into January and 2011 turns into 2012.
Since its relocation from Pioneer Park, the population of Occupy SLC has descended to anywhere from 12 to 14, depending on the temperature – and they're all men.
There are still women believers, I'm told, and they'll reportedly be back when there's more sun.
Anyway, the rent's right. Absolutely free, courtesy of the Freedom of Expression permit the city gave the occupiers along with the tiny plot of taxpayer-paid-for cement smack in the center of downtown.
Does all this bode well for the future? That's what I want to know.
Is any of this going to help?
I ask Seth, who is standing next to a hand-lettered poster that passes as Occupy City's welcome sign:
"We're still Here."
Well, he says, he sure hopes so.
"My hope is that in the coming year we'll help more people awaken to their surroundings," he says, "that we will remove our blinders and bridge the gap of diversity and see each other for who we really are. The stereotypes will disappear and we won't judge one another by what we're wearing or how we look."
He says he dropped out of college so he could sleep out in the cold, quote Thomas Paine, resemble a John Steinbeck character, and spread this word.
"Mass movements," is the answer, he says, "it's the only way; the ultimate form of community."
I ask how long they'll stay? How long can they keep this up? And Daniel Keener, 38, another Occupy SLC resident, pipes up.
"Till our voices are heard!" he says. "Till people stop coming by and asking who we are and what we're about!"
Then another resident emerges from the tents. Steven Eidman is 51, a self-confessed crack addict, albeit a recovering one, 23 months removed from his last high.
He somehow made his way (don't ask) from Rochester, N.Y., to Utah and discovered this local band of Occupiers, offering a clean, drug-free alternative from the other, considerably dodgier, outside sleeping options in town.
Steven considers my "How long will you stay?" question more thoughtfully.
Finally, he looks up and says, "Oh, I don't know. How big is your house?"
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.
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