Growing pains: Occupy Charlottesville gets personal
Secrecy, personal vendettas and radicalization are at the root of problems being experienced by the Occupy Charlottesville movement, which a founding member feels is on the brink of splitting apart at the seams.
“It feels like chopping off a limb. The people there … I thought they were pretty good people. But I realize that the real issue there is not my issue, but other people’s issues that are festering,” said Evan Knappenberger, an Albemarle High School graduate and Iraq war veteran who signed for the group’s first permit and helped to negotiate the group’s stay in Lee Park with police.
What had begun as a movement that was supposed to be an “expression of the community’s will” devolved into a “recruiting tool for radical feminists and anarchists trying to radicalize people using the movement as a facade,” Knappenberger said in an interview with The Augusta Free Press on Monday.
A key issue to Knappenberger was an ongoing debate over the term “nonviolence.” Knappenberger said several members were playing around with the definition, which to him seems resolute.
“The tone was, What is nonviolence? Well, I reserve the right to defend myself, whatever that means,” Knappenberger summarized the discussion.
Occupy Charlottesville addressed this issue head-on in a news release sent out late Monday night.
“We, the participants in Occupy Charlottesville, collectively and wholeheartedly affirm our commitment to nonviolence. We all desire the best possible relationship with our community. That includes law enforcement,” read the statement adopted by the Occupy Charlottesville General Assembly Monday evening.
“As a matter of conscience, some of us choose to obey all laws and obtain all permits in the course of our occupation. We believe we best serve our community and ideals by entirely legal direct action. Also as a matter of conscience, some of us may choose to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience. We believe we best serve ourcommunity through nonviolent direct action which may include sit-ins and other methods of passive resistance. These may result in our arrests. We consider it ethical to physically but nonaggressively shield ourselves and others from violence in the course of such actions. We will not attack or retaliate against any member of law enforcement or anyone else,” the statement read.
Knappenberger saw something far different in his interactions with a few group members who he feels are at best using statements about nonviolence as cover.
“This is what anarchists do. It’s their methodology,” said Knappenberger, who will leave Charlottesville this week to return to his current home in Washington state with mixed emotions about his role in Occupy Charlottesville.
“With any movement, there are going to be differences of opinion. That should be understood,” said Knappenberger, who still supports “the idea of the movement” and plans to involve himself with the Occupy effort upon his return to Washington state.
“I feel really good. I feel like I helped a lot of people. I did some tutoring. I was helping feed homeless people. I feel like I did a lot of good. I want to remember that stuff. I hopefully can try to forget the personal-vendetta stuff that was going on,” Knappenberger said.