Wineka column: Occupy Mount Ulla fails to captivate the masses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011

MOUNT ULLA — I was the perfect person for Occupy Mount Ulla. Having no direction in my life, I fell right in with a leaderless movement.
I also wanted to stick it to The Man.
And the fields, silos, barns and back roads of bucolic Mount Ulla were more my speed than, say, Wall Street.
So I tore off two strips of duct tape and fastened my homemade “Occupy Mount Ulla” sign to a utility pole Wednesday morning at the intersection of N.C. 801 and Centenary Church Road.
I held another sign in front of me that said, “We Are the 99%.” I had a thermos of coffee nearby and a smart phone for “Tweeting” and posting updates to Facebook.
Let me say up front, I was a curiosity.
“Stick it to all those Mount Ulla fat cats,” J.C. Bringle said on Twitter.
“Did anyone invite the cows?” John Sherrill commented on Facebook.
Mike Cline asked, “Are you sober?”
When I boasted on Facebook that Occupy Mount Ulla was both revolution and revelation, David Whisenant asked first what my demands were before adding, “Revelation? Are you wearing pants?”
Many motorists regarded me and my signs quickly, given they were traveling at least 55 mph on N.C. 801. Some drivers or their passengers waved. Only one trucker honked his horn in support of the rebellion.
When the infrequent cars or trucks traveled toward me on Centenary Church Road, they had to stop right next to me — awkward for the people inside.
They ignored me, as if I were a homeless person looking to wash their windshields for money, or they regarded me as a religious zealot warning that “The End is Near.”
But it didn’t take long for a woman heading east to turn her car around, park it next to my truck across the road and walk over for a conversation.
Lauren (she didn’t want me to use her last name) has been participating in Occupy Charlotte, so we immediately bonded.
I explained who I was and how my occupying tiny Mount Ulla was more or less an experiment — how would people react to the message behind the “Occupy” protests. And what really was that message?
I asked Lauren why she participated in the Charlotte occupation.
“The greed,” she said. “I really think it’s disgusting.”
Lauren is a 32-year-old single mother of two young children who’s fighting hard to stay afloat. She recently landed an insurance job that on Wednesday morning was taking her from Huntersville to Salisbury.
She figures she has earned only $1,000 in the past three months. From April until just recently, she had no health insurance for her family, and she has a son with a birth defect who requires regular medical care.
“I go down (to Occupy Charlotte) as often as I can,” Lauren said, taking my picture to share with other Occupy friends. She described the way things are going in our country these days as backwards.
“I’m just fed up,” Lauren said.
As a college student 10 years ago in Washington, D.C., Lauren picketed against the World Bank and globalization. She landed in jail for five days for protesting without a permit.
“I still feel as passionate today as I did back then,” Lauren said.
A couple of guys from Simmons Equipment and Truck Service pulled up in their pickup and asked what my “99%” sign meant.
As best as I can tell, the “Occupy” movement we’ve witnessed across the country this past month has been about the inequity Americans are seeing between the 1 percent who are rich and becoming richer and the 99 percent for whom things keep getting worse.
I told the guys in the truck we were part of the 99 percent. I also informed them I worked for the newspaper and asked, “Did you think I was crazy?”
“No,” the guy closest to me said. His eyes said otherwise.
April Sherrill and her dog, Roxie, paid me a visit before walking across the tracks to the Mount Ulla Post Office. She and her husband, Carlyle, live right down the road, where the family raises champion Santa Gertrudis cattle.
My 99 percent sign was the funniest thing she had seen, April said. Then she saw the “Occupy Mount Ulla” sign and laughed some more.
When she returned from getting her mail, April said the lady at the post office had advised her not to talk to me — I might be crazy. More giggles.
A westbound cyclist, churning his legs up the N.C. 801 hill, yelled “Me, too,” over his shoulder when he saw the 99 percent sign. Another guy in a pickup stopped to see what I was doing.
I explained how I wanted to bring my Occupy experiment to a new place “out in the middle of nowhere,” such as Mount Ulla.
“Hey, wait a minute,” he said. “I live out here.”
About 11 a.m., a woman driving toward me honked her horn, and I proudly raised my sign a little higher. But I soon realized she wasn’t acknowledging me but trying to avoid the three deer crossing N.C. 801 in front of us.
“Were they carrying signs?” Win Minter asked after I posted the deer sighting on Facebook.
Otherwise, I compare the loneliness I felt most of Wednesday morning to that of the Maytag repairman. But I still think there’s something to this Occupy movement, even if it’s hard to explain for now.
There’s a real frustration boiling to the surface with a dysfunctional government and the lack of accountability for corporations who caused the mess we’re in.
As a nation — at least for 99 percent of us — our income is falling. But worse than that, so are our expectations.
I also sense misgivings out there about the movement’s neophyte protesters. If they’re anything like I was Wednesday, they’re still looking for their legs. Meanwhile, many detractors see them as over-privileged underachievers — spoiled brats who should just suck it up and deal with things not going as well as they once did.
This would explain the passing motorist who flipped me the bird not long before I ended Occupy Mount Ulla Wednesday.
Back in the office later in the afternoon, I received an email from April Sherrill telling me “the movement is catching on.”
During my occupation, I stood across the road from a fallen tree, massive in size, that had been sawed into large pieces. Since my departure, April had attached two signs.
One said, “Free Wood.”
The other said, “Free the People.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@