COLUMBIA — Sleeping bags were stacked on the plaza outside the Daniel Boone City Building on Thursday morning.
A man in a blue and brown tie-dyed shirt swept the ground around the duffles and cleaned up fried chicken and strudel boxes. A half-dozen others held up neon-colored signs at cars driving past.
Posters quoting James Madison and advocating for a government by the people were propped up against the Keys to the City.
People have been demonstrating outside of the Boone Building for about 10 days under the banner of Occupy COMO. The group, which is also tweeting its activity, is part of a movement to support Occupy Wall Street in New York City. The movement, which began in September, is protesting corporate greed and an increasing wealth gap in America.
Nicholas Berry, 29, self-employed arborist
As of 8:40 a.m. Thursday, Nicholas Berry had been up for more than 24 hours. He arrived at Occupy COMO at 2 a.m. and spent the night talking to media representatives.
He said he’s there because people need to start standing up for their civil rights.
“Everybody is tired of struggling, being broke,” he said. “People want more fairness in our economy.”
Berry said he has $15,000 in student loan debt, and he’s watched his parents, whom he classified as middle class, struggle to make their house payment. His father is a truck driver, and his mother is a janitor for MasterCard.
Meanwhile, he said, the government is dumping money into wars and has granted the same rights to corporations as to private individuals.
“We want our country back,” he said and equated it to “your car taking off without you.”
Berry said he isn’t politically affiliated and that advocating for more than two political parties is part of what Occupy COMO is about. Having more parties would offer “more ideals,” he said.
The Occupy COMO group will stay indefinitely, Berry said, but he’s certain there will be a catalyst at some point that will give the movement more traction.
“People have just gotten too comfortable,” he said.
Douglas Triplett, 30, unemployed
Douglas Triplett said he’s been waiting for this for 15 years.
“A bunch” of ancient cultures and the Bible predicted what Triplett called this “awakening of a conscience mind.”
The Mayan culture wasn’t prophesying the end of the world in 2012, Triplett said, but the beginning of a new era. Similarly, the Bible teaches there will be one world government, monetary system and religion, he said, and he believes this is it.
Triplett, who is “houseless,” has been at Occupy COMO for three days.
He’s there he said because he’s frustrated by the corporate takeover of countries. Triplett said it’s not the president or Congress running the country but the people who have the most money. He said there were 487 people and families controlling the world’s wealth, but it’s 486 now, because Steve Jobs died.
“Open your freaking eyes,” Triplett said. “It’s there.”
Derek Sechrist, 36, unemployed
Derek Sechrist is protesting outside City Hall for “a thousand reasons.”
Revenue laws, the prison management business and lack of government transparency are just a few of the reasons Sechrist has spent the past week with Occupy COMO.
Sechrist, a self-described constitutionalist, has been unable to find a job he said because he lacks identification. He hopes that Occupy COMO is able to spark conversation and social change.
“I’m just trying to express awareness,” Sechrist said. “We want true change.”
Sechrist said he feels as if the government is more interested in looking after corporations than its people.
“What we want is the people to acknowledge us,” Sechrist said, adding that he will continue to occupy the space outside the city building for “as long as it takes.”
Jacob “Donnie” Morris, 18, unemployed
Jacob “Donnie” Morris is no stranger to sleeping outside.
But Wednesday night was the first time he did so to make a social statement.
“I’m here to help out,” Morris said. “I can relate to those who are trying their hardest to make money.”
Morris has been homeless for about a month and has no job. A high school drop-out, he moved out of his family home to try to ease some of the financial pressures caused by his presence.
“I just figured if I could take myself out and support myself, it would be easier on my dad,” Morris said.
Morris said he doesn’t have a political viewpoint, but he wants the government to lower taxes for the middle class. He said he doesn’t want the middle class to fear losing their homes.
Morris said he’ll continue protesting as long as he needs to — “until the government realizes we, the people, want more things to support ourselves.”
Jeff Reed, 30, unemployed
Jeff Reed of Moberly lost his job in sales last week. He joined Occupy COMO for the first time Thursday.
“I’ve never been in this situation before and I’m scared," Reed said. "But most of all, I’m inspired."
Reed, secretary of the Randolph County Democrats, describes himself as a progressive. He said that he will continue to support Occupy COMO for as long as he can when he’s not busy looking for a job.
Reed said he wants people to be more aware and more involved. He said the occupation movement is about “getting people together now and figuring it out as we go along.”
“For the most part, it’s just to get people engaged again,” Reed said.
Reed said the biggest issue affecting Americans today is joblessness.
“We need to put people back to work,” he said.