COLUMBIA — No more than 15 people gathered outside the Daniel Boone City Building on Saturday morning for the Occupy COMO protest, but more than 1,600 people "like" the group on Facebook.
For the past 12 days, Columbia residents have gathered in front of the city building to protest corporate greed and advocate for the “99 percent” of Americans who protesters said are excluded from the majority of the country’s wealth. Occupy Wall Street started a protest in New York City 21 days ago, and similar protests throughout the country have popped up since. The Columbia protesters are calling the area in front of the city building Liberty Plaza after the location of the New York protests.
The protesters on Eighth Street and Broadway are gaining community support and seeking organization. Protesters will hold a general assembly at 8 p.m. Saturday, Occupy COMO's first official meeting, in an attempt to give the group some cohesion as it moves forward.
People who aren’t holding signs have still found ways to help. Hotbox Cookies, located across the street from where the protesters are gathered, is open late and provides protesters with a bathroom once the Boone Building closes each evening.
"I’ll go with them," Hotbox Cookies owner Corey Rimmel said. "I would never go and stand out there, but I’m not going to throw things at them. I definitely like that they’re trying to get something accomplished."
He added: "They’re right next to us. They’re bringing people downtown, and I support that."
Other businesses have supplied the protesters with food.
Crystal Martin, the general manager of Ingredient, brought enough wraps and chips for those assembled Wednesday evening.
"We know that a lot of the Mizzou students are involved in this Occupy COMO thing," Martin said. "We want to show our support to the community of students. ... I think it’s a great thing for people to stop by and see such a young community base."
She added that she spoke for herself, not for her company. "I think it’s really amazing to see this young generation standing up for something."
Protesters said an unknown donor set up a prepaid tab for them at the Columbia Coffee Express, Billiards has supplied them with free ice, an employee from Clovers Natural Market brought bread and many passersby have donated cash for food, pizzas and homemade breakfasts. People at the Boone Building have allowed them to use Wi-Fi and electronic outlets.
"A lot of it is just local people," Nicholas Berry, a protester, said. "People bring breakfast every morning — just people that can’t be here because they have families, but they’re like, 'Here’s breakfast for all you guys.'"
Wider circles of support
The Huffington Post ranked Columbia's Occupy COMO page as the 68th most popular page out of more than 250 Occupy pages nationwide. By Thursday, 450,000 Facebook users had liked Occupy Wall Street pages across the country, according to the article.
People gathered on Saturday did not see eye to eye on the role their Facebook supporters should play.
"I think it’s wonderful that we can say, 'Hey we have 1,600 likes,' but I’ve only seen 16 people in the last 24 hours," said Juleena Meggers, who had been protesting for two days. She said it was most important, though, that people work together, however they choose to do so.
Douglas Triplett, another protester, told several others when he learned how many Facebook supporters they had.
"The whole 1,600 likes — that is so freaking cool, I’m giddy about it," he said. He said he thought it made sense that more people could support the cause on Facebook than they could in person.
"What that tells me is that, OK, at any given time on a good night, we can have 60 to 70 people here," he said. "But the next night it’ll be 60 to 70 different people. Thirty to 40 of those people are new every night."
Ariel Ceara had protested for 11 days. She is one of several administrators on the group’s Facebook page, but between working full time as a maid and protesting everyday, she said she has little time to monitor the page.
“We simply have a problem with people thinking they’re going to moderate the site and then never showing up,” she said. “I barely have time to be on the Facebook page.”
Ceara said anyone who wanted could be an administrator on the Facebook page; for her it was more important to be with the protesters.
Ceara said she thought more people weren't at the plaza because they did not yet realize how applicable the movement was to their lives.
“I think a lot of it is people who think it’s really cool that we’re out here but don’t see how it applies to them yet,” she said. “They don’t really feel that it applies to them, and they don’t realize that it directly applies to them. They are the 99 percent.”
Meggers said the idea that those protesting were all homeless or jobless is a misconception.
“I would say the majority of the people that are truly contributing to this on a regular basis have a home and a job and life and are choosing to do this,” she said. “We have had a handful of men that have contributed a good part of their day that are of retiring age, or would have been five years ago.”