Why does she come everyday? “I am not an anarchist or protesting government,” she told me. “But I am protesting the corruption within government institutions.” Hansen said that the people who drive by are more supportive than negative, and that made her feel good. A fellow protestor named Hal chimed in: “They recognize us as people.”
Twenty-one-year-old Justin Bower, six foot one with a thick reddish beard, sleeps in a tent and described how layers of ten blankets on the ground and tarps wrapped around the tent keep him warm. He, too, had hoped of earning a college degree, and attended Manhattan Christian College in Manhattan, Kansas, for a year, but quit because “I didn’t want to be in debt the rest of my life.” He wanted to become a family therapist like his father, who had died a few years ago at age forty-two from lung cancer. “My family doesn’t have money,” he said. His mother worked as a family counselor at a childcare agency but was laid off last summer. A big chunk of the family income comes from Social Security survivor’s benefits for his younger brother and sister. He got similar benefits until he turned eighteen, which he said his mother used to pay the mortgage.
“I honestly want to see a revolution,” Bower explained. “Thomas Jefferson said for a government to stay on top of the people there needs to be a revolution every twenty years. The government has been corrupted, and we the people have to stand up to stop corruption. The country is becoming a hellhole. Government is not focused on what people need.” Bower told me he “studied up” on history and was attracted to the movement because of how “messed up” the world had become. He hoped the movement would spread worldwide.
I asked him to name five things that were wrong with the U.S. He listed government involvement in other countries, government censorship, the size of the federal government, government involvement in corporations, and the bank bailouts. Failing is what the free market is all about, he said. “There needs to be change, and I want to be part of the change.”
I asked Bower what he wants to do with his life. He replied he wanted to stay involved with the movement. Then he added: “I would love to go back to school and become a therapist, but I don’t see that happening. I would be in debt the rest of my life.”
Jo Tetherow is one of the camp’s leaders—a kind of mother hen. A fellow protestor says everyone respects and listens to her. At age sixty, she has had experience in the corporate world, and like all the protesters I chatted with, she is articulate and has been stung by the system. But Tetherow says the movement and the Lincoln protest have restored her faith in the political process. “Forty-seven days ago was the first day I wasn’t screaming to get back to New York. I now have a purpose,” which she described as telling people not to believe what the system is telling them. “Lost a Job, Found an Occupation,” reads the button pinned to her jacket. A protestor from Occupy Denver gave it to her.
Tetherow and her husband came to Lincoln three years ago when they lost their jobs as real estate appraisers in Rochester, New York, where she had appraised property for twenty-five years. “Our jobs fell apart because we were honest and ethical and had values. We got calls every single day to do things that were unethical or illegal—from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, Countrywide, just about every bank,” she said. The banks, she said, wanted them to ignore safety and structural concerns in the buildings and dwellings they appraised—defects like holes in the roof and non-functional bathrooms. “They’d say we need $200,000 in the appraisal, and I’d come back at $125,000, which was the true value. They wanted me to lie.” After a while, the firm they worked for gave them no more work and forced them out. She said this pressure began in the mid-1990s. Many appraisers had been saying that the loans being processed were a “disaster in the making, which they turned out to be.”