Cabarrus

Cabarrus professionals help 'Occupy Charlotte'

Lifelong Harrisburg resident Gifford Cordova says there are two types of people involved in the Occupy movement: occupiers and supporters.

The Charlotte-area entertainer and performer said the occupiers generally are younger people who camp at various sites in major cities around the globe, while supporters often are established professionals who help educate, or even feed, those involved in the movement.

The Occupy movement began this fall as an international protest against economic and social inequality.

Cordova, 32, has two children, but still commutes between his permanent tent sites in Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington, D.C., to support the cause. He also will set up a site near British Columbia later this year.

Cordova said he at first had no idea what Occupy was about.

"I really thought that they were just a bunch of hippies doing nothing but sitting around," he said.

After visiting Occupy Charlotte, he changed his mind.

"I realized that these people had the same concerns that I had and were educating themselves on the same things that I was educating myself on," he said. "Each of us is standing together to protest that things are not right and that something needs to be done. ... People are upset and worried."

He hopes his website, www.projecteducate.us, will steer the country and Occupy supporters in the right direction.

"Material things used to be my goal in life, now my goals are helping and teaching people to be smarter and treat others kindly," Cordova said. "I don't know how far this journey will take me but I know I am doing the right thing. Occupy itself will not stop. The amount of positive people attached to this movement will prevail."

Dr. Grace Liem, 61, works at the Community Free Clinic in Concord and has been a resident of Cabarrus County for 11 years. The chair of the Cabarrus County Democrats said she joined to help educate the masses.

Liem, who visits Occupy Charlotte up to three times per week, has been embedded with the local movement since it started in October. She said she helps with voter registration and often brings home-cooked food to occupiers.

"I teach that if an elected official does not listen to the people but listens to the 1 percent, then vote that person out," she said. "And if the next person does not listen, vote that person out, too.

"The 99 percent is concerned about the state of North Carolina with regard to education, health care and jobs. When 24 million are unemployed or underemployed, when people work two jobs and still cannot pay their rent and put food on their tables, when kids have to rely on the one meal at school or they go hungry, well, that is unacceptable in America."

Liem said stories need to be shared about the "regular" people of the movement, who work during the day and go to Charlotte afterward to support a cause.

Luigi Marinaccio of Concord is a Vietnam veteran. He has lived in the Cabarrus area 23 years and said he supports occupiers because history seems to be repeating itself. He visited Occupy Charlotte once to help erect a medical tent and stock it with supplies, but said he understands why it's attracting all types of people.

"I am not connected to the movement, I just agree with them on many issues," he said. "It has been déjà vu all over again, the wars we are in now and the financial collapse," he said.

"So if the 99 percent can achieve change to these two episodes in our country's history, then in my view they have achieved something for their shared sacrifice."

Luis Rodriguez Sr. isn't from Cabarrus but was one of the first people to get involved locally. He said he used to "battle" with banks as a HUD-certified housing counselor before being laid off about four months ago.

"The people I was counseling weren't investors or property speculators but hard-working, low-to-moderate income individuals and families who, for the most part, had suffered a job loss and were in danger of becoming homeless due to no fault of their own," he said.

He said visiting the Occupy Charlotte is the best way to learn about the movement.

"But be warned, it's an occupation, not a Sunday brunch," Rodriguez said. "People have been sacrificing, living on meager rations, sleeping in tents, forgoing showers and other amenities, in order to make their voice heard and draw attention to the issues that affect us all."

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