Above: Duane Schwingel, a neatly dressed father of two, identifies as a pro-life Christian conservative. He also writes defiant songs about the struggle to “tear down Wall Street” and restore democracy.
The “Occupy” movement, which began with general assemblies in New York, spread into a global “Day of Rage” Oct. 15, with demonstrations in more than 80 countries. Eight days before, Congressional Republicans made it clear they were feeling threatened:
“We have to be careful not to allow this to get any legitimacy,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Oct. 7 on a conservative talk show. “I’m old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left-wing took to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up shaping policy.”
When the “Occupy” movement spread to Gainesville, Fla., City Manager Russ Blackburn granted protesters a one-night permit to occupy downtown Wednesday night with a stipulation that the occupation would end the next day. On Oct. 13, the temporary permit expired. After the sun went down, 50 protesters lined the sidewalk surrounding Bo Diddley Plaza. Ellas Anthony McDaniel, 56, son of the late rhythm and blues musician Bo Diddley, decided to join them.
“Big business and government should not mix,” he said. “We’re making history at a place that honors my father.” To show his support, McDaniel stood on top of a stone block with an imprint of the words “Freedom of Speech” and “Freedom of Assembly.” A Gainesville Police Department officer handcuffed him, wrote a citation, and threatened to put him in jail if he tried to set foot on the plaza again. Three other protesters were detained and cited that night.
McDaniel told The Alligator he would continue to support the occupation and bail out anyone who gets arrested. The event made international headlines, picked up by The Daily Kos and The Guardian and later mentioned on MSNBC by Keith Olbermann.
Duane Schwingel, a local occupier who knew Bo Diddley personally, said McDaniel’s father would have been proud. Schwingel, 53, a neatly dressed copywriter and father of two, made it clear that he doesn’t like labels. Nonetheless, he identifies as a pro-life Christian conservative. He’s been a Republican most of his life, though now he leans toward libertarianism.
“Bo Diddley may have thought this was a silly left-wing event if he had only listened to the sound bites,” he said. “But I think he would have supported the movement, like anyone else would, if he had actually checked it out.”
At the “Occupy Gainesville” general assemblies, Schwingel made friends with atheists and socialists. “We all shared a common cause — social, economic, and environmental justice,” he said. “It may never be reached 100 percent, but a peaceful dialogue will help us get there.”
As a kid, Schwingel dabbled with guitar and harmonica. He met Bo Diddley through his son, with whom he shared a job in roofing and carpentry. Both of them stopped at Bo Diddley’s house after work on a regular basis.
“He would feed us, show me his guitars, and tell me stories of his life,” Schwingel said. “But mostly he talked about his children and the future. He was even working on rap songs for children—with a message not to do drugs. And that impressed me. He listened to my music and became a friend.”
Before “Occupy Gainesville” started, Schwingel wrote a defiant song about the “Occupy” movement’s struggle to “tear down Wall Street” and restore democracy. On Oct. 13, he attended the protest and brought his guitar, excited to share his song with others. If not for Schwingel, Bo Diddley’s son may not have shown up.
“They were standing at Bo Diddley Plaza, and I realized I had to get my friend over there. So I came with my song and my buddy,” he said.
Most people went home at some point after the arrests, but a few protesters stayed and slept on the sidewalk. Schwingel stayed awake, watched over them, and wrote a new song that night. “I wanted something to play for them when they woke up, yawned and stretched,” he said at a general assembly the next day.
“This movement seems to be driven by social interaction rather than ideology,” he added. “It’s not saying, ‘Here’s the solution.’ It’s saying, ‘Here’s the problem. Let’s talk.’ And that’s why I’m optimistic. Otherwise I would be pessimistic. I would think, ‘Oh, this is just another movement about another solution.’”
Update (10/30): Scott Olsen, a U.S. Marine who completed two tours in Iraq, was hit in the head by a tear gas canister Oct. 26 at an “Occupy Oakland” protest. The canister, launched from a police projectile, left Olsen in critical condition with a fractured skull. Two days later, Egyptian protesters condemned the violence in Oakland and marched from Tahrir Square to the U.S. Embassy in support of the “Occupy” movement. Schwingel wrote a new song recently, dedicated to Scott Olsen.