It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, a beautiful autumn afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia. Elsewhere in the city, crazed shoppers flocked to stores and malls, celebrating—and in many cases fighting for—their right to consume things they mostly don’t need. But downtown, Occupy Atlanta had decided to “Occupy Black Friday” in Woodruff Park—or Troy Davis Park, as the Occupiers call it—where their encampment was until the group was evicted by police just after midnight on October 26.
For Occupiers, Black Friday was a perfect occasion for action. The day is a symptom, a quite spectacular one too, of the capitalist system the movement critiques; a display of just how extreme consumerism has become in this country. As I entered Troy Davis Park on that day, I saw a piece of white cloth hung between two poles that read “Really Really Free! Market.” The “market” looked more like a crossbreed of a community yard sale and a family picnic: a mother, her teenage daughter and toddler son set up their shop under a tree; not far from them, dozens of people were arranging donated goods on a number of sheets spread out on the fallen leaves that covered the grass; a man with shoulder-long hair under a cap and a massive beard was playing the guitar, singing, his wheelchair parked nearby; a few kids were running around, kicking a small soccer ball back and forth among each other. It was hard to tell who were the venders and who were the customers, but as everyone told me, everything there was free—shirts, jeans, boots, dolls, stuffed ponies, diapers, toy trucks and food. “If you see something you like, take it,” they told me.
I spotted Tim Franzen in the crowd. Tall, slim, wearing a red knit cap, a washed-out denim jacket and an “Occupy Everywhere” button, Franzen looked exactly as I remembered him from a dozen YouTube videos and countless photos online. In this “leaderless” movement, Franzen has become an unofficial spokesperson, frequently speaking to the media. He told me that while the market was open for business, a group of Occupiers had paid a visit to Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta’s commercial center, Buckhead. They put fliers that read “Don’t Cry! Occupy!” on merchandise and replaced more than a thousand price tags with home-made tags with phrases like, “YOU DON’T NEED THIS,” “HOW MANY AMERICAN JOBS DID THIS ITEM COST?,” “FREE” and “DON’T BUY THIS.” The night before, Franzen and a group of Occupiers visited Target, Walmart and Best Buy stores in the city where eager shoppers had lined up camping out, waiting for the shopping extravaganza to begin at midnight. The Occupiers mic-checked, greeting the shoppers with “Happy Thanksgiving!” “We love Atlanta!” and “We love you!” Then they talked to the shoppers about the global economy and the consequences of their spending habits.
For the Occupiers who had camped out in Troy Davis Park and had witnessed police brutality against their nonviolent demonstrations, the sight of shoppers camping outside these stores, protected by police, evoked an emotional reaction. “When we were camping in this park, you know, nonviolently, just to start conversations about economic injustice, we were like public enemy number one,” said Franzen. “I mean, it was like a Hollywood production.” He was referring to the night of November 5, when riot police in full gear and officers on motorcycles and horses were sent to crack down on Occupiers who were marching on Peachtree Street outside of Troy Davis Park. Twenty protesters were arrested that night. Two were injured and sent to the hospital.