Occupy Columbia protesters returned to the State House Tuesday only to hear a state senator tell them to go occupy a federal post office.
The protesters — whose 69-day occupation of the State House grounds was marked by tents, allegations of public urination and a mass arrest in a thunderstorm — were at the Legislature to protest a Senate bill that would outlaw camping on the State House grounds.
The State Budget and Control Board already approved emergency regulations banning camping. But those regulations expire March 18. The proposed law — which a Senate subcommittee unanimously approved Tuesday, sending it to the Senate Finance Committee — would make those regulations permanent.
Some senators were perplexed as to why the protesters needed to camp overnight at the State House, which they do not view as the source of the country’s economic problems.
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“South Carolina didn’t bring about some of the events that occurred on Wall Street,” said state Sen. William O’Dell, R-Abbeville. “Why don’t you go to a post office or something? That’s federal.”
But Tim Liszewski, who spoke for the group during Tuesday’s hearing, said the protest is symbolic.
“There are lobbyists and people with money who are occupying inside the State House,” he said. “This was our symbolic representation of us taking back the State House grounds for all of the citizens, not just the citizens with influence and with money.”
Melissa Harmon, who also spoke for the group, said she works long hours and her only time to protest is at night. “This law takes that away,” she said.
Occupy protesters also noted that lobbyists often put up tents on the State House grounds to serve food to lawmakers. They asked: Why can’t Occupy protesters do the same?
“Because those are usually for a specific amount of time,” O’Dell said. “It’s not permanent.”
Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, noted the presence of abortion protesters at the State House every day the Legislature is in session. But those protesters don’t camp overnight at the State House. “So, in some ways, it would seem you are asking the General Assembly to accommodate your protest, which would be in a sense to discriminate against everybody else,” Fair said.
Even if the Senate proposal becomes law, Liszewski said Occupy Columbia protesters are not going away.
“Come the time when budgets are coming out of committees and being voted on the floor, I’m pretty sure you will hear from us loud and clear,” Liszewski said.