Occupy Columbia returns to State House

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - Nearly three months after they disappeared from State House grounds, the Occupy Columbia movement has returned.

The demonstrators disappeared from the State House December 23 after a more than two month protest marked by overnight camping, sleeping bags, mass arrests and lawsuits.

Emergency regulations put in place by the South Carolina Budget and Control Board barred camping and 24-hour protests on State House Grounds. However, those measures had a 90-day expiration date on them which has now expired.

Demonstrators like Walid Hakim, who was one of 19 people arrested in November for violating a curfew put in place by Governor Nikki Haley, is back after almost 90 days in hibernation.

"The spring has sprung," said Hakim. "We are here once again to bring out our message, to show there is a level of incompotence going on in the State House."

The Columbia Occupiers have come back in a show of solidarity with several re-occupations around the country.

"The legislature has not finalized any regulations banning our protest," said Melissa Harmon, an Occupy Columbia demonstrator. "So weâ??ll take the opportunity to remind them that weâ??re still watching and waiting for laws that help all South Carolina citizens."

In early March, Senate lawmakers voted 35-0 to ban camping and sleeping around the state capitol, which had served as the movement's home base. However, that measure still is not law.

On Thursday, House lawmakers are expected to push their own version of a permanent ban through subcommittee and committee hearings, but it is doubtful the measure will make it to the House floor before the close of business Thursday.

The protestors know their round-the-clock return to the State House grounds will be short and are disappointed lawmakers are putting a camping ban on the front burner while larger issues like education and healthcare funding in the state loom large.

"There are problems that haven't been resolved yet.," said Hakim. "We have unelected corporate government which is running the State House, which are running the rules around here."

The protestors began their occupation on October 15.
A federal injuction is still in place protecting the Occupiers from arrest, but they feel their right to free speech will be squashed once again after lawmakers pass permanent measures barring 24-hour protests at the capitol.

"Without people of varying perspectives coming together you're just off in your little worlds, not communicationg," said Bradley Powell, an Occupy Columbia demonstrator. "And that's when we get into trouble in this country."

Following the November arrests at the State House, several Occupiers filed a lawsuit against the governor and other state officials claiming their right to free speech had been violated. That lawsuit is still pending.