In the beginning, Chad Duffy was a cynic. He still is, especially during the particularly hectic moments of his morning shift at the Thunderdome. But the 23-year-old politely promoting hand sanitizer used to be much worse. Only five months after Duffy moved to Denver from Orlando, a 180-degree turn finds him not only supporting the movement he once lashed out at but serving it. Right now, he is serving hard-boiled eggs.
In less than a minute, more than four dozen of them will disappear. It's a strange metaphor for Duffy's original sentiments, but it works.
"I was incredibly cynical about how disorganized the whole thing was, and I didn't see how just occupying a space would help anything at all," Duffy says. "I just randomly walked into a general assembly about three weeks ago, and I still haven't changed my feelings about its half-baked arguments. But I found the kitchen, and I realized there are different niches here and they all matter."
Chad Duffy gives out food (and fist pumps) during a morning shift at Occupy Denver's kitchen, the Thunderdome.
Duffy's eventual acceptance of the occupation was gradual, and he now spends about 25 hours a week, cut from jobs as a freelance web developer and a political canvasser for No On 300, in the Thunderdome or on its fringes. He can frequently be found immediately to the left of it, where he sings with painfully ragged vocals protest songs such as Dylan's "Masters of War," his favorite.
"Who doesn't have the blues these days?" Duffy says. "You can't have a revolution without music."
Being full of quotes is sort of an unspoken requirement for people who volunteer in the Thunderdome, and Duffy is no exception. He is "attracted to the romanticism of anarchy," though he isn't an anarchist as much as "an artist with communal and anarchist tendencies." During the late hours, like those he spent in the Thunderdome last night, his greatest fear is of "scary shit crawling out of the woodwork on Colfax" and interfering with the "weird little oasis" that is the occupation. When it comes to the best and worst parts of occupying, his answers are the same: "humanity."
"Lately, it just seems like a refugee camp for social outcasts over here," he says before qualifying that cynicism by adding, "But that's not a bad thing. We always have a lot of mixed feelings. We start off with these great intentions to promote freedom of the people, but there's always the underlying worry that we'll give the cops a reason to later institute martial law or something."
In Orlando, Duffy's previous political activism included focuses on Everglade land development and a more general peace march in between time as a dishwasher. ("I figured I could be a dishwasher anywhere," he says, "so why not do it somewhere better?" he says.) When he moved here in April, one of his first jobs was again dishwashing, this time for a country club near the house where he rents a room in Westminster. However, he dropped the job in order to spend more time occupying.
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This morning, it's warm enough for him to remove his black leather jacket. Last night, though, he needed it. As he serves hot cocoa in a warped plastic cup to a woman who used to be a barista, he opens a bag of donated McDonalds breakfast sandwiches and asks a threatening man to calm down. Mornings can be the occupation's most difficult adjustment period, but the chance of threats like these becoming any sort of reality is rare, he says.
"The most violent thing I've seen so far was some senior citizens fighting over alcohol, and one of them broke a bottle over the other's head," Duffy says. "They weren't part of the occupation, though. Or I guess they were, in a way: We're doing this for all of the 99 percent, after all."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Colorado Springs organized candlelight vigil in support of Occupy Denver (VIDEO)."