At noon today, Civic Center Park held a meager 12 protesters.
It is the second home of Occupy Denver, and chances are it might not be the last, but it is this park where Charles Howe and Barbara Gawlowski are watching their 6-year-old daughter Jezebel pick up a "staple" she found in the ground. "It's a tent stake, baby," her mom gently corrects her. "From when we had tents."
The evidence of a large-scale occupation is still here even if the people currently aren't. On October 14, this block of Broadway served as the setting for Jezebel's first hands-on introduction to the police, and she later watched her parents taken into custody on TV on the night of the group's eviction from Lincoln Park. Homeschooled by her mother, Jezebel's knowledge of the police has never been typical. When Gawlowski recently asked her daughter what she'd do if she got lost, Jezebel's answer betrayed both her advanced fifth-grade testing levels and an open mind: "I'd go find someone with dreads," she said.
"We think about the occupation every morning when we wake up and every night when we go to bed," Gawlowski says. "It has changed every aspect of our lives, especially how we raise and what we teach out daughter. It has inspired a sense of fear in my fearless little girl, and we're afraid to take her down on Saturdays now."
Jezebel, who challenges occupiers to races in the park (she always wins) while her parents talk, watched their arrest, which ended in her mother's now stark broken nose. The six-year-old was there again the first time the police used pepper spray on the gathering. Jezebel currently takes lessons in a list longer than the names of people in the park -- piano, violin, drums, guitar, gymnastics, judo (soon), Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, various crafts -- but her most recent lesson, that of political activism, has been based on Broadway.
Gawlowski and Howe have spent the past three years together, and their wedding is scheduled for June 21. However, they have closer anniversaries to celebrate: Yesterday marked one month since their arrests for unlawful conduct on state property (Howe was also charged with resisting arrest), charges they encountered four days after stopping by to start a coffee bar.
Although the heater and other materials they used to do so were lost in the raid, their conviction was cemented nonetheless. "We try hard not to get too fired up anymore because we've been forbidden from getting arrested again. But it's hard to ignore the situation down here," Howe says. "From the day we were arrested in front of Jezebel, we've cared even more about the politics of the movement than we even did before."
This is not the couple's first experience with political activism: Both were at the DNC riots, and the thirty-year-old Howe was previously involved in the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle. Likewise, his 32-year-old fiancée protested the war in Iraq in New York City in the early 2000s. "We knew it was going to get heavy then because the officers wore electrical tape over their badge numbers," she says. The two currently spend about twenty to thirty hours per week volunteering for the occupation, usually behind the scenes, as opposed to the eight to ten hours they used to spend fronting it on a daily basis. Howe and Gawlowski, for example, created the upright Bill of Rights that was broken and removed during a riot two weeks ago. (No. 9 is Gawlowski's favorite.)
Their personal life revolves around their daughter but is backed up by plans to start their own coffee shop, Strange Grounds, which they have registered as an LLC and will claim in an occupy-friendly space in the arts district about three months from now. The couple and Jezebel have lived since August inside a reappropriated school bus they bought on a fateful trip to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
"My car broke down at an O'Riley's Auto Parts, and the bus was parked across the street," Gawlowski says. "I checked my bank account, and my tax refund had just been deposited that day. We bought our Revenge, named after the Dread Pirate Roberts' ship in The Princess Bride."
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He worked for Telefund and she worked as a living assistant for dementia patients, but when they both lost their jobs, they spent their last month's rent to update the three-quarter-size bus with bedrooms, a kitchen and an entertainment center. The plan is to continue to provide free coffee out of it once the two get their nonprofit effort back on its feet. In the meantime, it serves as yet another lesson to Jezebel, who is involved in all of her parents' charity and activism.
The same goes for their court dates: At a hearing this morning, Jezebel learned where the judge sits and what a county clerk is, and she knows that her parents' lawyer warned them against citing the First Amendment in their future trial. It might be banned as a defense tactic, they say. Jezebel is taught to be as independent as Howe and Gawlowski hope the movement will one day also be.
"We have to get bigger and stronger and become a self-sustainable community, even if it means moving to private property," Gawlowski says. "Let's build brick ovens and have a RAKU' KILN and create book exchange libraries and shower stations and community gardens, and let's never stop. That's how this was meant to be."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Police start ticketing drivers who stop to donate in front of Civic Center Park."