Whether they know it or not, David "Beard" has spent the last month sleeping in Civic Center Park for the kids. Although he describes the time as a "giant, unorganized camping trip," he keeps coming back to the same motivation: a hope that today's children, some of whom are currently wandering aimlessly through the park, will never have to watch their mothers cry while paying bills. Growing up, this was not infrequent for his own mom, who usually managed to pay all but one.
There's no guarantee his cold nights will pay off, he concedes.
"I probably won't live to see the reward, but to think that the years of hardship and poverty striking America will change in part because of what we're fighting for today is the real benefit," says David, whose last name was withheld by request. "It's for these kids" -- he points directly at a group of them -- "the ones who don't really know what we're doing and just take pictures. If we have to stay out here and freeze one winter so they don't have to live on Ramen the rest of their lives, it's worth it."
When his mother, who raised him singlehandedly, passed away in 2001, her loss became the first step on a path through drugs, depression and then recovery. His own time on the streets began five months ago after an eleven-month program for an addiction to methamphetamines and two weeks spent on a road trip that was supposed to end in California.
To separate himself from enablers and vices, David left his longtime home of Kansas City, Missouri and embarked on a trip through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico before finally -- and accidentally -- reaching Denver. "It seemed like all the friends I knew there were involved in that life, so a couple who weren't and I took a road trip all the way out of there," says David, who has spent five months on the streets. "I fell in love with the mountains, and when it started, I fell in love with the occupation immediately."
Before the occupation, David's work life followed a series of food industry positions, the most notable of which is a stint working in Joplin, Missouri's Butterball turkey factory. The direct experience of those jobs and time spent volunteering in missions has influenced his current role in the occupation's Thunderdome, where he works both day shifts and night shifts -- often in the same day.
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"When Corey (Donahue) invited me into the kitchen and I met everyone else, I thought they weren't going to like me," he says. "They didn't know me and didn't have any reason to like me, but they took me in, just like the occupation will take anyone in who wants to be here. And that's why I'll stand by those guys forever."
In his own life, David is focused on getting a Colorado ID and using it to land a job as a cook or bouncer in Denver. At the occupation, he hopes only to help rebuild the movement every time it needs rebirth. (This Saturday, like two Saturdays ago, might be one such day.) Internally, the development of the group depends upon coming together against external stereotypes, the most prevalent of which focuses on its homeless population.
"There's a lot of homeless people here, and a lot of people assume they're just here for free food and goodies and don't care about the movement," he says, extinguishing a cigarette on the ground. "It's not true. These are people I'd never believe would stand up about the Constitution, but I've had some late-night conversations over the campfire here that make my hair stand up. And those will keep happening."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver protesters want their dog-and-leader to meet with Governor Hickenlooper."