The first time Mike heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement, he was in the hospital. Due in large part to a slow heart rate -- only about twenty beats per minute -- he had recently undergone surgery to insert a pacemaker. Two months after his surgery and three weeks after his first day with Occupy Denver, that pacemaker limits his duties but not his devotion. "Hell, I'm getting old, but I'm not feeble," he jokes.
Originally, the need for a pacemaker came as a surprise to a man who has biked across large swaths of the United States. The five-year-old bicycle Mike (who opted not to provide a last name) is never far from (right now, it rests on a tree trunk about three feet from his bench) followed him to Denver from Colorado Springs, where he recovered from the surgery at home with his sister. During weekend rallies, he rides behind a group that last week numbered in the thousands to monitor progress and direct traffic. His duties branch off from there, especially with an increase in police presence, but Mike keeps mum on the details.
"Let's just put it this way: I'm going for a bike ride," he says. "My main focus is on maintaining our First Amendment rights. Everybody needs a voice, right or wrong, and this movement is a way for all of us to be heard."
Mike serves on the group's sanitation committee, for which he will spend much of today beautifying the park in preparation for tomorrow's all-day concert. If this Saturday, like last weekend, grows heated, he will again be asked to step across the street and away from the ruckus. This doesn't mean he'll be a bystander, however: Last Saturday, he spent the evening on his bike at Broadway and Colfax reporting activity into a walkie talkie.
"I was told by higher-ups to go across the street so I wouldn't be the first dead protester in America," Mike says. "If the police had brought Tasers, I would have died."
What would become an extensive history of political activism for Mike began at age five, when he traveled with his parents to Haight-Ashbury. His family remained active in Arizona during the Vietnam War, and he later moved to Oklahoma before coming to Colorado. But the few weeks he spent in San Francisco during the peace-loving '60s proved a lasting influence on his later life.
"What I remember most is a bunch of people united for the same thing getting stoned," Mike says. "I think that's why I feel like I'm allergic to marijuana now. But it also taught me the importance of standing up for your rights and unifying as one."
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The majority of Mike's work life has been spent painting, a skill he plans to use on repairs to the group's local safe houses. In the three weeks he has spent occupying various areas between 14th and Colfax on Broadway, Mike has experienced the good ("when I was with people chanting 'Peace! Peace!' Friday at 6 a.m.") and the bad ("that asshole who keeps turning on the sprinklers"), and a handful of protective medics have made it their goal to keep him from seeing worse.
In the occupation's previous stint across the street in Lincoln Park, Mike was at least partially responsible for twenty of the group's original tents, which were donated by his brother. Mike himself slept outside in order to provide more room to children and their parents, and though he can reclaim the tents (but not re-establish them) in the coming weeks, he has no plans to take back broken tents he sees as "good for nothing but canvas at this point." He does, however, still maintain the same focus on children.
"We need to do this for the children, the main reason I'm here to begin with," Mike says. "Denver isn't the way it was thirty years ago. The city has gone to hell, and everybody's attitude has changed. A lot of the little kids coming through here are asking what we're doing this for, and I want the next generation to know that all of this is for them."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Meet the wearable protest tent, the latest fashion statement in occupation gear."