Pat Marsden is almost impossibly human, particularly in the sense that he is both focused on his humanity and slightly impossible. The Occupy Denver volunteer identifies as a black-flag anarchist, though that assertion comes with some hesitation: first "Maybe you shouldn't put that," then, "Whatever, it's who I am." And when Marsden shakes your hand --- firmly -- as he does with most newcomers at his kitchen, dubbed the Thunderdome, it comes back just a little bit stickier.
While in the Thunderdome, the heart of Occupy Denver, those hands are usually gloved to handle food. Marsden, a consistent feature there, officially started his own occupation in front of the capitol about four days into the larger picture, but it was a sign, both literal and metaphorical, that drew his attention on day one. It read: "The American Revolution starts at 7 p.m. tonight."
"How could I not stop by?" Marsden asks.
It was a transitional time for Marsden, who eventually did stop by, but only after his community service at the downtown library had finished for the day. Earlier this fall, Marsden was arrested for graffiti, for which he earned four days in prison and 26 at the library. It was not his first stint in a holding cell, nor is it the first time activism has faced rebirth during one of those stints.
"This is an anarchist kitchen, and there's no bureaucracy here," he explains to a volunteer asking if the enormous vat of oatmeal he's monitoring is done. (It's not, nowhere near it.) He explains his constant activism with the same bluntness: "At some point, you have to stand up for yourself and raise that banner."
Marsden's friendly resistance of all things corporate or overtly political began early. At seventeen, he worked in a sexual violence center in Minneapolis, and the following years have led him through a string of similar positions that include Earth First!, an anarchist kitchen in Seattle, a stint as a "Hollywood drunk punk" in California and then, after time in jail, to Denver five months ago.
In the periods when he wasn't hungry himself, he cooked. The kitchen has consistently remained Marsden's central niche in all of the activism he has approached. "You can't talk to someone who's starving about changing the world because all he cares about is the hamburger in your hand," Marsden says. "I would rather support the bum on the streets than the bum on top."
This isn't to say all of his duties take place in the kitchen. Early in the morning, a fight, as random and inexplicable as all that arise at the occupation, broke out, and it was Marsden who calmed the aggressor down. Convinced that he was threatened with a blade that wasn't there, the man begrudgingly gave in to Marsden's calm, smoke-weary voice. A minute later, he was back in the kitchen.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Support Our Journalism
Today, Marsden woke up a bit grumpier than usual, but instead of detracting from his generosity that fact just promotes his characteristic verbosity. Marsden is uncannily eloquent, in large part because there are few issues he cannot unearth some passion for. In the span of a single hour, he could create a small gift book of memorable, if occasionally angry, quotes: "You don't hear about people rising up because they don't want you to know that you can." "The beauty of unconditional love is that it doesn't require response." "How can you be an anarchist if you're on food stamps?" And then, "It's always scary to be the first person who cares."
The activity at Occupy Denver this morning also included a visit from a city police officer and a state trooper, who responded to a situation that appeared to have the potential for violence. A man volunteering with Occupy Denver was confronted by the officers, who dealt with him peaceably and made no arrests. The video, shot by volunteer and marijuana activist Corey Donahue, shows the relationship between the police and the protesters. Check it out below.
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver prepares for the cold with donated supplies."