ATHENS, Ga. — The ranks of the occupiers at the University of Georgia Arch dwindled to nothing for a while Saturday night, perhaps in part because of the regular abuse the protesters get from some passersby on busy weekend nights.
The last protester left shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday, driven off by a University of Georgia law student looking for an argument.
“I like Wall Street!” the law student told the lone occupier, a long-haired young man playing the didgeridoo, a native Australian wind instrument. “When Wall Street is doing well, everyone is doing well!”
“I don’t mean to be belligerent,” said the law student, whose breath smelled of bourbon, after he watched the protester walk quickly away cross Broad Street and fade into the downtown crowds.
“But any of these people could get a job. They could get one right over there,” he said earnestly, pointing to the Five Guys burger restaurant across Broad Street.
Such angry confrontations and even violence are on the rise at the Occupy Wall Street outpost in Athens, say some of the shifting group of people who make up the weekslong occupation. Students, retirees, unemployed workers, homeless people and people with jobs who sympathize are among those who have tried to keep the occupation going 24 hours a day at the Arch.
“We are encountering violence every hour,” said Gretchen Elsner, a freelance artist and designer wearing clothes she had designed and made herself as she held up a protest sign on Broad Street on Friday afternoon.
“I don’t know why people are so hostile to us. It’s not like I’m throwing Molotov cocktails or anything,” she said.
They hear “Get a job,” so often they started keeping a count, said Elsner, pointing to a board hung under the an awning on the sidewalk in front of UGA’s Hunter-Holmes Academic Building.
“That’s just today,” she said, pointing to a chalkboard with more than three-dozen marks under “Get a job.”
The hostility sometimes gets physical.
One night last week, Elsner saw one young woman, a drunk college student she thought, slap one of the female occupiers.
“I got kicked in the back of the head,” said occupier John Ahearn of Athens, who is looking for a job.
Some occupiers, including Ahearn, have been sleeping overnight in tents on the Athens side of the iron fence that divides UGA’s North Campus from downtown Athens. A few times, people walking by have kicked the tents and the people in them, Ahearn said.
And Nov. 11, the Friday night before the UGA-Auburn football game, someone slashed several of the occupiers’ tents, Ahearn and other Occupiers said.
The occupiers don’t always get abuse. Some people offer encouragement as they walk by, Elsner said shortly before a well-dressed man of about 50 stopped by Friday afternoon.
“I’m so thrilled with what y’all are doing,” the man said. “Don’t give up, don’t give in, just keep on going.”