The story behind the deOccupy Honolulu movement

By Yunji de Nies
Published On: May 16 2013 09:20:35 PM HST

After 18 months camping at Thomas Square, hear from some of the protesters about why they're there and what it will take from the city to make them pack up and go.

HONOLULU -

On Friday, May 17, a federal judge is expected to rule whether the city's sidewalk nuisance law is legal.

That's the law the city uses to remove tents and other items from public sidewalks with 24 hours notice.

The deOccupy Honolulu protesters filed a lawsuit calling the law unconstitutional.  The protesters have been camping around Thomas Square for 18 months now.

So, who are they?  We decided to find out.

We asked deOccupy protester Cathy "Sugar" Russell why she lives on the streets in tents.

She responded, "I'd be doing this anyway.  I don't have a job.  I'm stuck living on the streets.  I just do it more publicly to give light to the crisis."

That crisis -- what Russell calls the "houseless issue."  The roughly two dozen deOccupy protesters have spent the last year and a half in and around Thomas Square to make the plight of the homeless more public.

And no matter how many planters the city brings in, they're staying put.

Russell has become the face of this movement.  Originally from Chicago, she says she moved here with a promise of a job that fell through.

Her motive for coming to Hawaii might surprise you.

"I fell in love with snorkeling," said Russell.  "We all gotta wind down.  We all gotta have recreation.  There's people here who play golf, basketball and football and see movies on a regular basis.  We all gotta find a way to de-stress."

De-stressing because she says this life isn't easy.  Each confrontation with the city ups the intensity.

But, they are well-organized with several storage units with backup tents.  When one is seized, another quickly in its place.

We asked Russell who is supporting them?

"We are," she replied.  "We get told all the time that we're just paid protesters.  It's the farthest thing from the truth.  Each one of us has our own income whether that's through work.  I'm personally on unemployment because I've worked my jobs and I've paid into that."

Christopher "Nova" Smith, another familiar face, also came here from Chicago.  He works full-time, mostly nights, and sleeps here during the day.

Smith says he moved to Hawaii to stop being an activist, but soon gave up his Waikiki apartment to join this group.

"The tents are unsightly.  They shouldn't be here.  I don't want to see them.  I want to be able to go to my home -- eat, do what I want to do, work where I want to work, do my own life.  That's what I came here for," said Smith.  "But I can't deal with seeing a government that's so willing to violate people's civil rights."

"People say this has been ineffective, yet this seems to be a pretty hot topic," said Russell.  "And I don't think that it would be a hot topic if we weren't out here living publicly."

We asked Russell if we can expect to see her for another 18 months.

"We'll see what happens.  But, our goal is not to leave til this is in place," said Russell.  "That's up to the city and county."

The group says they've sent a list of demands to the city, which includes more low-income housing and expanded services for those in need.

Until those are met, they're not leaving.  They have yet to hear back.

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