The women behind Occupy Asheville are not who you were expecting. But now that campers across the country are dispersing, what do these protesters want?
by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose
In Occupy movements far and wide, some sort of tide has turned. In mid-November, police arrested and evicted hundreds of Occupy campers, busting up tent cities in public spaces in Oakland and Portland, and then—the movement’s birthplace—New York City.
Demonstrators in Asheville and cities around the world have been taking to the streets for months to show support for Occupy Wall Street, a protest that began on September 17 in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park. Carrying signs that said, “We are the 99 percent,” and “Wall Street is our street!” some 2,000 original “occupiers” planted themselves (and their tents) in the middle of New York’s financial district. Solidarity occupiers elsewhere started camping in public parks and plazas, too.
Their cause? Roughly speaking, it’s economic injustice. Their enemies? Wall Street titans, big banks and the top sliver of the world’s population that holds most of its wealth. But from the beginning, Occupy Wall Streeters and related Occupy groups have been criticized as fragmented and leaderless, inconsistent in their actions and lacking clear demands. So far, unjust arrests and rough treatment by police seem to have made the biggest headlines. Thousands have been arrested, and some injured, as they fiercely defend their political freedoms. And yet a snarky New York magazine poll of 100 protesters in October found that more than half of them didn’t vote in 2010.
By day, she installs joint sealants. By night, she ministers to the jobless via the Internet.
by Beth Ellen . photo by Matt Rose
To Janet Webb, every person has a unique and sacred story. Webb herself is no exception, and her story is quite unique. The 53-year-old MBA started up a construction firm in February, JL Webb & Company, LLC. Working with mostly federal contracts, she and around ten employees spend their days caulking and waterproofing commercial buildings around the region. In her free time, though, Webb leads a not-so-secret double life as a chaplain reaching out to the jobless through an online ministry.
Earlier this year, the federal government announced it would guarantee five percent of federal prime contracts in certain business categories to women-owned businesses. Webb, who had worked in operations management at UPS and as an engineering manager at Carolina Freight Corporation, knew a good business opportunity when she saw one. (The government has always guaranteed a certain percentage of contracts to minority-owned businesses, but not specifically to women.) She and her team are a HUB-certified Division 7 Construction company, and so far, even in a downturn, they’ve found plenty of work. “I know how to run companies,” she says. “I just got started with [this company] one step at a time.”
How to make textiles hip again? Recruit young artists to push them to their outer limits.
by Ursula Gullow . portrait by Matt Rose
Libby O’Bryan remembers the first outfit she ever sewed: a blue and white striped pocket tee and a pair of too-tight blue shorts. “They were more like biker shorts,” she says, laughing. She was only eight, and she had help from her mother, but you might say that first experience sowed—or sewed, rather— the seeds for her lifetime of work in fashion and textiles.
This winter, O’Bryan, 34, is one of several mixed-media artists in a high-profile textiles exhibit at the South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem. On the opening night of the exhibit, Out of Fashion, O’Bryan performed a piece called “Sewed In,” during which she literally sewed herself up. Sitting inside a bubble of fabric with her sewing machine, she sewed furiously until the bubble collapsed and the material clung to her like a second skin. She ended her performance by breaking out of the wrap, but the performance brought to mind images of suffocation and horrific sweatshops. “I do get a little panicky when I’m in there,“ O’Bryan admits.
Alex Gomes, a young Pisgah Legal lawyer, is one of the first men to stand up for women on a state council.
by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose
The North Carolina Council for Women, an advocacy agency that’s part of the state’s Department of Administration, has never had any male members. Until now.
In late September, Alex Gomes, a 32-year-old attorney with the Asheville nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services, was one of two men sworn in as council members. The group, formed in 1963, doles out grant money and monitors state policies regarding women. One of its most ambitious projects is a comprehensive survey of North Carolina women, comparing their behavior to women in other states. Sadly, in 1996, the last time the survey was done, North Carolina women were among the lowest-ranked in the nation in areas like voter turnout and women holding elected offices. Gomes says he’s anxious to help oversee work on a new survey, which will make data available in summer 2012. He specializes in representing victims of domestic violence, so he’ll also personally lobby against three bills in the state legislature that would make it more difficult for domestic violence victims to seek protection under the law.
Two new North Asheville restaurants reveal their secrets for really good risotto.
story and photos by Naomi Johnson
Oh, risotto! The chef’s tour de force, the home cook’s bane. So tricky, so laborious! And also somehow, mysterious. This seemingly humble dish—in essence just rice in a creamy sauce—always seems surrounded by some Italian alchemy so arcane it can’t even be described in English. Soffritto, tostatura, mantecare! Only its native tongue can articulate the many-layered mystery that is risotto.
The first lesson in my quest to understand this perfect winter comfort food proved to be linguistic. It all starts with the soffrito, the dish’s aromatic base, traditionally onions sauteéd in butter. I got to be a spectator to this operation at HomeGrown, which opened last fall on Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue. One of its chefs, Ja Wall, goes way back with this dish. “My neighbor’s 90-year-old Italian grandmother taught me to cook risotto when I was 12 years old,” he says.
Actually, she’s the newlywed. An accountant for a flower greenhouse decided she wants to dress like a grown-up.
by Mick Kelly . photo by Matt Rose
This time of year, everything in Kathleen Lemkes’ life is coming up poinsettias—about a million of them, to be exact. She’s the comptroller for Van Wingerden International, a Mills River company with 38 acres of greenhouse space under plastic. The company now has around 250 employees, but come spring, they’ll expand to some 450 workers who grow, package and ship petunias, begonias, African violets, mums and other types of plants to local and regional clients like Ingles and The Home Depot. This month, the crew will ship around 1 million potted poinsettias. “After we’re done, I won’t want to see another poinsettia for a while,” she says.
Heather Newton juggles full-time lawyering and a high-profile literary career. A new Asheville book club reads her first novel this month.
by H. Byron Ballard . photo by Matt Rose
The blurbs on the front and back of Heather Newton’s new novel Under the Mercy Trees read like a who’s-who of Southern writers (Tom Franklin, Jill McCorkle). It’s no small feat for a first book. But this is not Newton’s first literary go-round. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies over the years, including the upcoming 27 Views of Asheville. In fact, the 48-year-old Raleigh native started writing at a very early age. “I began creating books of my own as soon as I was old enough to hold a stapler,” she says.
Newton, whose mother was a writer, is part of a collective called The Flat Iron Writers. Their name comes from downtown Asheville’s iconic Flat Iron Building on Battery Park—the place they first met in 1993. (The group includes fiction writers Genève Bacon, Marjorie Klein and others). Since it was published in January this year, Under the Mercy Trees has been selected as a Great Group Reads for the Women’s National Book Association, and it won the prestigious Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award for 2011. Previous recipients include Charles Frazier and Lee Smith. “I feel really fortunate that the novel has been received so well,” she says. “The reviews and other recognition it has gotten affirm that writing really is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.” This month, a new Asheville group, the Eat Your Words book club, will delve into Mercy Trees and discuss it over dinner on December 15.
interview and photo by Beth Ellen
Name: Lourdes “Luly” Gonzalez
Occupation: Environmental designer and owner of Alembic Studio
How did you get into architecture? It all started with party planning...that’s a long story. But the connection, I’ve found, between party planning and architecture is communication and creative problem solving. It also serves as my medium to give back and work towards solutions to the big problems our society is facing.
How did it feel when you realized your company was actually making it? Saying that I have made it is still a bit of a stretch. I can say it feels empowering to merely aspire as an independent businesswoman and see that the hard work is starting to pay off.
What do you like about fall? Fall is the only season, for me, that has a distinctive aroma. Don’t ask me to describe it. It smells like fall! And not to mention the colors. It’s always been my favorite color scheme; warm earth tones.
What do you do to stay warm? Huddle around the fireplace with my three basset hounds.
What is your favorite fall accessory? A long cozy sweater.
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Name: Elly Wells
Occupation: Owner of Elly Wells Marketing & Project Management in downtown Asheville
You seem to promote and have your hands in so many things around town. What’s one thing our readers would be surprised to learn about you? I’ve never watched TV in my life. In total, I’ve probably watched less than 100 hours.
Wow, impressive. It’s just not my medium.
Anything else? When I was a little kid, around 4, I fell in Lake Lure, and only one person saw me. He was a Boy Scout, but pretty young, and he jumped in saved me. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be here.
Glad he did. And what’s one thing people shouldn’t miss in December? The Unsilent Night walk that Jim Julien organizes. (This year, it’s December 21.) It’s based on a Phil Kline piece. Everyone comes downtown and walks around with boomboxes playing this piece of music. People look at you like you’re a little bit crazy, but it is the coolest thing.
You’re from here, and many people seem to know you. Do you have any secret double lives? If I have a secret double life, it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder. My husband and I look after mountain forest land that’s been in the family for over a century. Sometimes when I’m out there on the mountain digging ditches or thinking about the trees, I feel like I’ve gone back in time.
Unrequited love comes in many forms.
by Susan Reinhardt . photo by Rimas Zailskas
Is there any feeling that produces more angst and woe than being on the wrong end of unrequited love?
I remember at 14, falling hard as a cinderblock for a tall, tanned lifeguard who was four years my senior. I scribbled his name in all my journals, continuing to pine over him for seven long years.
He’d toss me crumbs of hope. “Hey, Mule Ears,” he’d say, and give my wayward ears a flick with his finger. Or he’d sort of pet me and say, “You’re just as cute as a speckled pup.” He dated a long line of my friends but never asked me out. Even though I had boyfriends during this seven-year infatuation, I never got over this man. Not until he finally asked me out. Then, I decided he really wasn’t what I’d dreamed up in all those years of agonizing fantasy.
As a solo artist, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls has blasted off in ten different new directions. Catch her at The Grey Eagle this month.
by Beth Ellen
To listen to her solo stuff, you might not even guess that Amy Ray was the other half of the folky, airy Indigo Girls of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. On her own, Ray’s sound is altogether more punky and hardcore. Left to her own devices, her tunes are sometimes intense and jagged, often melancholy, and overall, incredibly diverse. She has five solo albums out, including last year’s MVP Live, and on the tracks, she can croon like a Motown soul singer or rock out like The Violent Femmes. She plays The Grey Eagle on December 9 with The Shadowboxers, a five-man rock band from Atlanta.
Why such an intimate Asheville venue? Wouldn’t a mega-star be better suited to the Civic Center or The Orange Peel? “I love the Grey Eagle. It’s a really fun rock space,” Ray told VERVE recently by email. The Decatur, Georgia, native has spent a lot of time in North Carolina. She recorded her last solo album in Asheville’s Echo Mountain Recording Studios, and she’s been obsessed lately with a newish Asheville band, Arizona. She just wrapped up recording in Greensboro on a new solo project, Lung of Love, due out in February. You might also spot her around town. “I come up [from my home in North Georgia] sometimes just to hang out,” she writes.
A Hendersonville designer makes bags and scarves to honor her sister-in-law.
by Mick Kelly . photo by Brent Fleury
In the last few weeks of her life, Billie Satterfield gave her sister-in-law what no one else could have: encouragement to quit her job and start her own shop.
Hendersonville native Beverly Satterfield had been working for 17 years in the insurance and billing office of Western Carolina Urology. But she’d secretly dreamed of owning her own boutique where she would sell her own handmade fashion pieces.
Sadly, in 2000, Beverly’s sister-in-law Billie was diagnosed with lymphoma, and sometime in 2003, it became clear Billie was losing the fight against the disease.
For weeks, Billie was mostly in a daze, with a steady intake of narcotics for pain. Then, one day, while she was sitting with Beverly, Billie sat up in her hospital bed and took Beverly’s hand. “I’ve been thinking—those bags you’ve always wanted to make—I think you should do it,” Beverly recalls her sister-in-law saying. “Look at me. Life’s too short.” Billie died two weeks later.
What does it mean to Occupy?
Americans at least seem interested in the question, as they watch scenes from Occupy movements play out on their computers, TV screens and home turfs. I wanted to hear what local women in the movement were up to, and boy, did I get an earful. “I believe most of our major systems are rigged and flawed to serve the interests of a few,” said Rosetta Star of Rosetta’s Kitchen, when I asked her why she got involved (see story, page 40). As Star reminded me, the most visible players sometimes aren’t the ones doing work that furthers the movement. “If you drive by the protest, you aren’t going to see us. We’re working behind the scenes.” While running her restaurant and raising five children, she’s been sending food to the folks camping out on Asheville streets. She talks up Occupy to other business owners, and she’s working on electing delegates to send to a national rally next summer. No, she’s not camping. But she seems to be occupying something—perhaps a new corner of the political arena that has us all talking about economic justice, freedom and public space.
I love the winter holidays and giving gifts. But since I’ve been pondering economic justice myself, anything I buy this year will be made locally. Franzi Charen, a VERVE cover girl and founder of the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, is encouraging folks to switch their gift-buying to local outlets through the Shift Your Shopping campaign (check out shiftyourshopping.org). One Asheville event that’s a one-stop-shop for handmade goods—many made by area women—is The Big Crafty, at Pack Place on December 4 (see page 16). I’ll be there, looking for the funny, irreverent Asheville blogger and crafter Robin Plemmons. One of her cards reads: “If you’re not laughing, you’re not living.” So true. I hope someone makes you laugh this holiday season. And if Robin made a thank you card (you know it would be funny), I’d send one to every VERVE reader, supporter and contributor. Thank you very much for tuning in. I so enjoy creating the magazine each month and couldn’t do it without your help. See you in the new year.