Occupy Denton Tragedy Marks Lessons for Campus-Based Encampments
Darwin Cox was an Occupier right down to his very core. He believed in the movement, and he believed it could succeed.
The 23-year-old Cox was found dead in a tent on the site of the Occupy Denton encampment at the University of North Texas campus on Dec. 4. Denton Occupiers held a vigil in his memory the following Monday.
While officials have yet to announce the cause of death, many Occupiers who knew him well said that he struggled with drug addiction, and they suspect drugs played a role in the tragedy that has left the Occupy Denton family aching, awestricken, and introspective.
Cox was homeless at the time he came to be part of Occupy Denton; in this small Texas town, there is just one Salvation Army shelter, and it tests for drug use upon entry. The lack of infrastructure left him with few other places to go.
But Cox was much more than a self-styled traveler in need of a little help. He was caring and offered what little he had to anyone who befriended him. I sensed his warmth and earnestness from the few conversations we exchanged at the Occupy camp site, where I’ve also spent time.
In the most recent action, just before his death, Occupy Denton protesters raised a number of local issues—including homelessness—during a public meeting with members of the Denton City Council, demanding more city funding be put into building shelters for Denton’s growing homeless population. The group also demanded an end to the city’s so-called “Brothel law,” which prohibits more than four unrelated persons to live together, preventing people from creating other types of shelters, and calling for an end to curfews in public parks, which prevent homeless persons from sleeping there.
Occupy Denton has abided by a no drug and no alcohol policy from the inception of the encampment in October. And, as the encampment is set-up on campus property, university policy dictated that no non-student would be allowed to stay indefinitely on campus property. But the occupiers are compassionate people who envision a more compassionate world, so the mostly student encampment rightfully allowed Cox to stay when there was enough tent space to share. Cox was eager to Occupy—in every sense of the word.
He quickly found support and a community within the Occupy Denton space, and you could often find him strumming a guitar under the mid-day sun, sharing his thoughts, and listening to others’ who frequented the encampment.
Not many at the site knew of his on-going struggle with drug addiction, but it became more apparent as many grew closer to him. Cox was confronted about his use of drugs at the site by those who knew about it but, as with many Occupy sites dealing with similar situations, Occupy Denton members lacked the proper resources to help him handle the daunting complexities of addiction.
It’s important to keep this in mind as we hear reports about drugs, sexual assault, and other such problems at Occupy sites across the country. Just as these issues plague our larger society, they will be found within the democratic microcosm of Occupy. It is irrational and illogical to expect utopia within the alternative spaces Occupiers seek to create.
But as many Occupy camps begin to relocate onto college campuses across the U.S., it’s issues like these that should be weighed heavily as Occupiers consent on encampment policy and develop measures to enforce their consensus.
Enforcement has been a tricky issue as some police forces have only proved to be violent and hostile to the movement, causing many Occupiers to hesitate calling on them for protection.
We must strive to come up with non-violent but effective means of upholding democratic consensus decision making through egalitarian means. We must be more cognizant of the consequences of not taking this aspect of deliberation seriously.
I don’t know whether we could have saved our friend Darwin Cox if Occupy Denton had any effective measure of enforcement. We were lacking in infrastructure and resources in our camp and throughout our city. But no one thought twice about accepting Cox into the encampment, because we are human beings and because Darwin was a true contribution to our occupation and a great friend.
I hope that other Occupiers can glean some wisdom from our tragedy and anticipate real world issues and complexities together, critically analyze them, and think about better solutions than what our current society is offering.
Candice Bernd is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceBernd.