Kevin Riordan: A quiet but determined Occupier in Trenton

Posted: November 08, 2011

Gently rocking in a canvas chair at Occupy New Jersey, Edward Anthony Salter seems as serene as the Sunday morning around him.

Pretty much everything else is closed in downtown Trenton, and for the moment, he's alone.

"Hello, brother," Salter, 29, says, his smile as strong as his handshake. "Have a seat."

For the next hour, we talk about why he's become a de facto resident of the World War II memorial park across State Street from the Capitol. A small band of "occupants" is maintaining a presence there to protest economic inequality, and this Trenton Central Class of 2000 graduate is a part of it.

"A more informed citizen is my goal," Salter says. "What I'm doing isn't an ideal, it's practical."

On weekdays, more than 50 people might stop by to chat, "and we have an active dialogue," he says. "An intellectual discourse."

A West Trenton resident who says "my work is what I want to do" and describes himself as "financially comfortable," Salter has spent most of his time at the memorial since Occupy New Jersey's Oct. 6 launch. He calls it "the greatest thing that's happened in my life."

Trenton is one of about 500 locations, mostly in the United States and Europe, inspired by the loosely organized Occupy Wall Street movement. So far, Occupy New Jersey has lacked the headline-making dramas of Oakland or New York.

But on Oct. 14, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs cracked down, saying no permanent encampment would be allowed and forbidding the use of generators.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey challenged what it called the department's confiscation of laptops and other Occupy gear, although laptops, as well as a generator, were up and running Sunday. And on Monday, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson issued a temporary restraining order, calling for the return of the property and preventing the state from imposing most of its proposed limits on the demonstration; a hearing is set for Dec. 19.

"When you're exercising your right to peaceful assembly and free speech, [some] people don't understand," Salter says. "They think we're being a nuisance."

He is clearly mindful of the notion that Occupy New Jersey is disrespecting "this beautiful memorial." After I arrive, unannounced, he's eager to show me around.

Tents are folded, sleeping bags are rolled, and boxes of provisions are stacked. There's no litter, and the only sound comes from a gas generator for the laptops and other equipment on a "media station" that continuously feeds live video to the Occupy New Jersey website.

As Salter and I chat, brilliant fall sunshine makes the stately granite gleam, and several passing vehicles sound their horns in solidarity. He says public support, particularly during the recent surprise snowstorm, has been "a beautiful thing."

Food-wise, however, "it's feast or famine out here. . . . There are times it's very hot, or very cold. But we have to make it work."

A collegiate-looking guy politely asks to sit down.

Supposedly, he and a roommate are about to be evicted; would someone buy his $25 Dunkin' Donuts gift card to help them out?

We refuse, politely.

With the man out of earshot, Salter says quietly, "there are people who are going through it so much worse" than the activists of Occupy New Jersey.

"There are people sleeping [outside] who are being harassed because they're unsightly," he says. "Because they're homeless."

Salter remains low-key, but his passion suddenly becomes palpable. This is the heart of it: Something has gone wrong in Trenton, in America - and he wants to do something about it.

"It's not a spectacle we [the occupants] put on," he says. "We're not putting on a show about democracy.

"I haven't actually come up here standing against anything. I've come up here to be for peaceful assembly, and free speech . . . for people having their voice heard."

That's why he wants to hear from everybody: tea partyers, liberals, libertarians, conservatives, "staunch this and staunch that."

And it's why, "when there's snow, I'm still going to be here, in this chair, with a snowsuit on," Salter says. "Talking to people."


Kevin Riordan:

To see video of Kevin Riordan's chat with Occupy Trenton protester Edward Anthony Salter, go to

www.philly.com/trenton


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq

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