Inside the Occupy Atlanta camp

After a day of protest, Kimlee Davis sat down in her tent in Woodruff Park and, by the light of her laptop, started her anthropology homework.

Like many in this city of 40 to 50 tents pitched amid the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta, the 25-year-old student at Georgia State University feels part of a globe-spanning movement for change: people speaking up against what they see as corporate greed and ruling elites who stifle democracy.

"I want to do something to change the world, but the world is so complicated," said Davis. "So many things in the world need change."

What City Hall wants to change, meanwhile, is the fact that people are camping, in violation of city rules, in a downtown park. The occupation has evoked conflicting historical impulses: pride in Atlanta's place as home to the architects of the civil rights struggle, up against officials' longtime effort to push the homeless out of downtown and make it more tourist-friendly.

The tension was apparent in a recent ultimatum from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in which he claimed the city's civil rights heritage but demanded that the campers leave the park no later than Monday.

Camp residents they had no plans to depart on the city's timetable; some said they'd risk arrest.

"I'm not afraid because I'm not doing anything wrong," said Ana Espinoza, 20, a part-time waitress. "But if it happens, I'm cool with it."

Friday marked a full week in the park for Occupy Atlanta, whose encampment features an American flag on a 10-foot pole the campers erected. After a week of living together, the park's residents had coalesced into a community, with loosely defined leadership and delegation of duties.

Several meetings occur each day. As Davis did her homework, the finance committee was setting up a bank account to transfer donations into a funds for food and printing needs. The media committee printed and distributed agendas that announced future Occupy marches and training. The demands committee was crafting a set of points to forward to the city.

The campers are primarily young adults and students, many from nearby GSU, as well as the unemployed and homeless people. There was the unemployed trucker, the college English teacher, some women arriving after a church gathering with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

There were also a half dozen young people who had been hopping freight trains to various Occupy sites around the country. They arrived from Chattanooga.

Davis has been camping out since Saturday, shuttling by bicycle between her tent, her classes and her apartment. Her tent was a jumble of water bottles, energy bars, textbooks and one stuffed animal.

Oliver Beinlich, a member of the demands committee, carried his things in the Army-issued backpack he used in Iraq. He dislocated his knee there and has been home looking for a job for seven months, with no luck.

"Think of this as a town hall meeting on how to change our government for the better," said Beinlich, 29, of Newton County

The effort attracted some unexpected participants, who didn't camp out but lent a hand.

Jonathan Byers, a programmer with Morgan Stanley, wore his dress shirt and tie as he held up a sign to passing traffic that said, "Get the money out of politics."

Byers said, "I'm just tired of the gridlock in Washington. It's all corrupt." He added, "I want people to know this is not just hippies and bums with no jobs."

His presence didn't stop some people walking by from taking umbrage, saying the ragtag group lacked organization and any coherent message.

"I think it's silly what they're doing," said Tim Nixon, 21, who lives in a building across from the park. Besides, he said, "They're way too loud in the morning."

Others objected to the tents monopolizing the park, such as the man who was accustomed to walking his dog where the protesters are camped.

Seminary student Seth Dunn traveled from Cartersville to the site to set the protesters straight. As he walked among the tents, he said he figured he'd find "some Communists and some atheists" and preach to them.

Undeterred by opposition, Occupy Atlanta holds a nightly "general assembly" to decide on proposals that emerge from the committees. People also share logistical tips, such as directions to the soup kitchen that was allowing people to use its washing machines and showers in exchange for volunteer work. Some students let other campers shower in their apartments. Word quickly spread of the public bathroom available nearby.

Campers find ways to fill the hours, often engaging in weighty conversations with strangers. Someone always seems to be strumming a guitar.

"We tried singing for money" on the street, Espinoza said. "We got not one penny."

The camp has established a media tent with a generator for lights and laptops. A food table was manned by a homeless man named Copperman and his dog, Copper. Much of the food was donated.

"Whatever comes in I'll feed it to the people," said Copperman, adorned with masses of copper jewelry.

People talked of the togetherness they found here, and the satisfaction of airing out of topics they feel have been ignored.

"There was a certain vacuum in political discourse. It was being monopolized by the right," said Thano Paris, 32, an English tutor in Decatur. "Revolution in our lifetime, that would be great. I'm not saying this is it, but it's in the air."

Paris took a dinner break at the nearby Rosa's Pizza, continuing his conversation with Isaac Steiner, 28. Steiner had moved back to  Atlanta after becoming unemployed in Chicago, and was living with his parents and friends. During a phone conversation with his mother, he said he felt the group was starting to bring together its message.

That hasn't been easy, since people bring a raft of issues to the table: corporate excess, influence peddling in Washington, animal rights, environmental protection, student loan cuts, the need for more jobs.

But the group's priorities are gradually emerging, said Brittany Gondolfi, 23, a college student and bartender from Candler Park who serves on the demands committee.

"We know we can't wait for the pundits and CEOs and the government to come up with the answer," she said. "This is meant to start a dialogue of the people, by the people and for the people."