“Why am I here?” he repeated. He didn’t miss a beat; his voice was sharp. “I think that corporations are being too intrusive into our everyday lives. I think they have more or less taken over our electoral system. I fear corporations more than I fear our government.”
Meanwhile, a woman who identified herself as Erin paced behind the fountains with the assistance of a cane.
“I feel that I am part of the 99 percent,” she said, speaking tersely and to the point. “Big Pharma has robbed my life… Big Pharma companies are in bed with the government.” She also expressed problems with government bailouts. “Example: Chase Bank took the bailout, forgot how many billions of dollars they got; however, after that, they turned around and laid off over 14,000 workers. How is that bailing out?” she said.
Another man, whose name and occupation he “would rather not say,” sat by one of the fountains. He wore a rusty chain around his neck connected to a cinder block, upon which he had written the word “debt.” On the back were names of certain individuals and organizations: Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and Bill Gates, as well as AIG, TSA, and the Federal Reserve. “[The debt is] a weight hanging around people’s necks, you know?” he said. “And it’s people that make money not for producing any product, just from moving money around. Simple as that.”
The noise at the occupation was mostly contained to few small groups — the musicians, those by the fountains, those sitting outside the Panera next to the park. A circle of self-described anarchists, all in their teens or twenties, sat around several stacks of fliers and pamphlets advocating their cause. Soon, one of them began to raise his voice.
“If we don’t do it, no one will!” he shouted, and then paused deliberately, looking around at his companions, grinning, and then finishing, “Occupy Louisville!”
“If we don’t do it, no one will!” he began again, motioning for his friends to join him. Some caught on and shouted with him, “Occupy Louisville!”
After a few more recitations, those in his circle and some surrounding people started to chant with him. “If we don’t do it, no one will! Occupy Louisville! If we don’t do it, no one will! Occupy Louisville!”
The chanting continued for a few more minutes until the chanters collapsed into giggles and scattered cheers.
They and the rest of the people sitting in the square were participants in the Occupy Louisville movement, a protest characterized as the masses rising up to rectify the misdeeds of the super-rich “1 percent” of the population. Begun in New York City as Occupy Wall Street, the movement spread in both scope and population, as thousands of the “99 percent” expressed their support. As thousands of people marched down the Brooklyn Bridge, resulting in 700 arrests, other protests arose in cities across the country, including Boston, Los Angeles, Louisville, and Lexington.
“We’ve been occupying Lexington for the past four days, 24 hours a day,” Moody, who had attended the Lexington protest, said. “It was the [third] city to occupy. It was New York, Boston, and Lexington.”
Major unions soon threw their weight behind the occupations. Hundreds of uniformed airline pilots marching down Wall Street created a powerful picture, as did the support of other unions.
The movement also drew support from several politicians, including Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. “I support their message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen. We cannot continue in a way that is not relevant to their lives,” Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Minority House Leader, told ABC News.
The “change” referred to a variety of complaints and goals of the movement. According to the protest’s “Declaration of Occupation,” the grievances ranged from foreclosure on homes to dependence on foreign oil to the production of weapons of mass destruction. The Occupy Louisville protesters had similarly diverse demands: James Bircher, ex-employee of a Florida marina, wanted to repeal the Glass-Steagal act; Jerry Moody wanted to ban corporate donations to elections. Other protesters wanted to halt overseas wars, make government finance transparent, or end the wage gap.
Another Louisville protester, who identified himself as Matt, said, “We want to at least try and get a few people’s minds awakened to the fact that we’re not as free as we should be. Freedom is not what it’s supposed to be.”
Problems with Protest
Like many protests, the movement drew criticism from from politicians, members of the media, and those who the protesters would describe as fellow members of the “99 percent.”
Some thought that the protests unfairly scapegoated the rich. Republican presidential candidate Harman Cain told the Wall Street Journal, “Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself . . . it is not a person’s fault because they succeeded. It is a person’s fault if they failed.”
Republican candidate Mitt Romney told CBS News, “We have a very capable financial services sector that makes loans and allows business to start and thrive. Are there bad actors on Wall Street? Absolutely. And are there bad actors on Main Street? Absolutely. All the streets are connected – Wall Street’s connected to Main Street. And so finding a scapegoat, finding someone to blame, in my opinion isn’t the right way to go.”
Matt Garofalo (12) supported the idea of the protests but thought that there was a better way to meet demands. “I think that the protest does not portray the issue in the most serious and professional manner possible,” he said. “I would rather try to contact the bank executives, try to understand their position, and then try to negotiate a settlement. If they were not willing to meet, then I would build a case and sue. I’m not really a confrontational/protesting type of person. I’d rather just sit and work it directly if at all possible.”
James Miller (10) fully supported the occupations. “I’ve been hoping to go to the one in Louisville to show my support and I plan to soon; and if I had the resources to go to New York, then I would,” he said.
However, Miller thought that the demands were somewhat vague. “I’m not too sure on what exactly they want done myself, despite reading their Declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street,” Miller said. “I do think the movement is, nevertheless, still important for drawing attention to the one central problem it is standing against: the wealthy’s control over the country. I think when the movement has even more attention not only from the public but from the government, they can start making more specific demands.”
Support and Solidarity
On the first day of the Louisville protests, a diverse group of about fifty people gathered at 4th and Jefferson. Each one sat in his or her own group, each with his or her own issue with corporations or the government. They were, however, united in one aspect: their support for the Wall Street protesters.
A Manual student who wished to remain anonymous sat with the group of young anarchists. “I decided to come because I really respect the way Occupy Wall Street is going,” she said. “. . .If you look at their demands and the way that they’re running things, I really like it, and I love the idea of having Occupy Louisville or Occupy Lexington or whatever for people who can’t get to Wall Street but who still have grievances.”
“We heard about the protests on the news, so we thought we’d come down and show our support for the kids,” Teresa Inman, a retired protester sitting in the shade of Panera Bread, said.
A bartender, who also wished to remain anonymous, sat on the far side of the fountain. “My biggest reason is because I believe that people do have the power to change things,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting them all together to do it. And it kind of spreads. It’s really contagious . . . it sparks something for people to see that maybe we can do this. That’s my biggest reason is to show support for us, for people.”
Between 2:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on that first day, a few dozen people attended the occupation: a tiny number compared to the thousands of protesters marching through the streets of New York. But that, said Moody, was just a typical part of the movement.
“I think it will keep on growing,” he said, “especially as the economy turns worse . . . we’re practically slaves, and so in order to recapture our humanity, we have to do this.”
Emily McConville is a junior at duPont Manual High School. She is the assistant copy editor of Manual Redeye and the copy advisor of the Crimson Yearbook. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Brown also contributed to this article. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Photos by Tyler Darnell.