Occupy Wall Street becomes Occupy Northampton


'Occupy Northampton ' demonstrators out in front of the Bank of America on Oct 6.

The ‘ Occupy Wall Street’ movement’s message against corporate power and Wall Street greed touched down in Northampton just a little over a week ago on Thursday Oct 6, when demonstrators assembled outside the Bank of America branch on Main Street, for what its organizers dubbed ‘Occupy Northampton’.

   Standing behind barricades erected by Northampton Police in the parking area in front of the bank, protesters wielded homemade signs, chanted slogans, and sang along to the music of a burly college age acoustic guitar player backed up on occasion by the slap of a tribal drum or the shaking of a percussion instrument.
    Collectively, those in attendance  referred to themselves as ‘the 99%’, a term common in the vernacular of the ‘Occupy movement’ rallies across the country.
 The scene at times had the feel of being a grab bag of causes. Some advertised an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, others the end of the Federal Reserve as well as bank bailouts. One even held a sign calling for ‘justice for Troy Davis’. But they were unanimous in their frustration of the widening economic disparity and what they claim is a government and economy geared towards wealthy interests at the rest of America’ s expense.

Jennifer Hartley, of Florence was at the 'Occupy Northampton' with her young daughter Lilly (not in picture).

 ” The power shift in this country has gone too far,” said Jesse Rossado, a 36-year-old who has a culinary arts degree, but nevertheless has been forced to work menial jobs just to make ends meet.” It just seems that because our political system is bought by rich and powerful people, that they forget about regular folks like us.”
   Police officers throughout the day stood nearby to ensure order was kept. There were no arrests or unlawful activity had taken place. A security guard hired by the Bank stood outside and according to one demonstrator was armed with a .45 magnum  . The guard would not confirm or deny this, and after calling the Bank of America to inquire further I hung up after about five minutes of elevator music and an automated voice telling me my call was important.
   Demonstrations began that day at about 8am, when a small group made the short trek from Pulaski Park to the bank for the planned event. An hour and a half later when I arrived, about thirty were there. Numbers throughout the day varied, but eventually came to average between about fifty and seventy people present at any given time.
   Seth Newton, a Northampton resident and activist who was the architect of  the event said he was inspired after spending a weekend with friends participating in the ‘Occupy’ demonstrations in New York and Boston the weekend before.
     ” I felt it had just skipped over Northampton,” said Newton, who believes  that in order for the movement to stay alive, people need to be able to get involved at the local level.
” I want it to be everywhere so it can really, really work,” he said.” It shouldn’t be disconnected. You see it on tv and its like this distant thing that isn’t that real. It should be in your backyard. People should have it everywhere.”

People held signs denouncing what they see is a culture of greed on Wall Street.

   Graying baby boomers and a few young parents with small children accompanying them could be seen. But like the b-roll and account of many other demonstrations of its kind, the crowd was largely young people. College students, recent graduates, those underemployed and over-educated, and even a few teenagers worried about the future.
 ” There are a lot of young people involved because we have the most to lose if things don’t get fixed,” said Brandon Striti, a 16-year-old wearing a long black coat and a V for vendetta mask.
    Others in attendance have already had some of their dreams differed.” I thought I’d be pretty well set up, ” said Alexandra Scheriff, 20 who lives in Chicopee.
      Scheriff had been a student at St. Mary’s in Nova Scotia where she was studying linguistics and foreign languages in hopes of becoming an interpreter. But after one year she couldn’t get money to go back. She sits on the sidewalk curb next to her girlfriend Jessica with a cardboard sign that reads: ‘ I was part of the top 90% of my class in 2009. I can’t find a job’.

” Things have gone just so wrong with the economy,” said Scheriff. ” I mean, everyone is just starting out at this low point, especially people just getting out of High School or getting out of college. You start out with either so much debt or you start out with nothing.”

   Passersby were largely sympathetic. Honks of support  from passing traffic came  in torrents. Curious spectators often paused to observe them, many holding up smart phones to snap pictures or record video. Others stopped and talked with individual protesters, joined them, or dropped off donations of food and water.

A masked protester at the 'Occupy Northampton'

   Just as with ‘Occupy’ demonstrations across the country that more often than not lack a P.A system and bulky equipment, anyone in attendance could speak before the crowd by yelling mic-check. They would then make an announcement, read a poem out loud, or make a statement. After uttering a few words or a sentence, the speaker would then pause and the whole crowd would together repeat what was said, thereby amplifying the message.
  One man with silver hair slicked back and wearing a black suit and tie, stood up against a nearby wall smoking a cigarette as he watched.” We need this kind of stuff, defiantly,” said the man who works in advertising. ” In my day we did things like this, and then we forgot about it.”A masked protester at the ‘Occupy Northampton’ demonstration.

  He wasn’t the only one to reference past protest movements. One man, who didn’t identify himself but said he was a retired journalist from Canada active in the protest movements of the 1960s compared the still young ‘Occupy’ movement to the demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

”You know when something else like this is the tipping point when it begins to spread,” he said. “Its spreading into Canada. People are saying they’ve had enough. Nobody is speaking for them, so they’re speaking for themselves.”

Since the movement began getting serious media coverage,  conservatives have been vocal in their denunciations of the movement,accusing ‘occupiers’ of promoting socialism and causing lawlessness with their mass arrests in cities such as New York City. Republicans including Presidential front-runner and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has accused those demonstrators of inciting ‘class warfare’. It is a charge most balk at, saying that it is the policies of deregulation and tax cuts for the most affluent that has been the source of this division, they are merely fighting back for their share in life.

” I don’t know if Mitt Romney is much of an authority,” said Jesse Rossado. ” But what I [would] tell Mitt Romney if he was here today is that class warfare has been going on for a long time. I mean we’ve seen family farms under attack. We’ve seen small businesses go down, while large businesses are bailed out by government. We’ve seen working families put out on the street, while banks are bailed out. So that to me is class warfare.”

      Though there have been some lists released of various goals that range from debt forgiveness to a living wage, but none that have had the public approval of the movement’s various chapters. No consensus on matters of policy and no manifesto have been circulated to be what some say would gain it more political credibility. In other words, outrage is not a strategy. Those in attendance though, say the organic nature of this movement doesn’t lend itself to fitting a traditional package.

      ” I wouldn’t expect there to be a coherent leader, because this really needs to be a grassroots movement of many people,” said Prekaush Laffer, 62 of Florence who is the editor of ‘ Let us Move together’, a local publication about cooperatives. ” We all need to become leaders. I have clear ideas of economic democracy, local economies, and an alternate vision of capitalism. But what people are most aware of is that the system is not working.”

    Tesia Volger, of Amherst who works in elderly care probably best identified the both the source of the outrage and the direction the movement is going in, when she said the social contract between most Americans and the government has been broken.

” There is a feeling of dissatisfaction and energy about that. We’re not sure what direction it is going to go in yet, but it is there,  and it’s being expressed.”

     Whether this movement is ephemeral or something that can be built upon. Whether it can get a foothold in the hearts and minds of the American mainstream or comes to be seen as rabble one thing is for certain. Whether this grievances are displayed on the streets, in meetings, through social media, or in the private pain of their own minds, its behind politics. In many cases it is their lives.

Also:

      ‘Occupy Northampton’  Photo Gallery 

  More posted updates to come.

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