Last Sunday afternoon after returning from a week-end away in Eugene, Oregon watching the University of Oregon defeat Arizona State University in college football, I spent an hour in downtown Seattle at Westlake Center, the center of the Occupy Wall St. – Occupy Seattle demonstration. The purpose of my visit was to meet with some demonstrators and learn first hand about the message of the protest movement.
Shortly after arriving at Westlake Center, I witnessed a small group of demonstrators standing in a large circle chanting about the need to be unified and inter-connected. I chose to stay out of their circle and instead spoke to a middle aged man named Carlo from Redmond, WA who reported that he had been demonstrating in Seattle since the movement first began in downtown Seattle several weeks ago.
Carlo calmly explained that change is needed in America concerning how wealth is distributed. He spoke about the need for the reform with large banking American corporations and urged for greater accountability and a new system that does not allow for wealth to be excessively concentrated at the top. Carlo is a self described environmentalist who spoke in glowing terms about the need for adopting stronger environmental policies for businesses and corporations in America.
Another demonstrator named Bradford, 64, a retired man from Seattle, spoke to me about the need for more taxation from the U.S. government. He recommends boycotts for corporations that fail to follow government regulations and break rules. Bradford admitted that he is a mixture of a capitalist and socialist even though it became apparent during my time with him that he was leery about being associated with capitalism. I met another demonstrator who carried a labor rights sign from his local union which supported theater workers.
After walking around the gathering of an estimated 125 people, including a local Seattle news team from a Fox News affiliate, I became aware that some of the demonstrators in the group were anti-war activists. This small group of anti-war demonstrators were formed into a small circle and sang an anti-war song. A few of the demonstrators were carrying signs supporting Ron Paul for president.
A tiny minority of demonstrators were wearing anarchist masks and appeared ready to cause anarchy around the streets of Seattle as they did several years earlier during the World Trade Organization riots which caused outrage and sparked international media attention.
A medium size group of about 10 demonstrators gathered to talk about the issue of racial inequality. I saw a couple of demonstrators who were supporting the legalization of marijuana. An older homeless man, who seemed out of place at the demonstration site, appeared to wander around the site with no clear direction. He asked me if he could take a sleeping bag that was lying on the ground, surrounded by a group of approximately 20-30 tents in the corner of Westlake Center.
Despite the diversity in the crowd and the competing political messages, the majority of demonstrators seemed to be uniting around the topic of challenging the status quo in America and calling for greater wealth distribution by the 1% for the rest of the 99% of Americans.
I spoke to a well educated middle aged man named David, who is employed in the Seattle area and was carrying around a hand made cardboard sign. David described the plight of some Americans families who took out large school loans against their houses to get their children a college education even though their house is now upside down in debt as a result of the 2008-2009 housing crisis. Meanwhile, their college educated son or daughter can’t even find a job in America as a barista and can’t earn any money. And to make matters worse, the bank lender, who owns the house mortgage, is now coming after the family for late loan payments despite the bank sitting on large amounts of bank capital that they don’t want to loan to Americans.
David spoke passionately about the need for greater accountability for the “crimes” committed by corporate America. He cited the use of derivates by financial corporations which caused the housing crisis and said that he supports stripping corporations from their personhood status that was granted by the Supreme Court which stems from the 14th amendement. “It was a a colossal mistake” he recounted. The objections contained within the corporate personhood issue gravitate around constitutional protections granted to corporations, including the claims of a Constitutional right to contribute to political campaigns.
David said that he supports campaign finance reform and rejects the current system that allows for outside corporate and political interests to impact local U.S. elections in regions where they don’t even have the authority to vote. “Only contribute if you can vote on the issue, he emphasized.” David opposes special interest groups that seek to drive local public policy issues for their own special interests and profit.
He also pointed out that banks such as Bank of America took bailout TARP money from the U.S. governement while paying their CEO a large bonus. David supports having stricter banking regulations and stricter punishment terms for banks and institutions that violate government regulations and campaign finance reform laws. David admitted that change is needed across the country but acknowledged that it will be a long and painful process for it to fully come to fruitation.
As I was wandering away from the demonstration site, I witnessed a small group of people (6 or so) in the demonstration gathered together in the corner of Westlake Center playing drums, trambones, and horns. They appeared to be improvising some music for the who audience who listened intently to the new sounds they were spontaneously creating.
The hour that I spent with the demonstrators in downtown Seattle confirmed that much of the Occupy Wall St. – Occupy Seattle movement can be likened to the group of musicians I watched who came together to play a new song. Each demonstrator seems to have a unique reason for joining the demonstration group and each contributes their own sound to the larger sounds resonating from the larger group. Although the focus of the movement seems to be improvised, spontaneous, leaderless, and with no clear direction about implementing change in America, it is clear that the new sounds from the Occupy Wall St. movement in downtown Seattle and in other cities throughout the U.S. are being heard and have the potential to influence change in the future.
** Lastly, I brought a video camera during my visit and took some video. I will try to upload the video at a later date after I learn how to master the editing. There are some scenes that I need to edit. I am not a professional camera operator.