Phoenix – Pen Alandt’s guitar, which he covered with bumper stickers and waved in the air at the Occupy Phoenix protest on Monday, is a symbol of the movement itself — a mélange of disparate causes, all of which prompt his blood to boil.
Mr. Alandt, 53, an out-of-work stagehand and one of hundreds participating in Phoenix’s version of Occupy Wall Street, is furious that people are dying in foreign wars. He is angry that medical marijuana was still considered illegal despite Arizona voters’ approval of it. He is livid about his lot in life.
“Bro, I have been lied to so many times that I don’t know who to believe,” Mr. Alandt said. “All the world’s problems run downhill, and I’m at the bottom.”
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Protesters have taken to the streets and parks in cities across America, and in foreign capitals to boot, all under the banner of the Occupy movement. But not every group that has embraced the name, nor every individual who answers its call, necessarily marches in the same contentious lockstep.
While the protesters seem united in feeling that the system is stacked against them, with the rules written to benefit the rich and the connected, they are also just as often angry about issues closer to home, like education and the local environment. Each gathering bubbles up from its own particular city’s stew of circumstances and grievances, and the protesters bring along their pantheons of saints and villains.
“Peace activists, indigenous rights activists, immigrant activists — they’re all here,” said Liz Hourican, 40, who belongs to the antiwar group Code Pink and was scrawling a message in pink chalk on a sidewalk in downtown Phoenix, calling on American troops to come home. “It may sound different to you, but it’s all the same. We’re all stepping up and saying something’s wrong.”
There may be no common manifesto or list of goals — something that has drawn criticism from both inside and outside the movement — but there is one common thread: anger. Some have looked for jobs for months; others have lost their homes to foreclosure. Angry, they all are.
“What brings me out here? Outrage — outrage with what’s going on in this country,” said Lucy Horwitz, 79, who participated in Occupy Los Angeles. “Right now, the first issue on my mind is that corporations can buy congressmen.”
In Lower Manhattan on Monday afternoon, protesters were drawn by a vast array of concerns: stark income inequality in the city, their family’s suffering from salary cuts, the embarrassment of resorting to food stamps despite working 40 hours a week.
Kay Merryweather, 34, an artist on the Lower East Side, volunteers at Trinity Church, giving out food. She said that during the financial crisis, when banks were receiving bailouts and financial executives were receiving multimillion-dollar bonuses, the church often ran out before the long lines of working poor were fed. “The bankers were getting all of these millions,” Ms. Merryweather said. “And we didn’t have enough food.”
But not far away, Benny Zable, 66, a longtime activist, was protesting while wearing a gas mask and a suit that read “Work Consume Be Silent Die.” He said his outrage came from the heedlessness of economic growth. “It’s the greed factor,” Mr. Zable said.
In Chicago, where 175 protesters were arrested over the weekend for curfew violations, a crowd outside the Federal Reserve Bank marched to the beat of improvised drums. “Education is a part of it; housing is a part of it; jobs are a part of it,” said Maryem Alyhabib, 34, who left her three children with her mother to protest for an hour and a half on Monday for the first time.
Without the symbolic power of a Wall Street, many local activists have improvised by occupying parks, street corners, always someplace with a link to the power structure they denounce. The many arrests that have taken place across the country have linked protesters in spirit.
“Just because you’re not on Wall Street doesn’t mean you’re not affected by what they do and the decisions that they make,” said Daniel Saltzman, 23, who was cited on a charge of criminal trespass over the weekend at Occupy Tucson. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the money to fly to New York, but we still can make a difference in our community.”
Some protesters in Phoenix shifted on Monday from a park near downtown to the State Capitol, where Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Republican presidential candidate, was meeting with local politicians who favor building more border fences.
Russell Pearce, the president of the Arizona State Senate, the Republican who has led the state’s immigration crackdown, dismissed the protesters. “Even the anarchists have a right to march down the street and hate America,” he said in an interview.
In Boston, a hub of colleges and universities, a higher education theme emerged among protesters. “What did I spend the last four years doing?” asked Becky De Freitas, a recent graduate of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. “Fluent in Mandarin and French and no one wants to go for that? And it’s like, now what?”
In Atlanta, protesters marched to the intersection of Peachtree and Mitchell Streets, where many businesses have closed. “That block of businesses is a microcosm of everywhere,” said Sara Amis, 42, a writing instructor at the University of Georgia. “These problems are everywhere. What happened at Peachtree and Mitchell is happening all over the state, all over the country, and all over the world.”
In London, where thousands of protesters occupy a space under the soaring dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city’s financial district, a bearded man in a Greenpeace jacket, George Barda, 35, engaged in a heated debate with a passer-by, Naveed Somani, 24, who works in development for the Commonwealth Secretariat, an intergovernmental organization.
Mr. Somani had stopped to express skepticism that such a nebulous movement could succeed. Mr. Barda said he hoped that all the Occupy protests around the world would unite, in time, to lay out concrete aims. “What we need to do is come up with demands that are common sense, inevitable,” Mr. Barda said.
Mr. Somani countered, “It’s nice to have a romantic fantasy.”
The ad hoc nature of the protests led to some discord.
Jean Marie Simpson, an actor and peace activist, objected when her fellow demonstrators at Occupy Tucson surrounded a man who had assailed the movement, shouting at him and thrusting signs in his face. “I left disappointed and disillusioned,” she said of her fellow occupiers.
But the inclusive nature of the movement, many said, gave it its strength. In Occupy Los Angeles, mothers from Malibu gathered outside City Hall with homeless people who took advantage of the free food offered in a tent city that is growing by the day.
“Everyone is here for very separate reasons, and that’s one of the reasons that this movement works,” said Sam Agger, an Occupy Tucson participant.
Reporting was contributed by Ford Burkhart, Michelle A. Monroe and Kellie Mejdrich from Tucson; Jess Bidgood from Boston; Steven Yaccino from Chicago; Ian Lovett from Los Angeles; Isolde Raftery from Seattle; Dan Frosch from Denver; Robbie Brown from Atlanta; Ravi Somaiya from London; and Cara Buckley from New York.