Occupy movements in small towns across the United States are multiplying in size, but it's all too rare to hear the voices of the people taking part, even in local media outlets. There is no official site compiling the number of Occupy locations across the country, but according to this Occupy Spreadsheet, there are 38 movements across the state of California and that's not counting camps in large cities.
Over the past few weeks, the people I've met and interviewed at Occupy Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa say they're growing in size and face the same struggles and challenges as every other community, but they don't expect the media to give them fair coverage.
Tim Darby, a demonstrator with Occupy Monterey, says media coverage has been “very poor.” He says most of the coverage he's read and seen – and he's been watching closely – fails to include personal stories. “Our problem is that the two local [television] stations are KION, a Fox affiliate and KSBW, a Hearst owned company. Neither are going to want to represent us fairly,” he said. “We are trying to develop a good relationship with the rest of the local community, with initiatives to support local independent businesses and other local campaigns such as the workers at La Playa Hotel who just got laid off. Also, we have someone from In-Home Support Services coming to the next General Assembly to ask for our support. I think this will be the best way to engage others in our local community, rather than hoping that we can get some fair, representative coverage on the local media.”
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And that's what makes this movement so compelling. There's no predicting where it will go next. Based on what I've heard from people involved in different Occupy movements, the possibilities are endless. When I attended Occupy Monterey this past Saturday, I told the crowd that I was interested in meeting people who've never been politically active or attended a rally before. Within minutes, five demonstrators lined up to tell their stories. People clearly want to talk.
When Karen Ford approached me, she said her story is “different from most.” A self-described lifelong Republican, Ford has met Ronald Reagan and was good friends with former California Gov. Pete Wilson. She says her “beloved country and party have been hijacked and aren't standing for the same things they used to.”
Ford decided to join Occupy Monterey because most of the things the 99 percenters are saying make a lot of sense. “You can't have a decent society where just a few people earn a whole lot of money and everybody else is starving to death.”
Charmaine Felton spent 35 years teaching at a special needs school in the Monterey area. Other than speaking out at a few school board meetings, she's never publicly expressed her views about education and the vilification of teachers. The Occupy movement gave her the inspiration she needed to get involved and speak out.
“We let everyone else tell us what our profession was. We didn't take charge of our profession because, well, we can't strike. It'll harm the children,” she says. “But in the long run, we have done more harm to children in the public schools because they kept changing where the line in the sand was and we kept moving back, saying, 'Ok, we'll do more with less.' And this is where we are today.”
Felton says she's had enough. “Every other industrialized nation holds teachers up as high as doctors and lawyers and we in America … how did this happen? Everybody loves their child's teachers, but in general, we are bashed. It's insane. It's an insane system in public education now.”
Joan Channon was also inspired by seeing so many people working to take “our country back from the corporations.” A restaurant owner with 35 employees, Channon says she is in the top five percent and is “happy to pay more taxes.”
“We need to educate our children. We need to make things in America,” she says. In order to do that, there needs to be a major priority shift. “We have to change that whole greed as a mentality in our country and learn to share again,” she says.
Derek Bausek, a 22-year-old who is on track to graduate from college in the Spring, says it doesn't take much to know that something is significantly wrong with our society. “The people are frustrated. They are not content with what's going on. And most importantly, they just want to have answers. We created a mini community where you can come freely and voice your opinions, your wants, your questions, your frustrations and they are heard.”
Occupy Rally in Santa Rosa, California
Liz Fiekowsky, a labor rep with the California chapter of National Nurses United, has been living in the Santa Rosa area for seven years and says she's “never seen anything even close to this size of a crowd.”
National Nurses United is calling for a Financial Transaction Tax of 0.5 percent (one half of one percent) on Wall Street transactions. They say it could “generate billions in revenue to help our ailing economy, stimulate job growth, re-fund essential services and discourage the reckless, high-volume/short-term profit computer-driven Wall Street gambling that lead to our current economic crisis.”
Mateo Swaim-Brower spent a large chunk of the day taking photos with his sign. It said, “Your Bonus = 200 Years of My Youth Program!' Swaim-Brower, 17, attends Positive Images, a program that provides support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, queer and intersex youth and envisions a Sonoma County where all young people are valued. Swaim-Brower says the program costs $100,000 a year to run, and helps thousands of teenagers throughout the county.
He attended the rally to speak out for tax equality. At his small school, budget cuts have resulted in larger class sizes, teacher lay offs and a shorter school year. Several of his text books are 30 years old.
Fourteen-year-old Kira Findling says her school has also suffered from budget cuts. According to her sign, Santa Rosa High has no full-time librarian, four counselors for 2,4000 students and just two janitors. Students often have to walk across campus to go to the bathroom because the school doesn't have the staff to keep them all open. “It breaks my heart,” she says.
Findling says it was important to attend the rally to show unity with her community. “I feel a strong sense of family with everyone here. I'm doing this for me and all of the people who have jobs today who aren't getting paid enough.”
Chris hasn't been able to find any construction work in the past two years and is in the process of losing his home. “I don't know what else to do. It sounded like a good idea to come out and let someone know,” he says. Work started slowing down in 2006 and has gotten progressively worse. It was his first rally. He's 57.