Occupy SLC’s tent city grows ahead of Friday events
By cathy mckitrick
Amid sharp criticism from right-wing politicians and pundits, the Occupy Wall Street protests continue to grow in size and number in Utah and nationwide.
In day five, Utah’s Occupy SLC has established its working camp in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City as it readies for a big event it plans to stage Friday.
Elected officials in the Salt Lake area will be invited to tour the group’s tent city from 3 to 3:30 p.m. that day, then listen to speeches and presentations from Occupy SLC participants.
At 5 p.m., the Tony Wonder & Jordan Little Blues Revival band will perform, followed by Occupy SLC’s 6 p.m. march on Main Street. Each day the group marches twice — at noon and 6 p.m. — followed by its 7:30 p.m. general assembly meeting in the park.
By early Monday, the Occupy Salt Lake City Facebook page grew to 8,164 members. According to spokesman William Rutledge, the camp had expanded from 20 tents Friday to 67, with 120 to 150 occupants total. The daytime population often triples depending on the hour, he added.
“Most of us still have school, work and families to juggle,” accounting for the fluctuations, Rutledge said.
Rutledge, a 30-year-old Iraq War veteran, helps run the outreach tent at the park’s southwest corner and noted that it now has full power and Internet access. A camper parked nearby with a solar panel on top helps fuel those necessities.
Although some elected officials have voiced support for the group’s right to free assembly and free speech, others said they anticipate violence and voice fears about its message — which remains fluid but decries corporate greed and the government’s seeming disregard for “the 99 percent” of the population that is not the richest 1 percent.
Conservative radio personality Glenn Beck derided the movement as he spoke to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., this past weekend.
“We are under assault, not just from Muslim extremists outside our own country,” Beck said, “but anti-capitalist extremists who want to tear us down. And many of them just want the free stuff.”
Beck coined the term “fun-employed” to denote those who “have no intention of ever getting a job.”
Rutledge said that Occupy SLC would welcome Beck’s supporters into the movement.
“We need to set aside our differences and regain our voice as the people,” Rutledge said, adding that “Beck doesn’t want to lose his audience to a nonpartisan group.”
Last week, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch predicted that the Occupy movement would turn violent, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor referred to protesters as mobs who pit Americans against each other.
In a Facebook post Sunday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff discounted the local effort, saying “Drove by @OccupySaltLake. They claim ‘we are the 99%’ LOL! They don’t occupy even 1% of Pioneer Park. Want to make a difference? VOTE!
In Pioneer Park, occupiers decamped before sunrise Saturday to give way to the city’s farmers market, an event that draws several thousand people to the area.
“About 150 people went home to take showers, rest up and get some home cooking,” Rutledge said, before tents were set back up.
In addition to nurturing their own, the camp’s kitchen also has been feeding the homeless who frequent the park.
“We’re asking for donations of sleeping bags and warm clothes for the homeless community that were residents of the park before us,” Rutledge said.
“We’re trying to do the best we can to make their lives better with us there.”
Donations to the homeless or Occupy SLC can be dropped at the group’s outreach tent near the corner of 400 West and 400 South.
Nationally, the protests entered their fourth week, with demonstrations in dozens of cities, including New York and Boston.
Utah’s Wall Street protest gets ‘official’ support
By cathy mckitrick
Although some of his Republican colleagues have dubbed the Occupy Wall Street protests “mobs” that could turn violent, Congressman Jason Chaffetz applauds the groups’ commitment to stand up and be heard.
In fact, Chaffetz stopped by the Occupy SLC camp in Pioneer Park Friday morning to chat with some of the protesters.
“I may disagree with what they believe in,” Chaffetz said, “but I will always fight for their right to express it.”
In a statement Friday, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said he stands in support of residents’ rights to peaceful protest and free speech.
In contrast, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on Thursday called the protests that began in New York City three weeks ago and have spread nationwide “alarming” and warned they could become violent. According to Politico, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor voiced increasing concern about the “growing mobs” that he said pit Americans against each other.
But in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park Friday, a tent city unobtrusively began to take shape, with a fully functioning kitchen and medical tent. And the group’s fluid goals also seemed to start to gel.
Salt Lake City resident Peter Litster, a 36-year-old paralegal, oversees Occupy SLC’s food tent and remarked on the group’s diversity.
“We’re seeing left-wing populists and tea party right-wingers standing together,” Litster said, “and even though we might not agree on some things, we can agree on the fact that our government is not accountable to us, and corporations have screwed it up for everybody.”
How long does the group plan to “occupy” the park? Litster’s answer: “If you’ve ever been involved in a 12-step addiction recovery program, you realize you don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to take the first step, which is admitting there’s a problem.”
Occupy SLC spokesman William Rutledge predicts that the camp could remain in place for at least a month, except for temporary tear-downs during the Saturday farmers market, which continues through Oct. 22.
For Karo Christensen, a Web designer from Bountiful, the goal is to occupy “until we start seeing a change in the country” — politicians listening and making the changes the group would like to see happen, such as getting corporate dollars out of politics and having the government take over the Federal Reserve.
The broad discontent fueling this growing movement centers on corporate greed and lack of government responsiveness to “the 99 percent.”
“There’s a growing number of people who can’t find work and can’t do things,” Christensen said. “The government doesn’t seem to be helping us with any of that stuff, but they jump on the chance to help the [top] 1 percent with anything that goes wrong.”
The group’s anger toward the banking industry — displayed during Thursday’s march through downtown — left Howard Headlee, president of the Utah Bankers Association, “surprised and disappointed.”
“I’m not sure if they know or understand what they’re angry about,” Headlee said, adding that “local banks were not responsible for getting us into this mess, but they will play a critical role in getting us out.”
Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political scientist, said the Occupy protests have a good track record, so far, for being peaceful.