South Bend gets ‘occupied’: Downtown protest draws 100
by Mary Kate Malone
SOUTH BEND – The “Occupy Wall Street” movement spread to downtown South Bend on Saturday, where more than 100 people filled the sidewalk at the corner of Michigan Street and Jefferson Boulevard to protest big business and a government they say has forgotten them.
They held signs that said “We are the 99 percent, hear our whisper,” “Corporations are NOT people,” and “Stop corporate greed.”
Saturday’s protest, called “Occupy South Bend,” stemmed from a protest that began last month in a New York City park against economic disparity.
One woman brought tambourines and African drums to Saturday’s protest, which provided a beat to the chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, hedge funds have got to go.”
The “occupiers” were as young as 1, as old as 89. Some were using walkers or sitting in folding chairs, while others pumped hand-made signs into the air, pacing up and down the sidewalk. One man rang a cow bell, others led the group in spontaneous, rhyming chants.
One woman grew so impassioned she began to cry as she spoke loudly to the group about being laid off and unable to find work.
Katie Robbins and Michael Obregon went to the protest with their two daughters, ages 1 and 4.
“I want to be able to take care of my family,” said Robbins, 27. “We don’t even want the American dream. We just want a safe home, affordable health care.”
But the old recipe of hard work and playing by the rules isn’t working, she said.
The family is surviving on about $35,000 in annual income, they estimated. Obregon, 39, works full-time at a distribution center and is also a full-time student studying business at Indiana University South Bend. Sometimes they must choose between paying the electric bill or going to the grocery store.
Robbins said people just tell them to work harder.
“Obviously coming out and standing on a street corner in South Bend, Indiana, isn’t going to change anything,” Robbins said. “But it’s a start.”
The Occupy South Bend protest gained steam on Friday as word spread locally via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The momentum even caught the organizers by surprise.
“We just started a Facebook page and three days later, I’m on the news,” said 32-year-old Bryan Kahnke, one of the protest’s organizers and a student at Indiana University South Bend.
“The whole ‘Occupy’ movement … it’s lit a collective fire for people,” Kahnke said. “I certainly don’t think we’re going to shut down the financial market with 200 people showing up in downtown South Bend, but it’s to try to get people engaged.”
Several people at the protest spoke of the “disappearing” middle class and the widening gap between the very rich and the poor.
But the concerns were not just directed at the federal government and national problems. One person criticized the city’s purchase of the former Family Dollar property on East LaSalle Avenue that was to be given to St. Joseph’s High School, and others spoke of the dearth of jobs in the area for college graduates.
“I don’t often protest,” said Nancy Colborn, 52. “But this one really hit home. … If this spreads across the country, it has to draw attention.”
Staff writer Mary Kate Malone: