‘Occupy Columbus’ supporters surround Ohio Statehouse
A movement that began with an “occupation” of New York City has found its way to Columbus in a rally Monday outside the Statehouse.
Calling themselves “Occupy Columbus” supporters of the somewhat underground movement gathered beginning at 8 a.m. Monday outside the Statehouse and continued well into the evening.
This gathering seemed to share the same sentiment of the economic-movement in New York that is receiving mainstream media attention.
“We are the 99 percent and we demand to be heard,” read several signs at the protest.
The 99 percent that is being referred to both in Columbus and in New York is the 99 percent of America that is not part of the richest 1 percent of the nation.
Protesters said they want change and not just political jargon meant to score an electoral win. The change they seek is transformative even if it is hard to define.
At the heart of the movement, it is about economics. Multiple protesters spoke about economics and the capitalist system.
Arthur Brehm, a fifth-year in history, described capitalism as “broken.” Brehm said his mother was a seamstress and his father is a welder.
Brehm said he attended to “dramatize a shameful condition” in the decline of the middle class over the last few decades. Brehm called the movement a “populist rage.”
Dan Horton, a student at Ohio University, disagreed with Brehm.
“Capitalism is not the problem, lack of understanding what is capitalism is the problem,” Horton said.
Conflicting statements were the norm at this rally because this movement does not seem to have one clear goal. It, like the movement in New York, seems to be defined by finances for one person and for others, it is defined by political and governmental change.
There was no one person in charge at the rally on Monday; instead a group of people would talk through a loudspeaker to the hundreds that attended throughout the day.
One common enemy of those gathered is the media and their lack of attention to the movement, Horton said. Demonstrators said that mainstream media have been quiet on the protests on Wall Street, in part because media companies are corporately controlled.
“People in the media can’t get a sound byte from us about what we want … so they dismiss us,” Horton said.
Kyle Reasinger, a Columbus artist heading to New York this weekend, said he believes the movement will grow and move away from corporate greed and more to a world movement saying “Free your mind and your a– will follow.”
Political analysts have charged the national movement as being the liberal answer to the Tea Party. While some liberals attended Columbus’ rally, the overall message seemed to be that government and the corporate donations allowing politicians to survive are the problem, rather than one political ideology.
Horton said the problem arises from corporate greed.
“The top 1 percent has most of the wealth while the middle class is diminishing,” Horton said. “We need to stand now or we will live in corporate-controlled America.”
Another common charge of the movement is that it is solely comprised of youth who are not aware of the real world. While at the Columbus rally, the vast majority of attendee’s were young and presumably college-aged, there were several noticeably older attendees.
Andrew Stoner, a federal government employee, said he attended because he believes the issue of economic disparity and change is one that crosses age and racial divides.
“We’re all in this together,” Stoner said. “Crappy citizens make crappy political leaders; we need to have influence, we need to get involved.”
Monday was a federal holiday, so no members of the Ohio State Legislature were present at the Statehouse.
A request for comment from Gov. John Kasich’s office was unanswered.
The protesters plan to meet again Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at Bicentennial Park to protest during the General Assembly.
Horton had a message for the 1 percent.
“The 1 percent needs to hear us and be accountable,” Horton said.
Occupy Columbus airs broad range of beefs on Statehouse sidewalks
When 71-year-old Sara Dawson told her children she was going to the Occupy Columbus rally yesterday, they asked if they should have bail money ready.
“I’ve been waiting 25 years for the U.S. to wake up,” the Columbus native said. “We’ve been buying our elected officials, not electing them.”
The rally was an offshoot of the national Occupy Wall Street movement. Dawson said the movement’s power is its nonviolence. Indeed, sign-bearing demonstrators were peaceful as they came and went from the crowd in front of the Statehouse throughout the morning. The group numbered about 50 to 90 throughout the day, peaking at more than 100 around noon.
Protesters had a variety of demands and grievances, disparaging such things as corporate irresponsibility, outsourcing, student-loan debt and the media. The group sought to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, according to its website.
“I want to see a job for everyone that wants one,” shouted Kevin Keef, 53, of the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Ill. “(Wall Street) got their bailout; where is our bailout?”
The protest on Wall Street has entered its fourth week, and protesters there don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Those protesters say they’re fighting for the “99 percent,” or the vast majority of Americans who do not fall into the wealthiest 1 percent of the population; their causes range from bringing down Wall Street to fighting global warming. The movement gained traction through social media, and protests have taken place in several other major cities.
In Columbus yesterday, many passers-by honked in agreement while a few shouted derisively, but Columbus police and State Highway Patrol troopers, who maintained a visible presence, reported no incidents.
“I think the success of the country depends on the success of this movement,” said Bob Letcher, 62, of Westerville. He held a sign — “Cornell PhD will teach/tutor for food” — which he said represents the need for education in the country.
The attention of the movement was briefly diverted as Richard Shaffer, a street minister from Minnesota, began shouting at and preaching to the crowd. He said he was on his way to the Ohio State University campus when he happened upon the rally.
“The word is not wasted. It is never wasted. If it were a group of baseball players, I’d preach to them, too.”
Trevor Anderson, 21, of Columbus, said income inequality and corporate influence on government brought him to the rally.
“The progress we’re making is slow,” he said. “If movements escalate too quickly, they can become violent.”
Bethany Powell, 24, of Youngstown, held a sign that read “Mean Corporations Suck.” Powell, an employee of JP Morgan Chase & Co., said she thinks involvement in the movement is the best way to make a difference.
“It would be a bad idea for people who oppose the corporate model not to get involved in one,” she said. “You need to have people in the corporation who believe they should be responsible. My ideas will be the ones they keep as I move up.”
The group plans to hold a “general assembly” Downtown at 6:30 p.m. today at the amphitheater in Bicentennial Park to organize events.
A similar protest popped up in Toledo yesterday as more than 100 people under the banner of Occupy Toledo gathered at Levis Square downtown. Many hoisted signs expressing outrage about banks and corporations being bailed out by the government.
Tristan Navera is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.