By Samy Moskol
As more protesters take to the streets in New York City, demonstrators brought the Occupy Wall Street movement to Madison over the weekend.
The populist protests, which started in lower Manhattan Sept. 17 are based on the message that corporations and the wealthy have too much influence in politics.
The Occupy Madison branch held its first general assembly meeting Friday at Reynolds Park, with roughly 200 people in attendance. Some protesters have been camping overnight, although they are not allowed to use tents or cook food. Madison police have a constant presence at the park.
Volunteers discussed six demands at Saturday’s general assembly meeting. The list of demands included “a fair and just economic system” and “the end of institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia and attacks on immigrants.”
“It disgusts me that people in power don’t realize that they’re hurting all of us, and I believe that America should help each other,” participant Ben Perreth said.
Perreth, who suffers from Arteriovenous Malformation, a condition which caused him to have a hemorrhage at age 7, emphasized the need to preserve health-care programs like Medicaid without which, he said, “I’d be dead.”
Another participant, David Gilbert-Pederson said the movement, which calls itself “The 99 percent silent majority,” is demanding government care about “human need more than corporate profit.”
“There’s only one other percent [that] controlled both sides of the debate,” Gilbert-Pederson said.
UW-Madison history professor William Jones questioned whether the movement’s goals were too unfocused.
While the collective bargaining protests had a direct “union cause,” Jones said the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations need to “[move] towards more specific demands.”
Jones said the Occupy Wall Street protest could continue indefinitely, but the scale remains unknown. Currently there are Occupy meetings in almost 1,140 cities worldwide, according to its website.
Gilbert-Pederson, who took part in last spring’s collective bargaining protests, said Wisconsin’s collective bargaining reform is a “symptom” of a greater problem “endemic in our system.”
Police will allow Occupy Madison to continue staying in Reynolds Park Monday.
Mayor Paul Soglin said in a statement he is currently working with Madison police, parks and health departments to “keep everyone safe.”