When the movement spread to Salt Lake City, I attended two planning meetings and marched twice through the financial district, where I rubbed shoulders with old friends and made new ones. Here are some opinions from several fellow Occupiers.
Organizer William Rutledge, a former Iraq War army pilot, owns a pickling business while pursuing a degree in history. “The deregulation of Wall Street gave too much power to a small group,” Rutledge said. “When I heard about Salt Lake’s first meeting, I had to come.”
What’s evident at Occupy SLC meetings is a lack of efficiency, but anarchical democracy doesn’t mean chaos. The gatherings don’t so much lack order, but function without orders. Every decision requires a vote, often after lengthy discussion. This seems frustratingly slow, but the intention is to cast a broad net. “We represent a vast group of individuals not bound by politics, religion or even social values,” says Rutledge.
Virasha Zayin serves on the outreach committee. “I hate social injustice and government control.” She jokes that her involvement gives her “a place to channel my peaceful, passionate rage.”
Last Thursday’s march in the cold rain attracted several hundred people in similar moods. The noon march Saturday had about 75, but participants were no less passionate.
Tali Bruce, marketing director of a juicebar chain and mother of five from Draper, observed, “There's a misconception that only the unemployed are discontented.”
Bookkeeper Steven Floor was recently laid off due to outsourcing. “Voting is often a choice between the lesser of two evils,” he said, “but I can add my presence to a crowd that may garner some attention.”
Chris Eaves, 19, has put her education on hold. “Back in the day, going to college meant you’d get a job. Now, university graduates work at McDonald's and can't pay their loans.”
Freight broker David Dalby marched with his wife, a sales clerk, and their children, 11 and 5. “It's their college fund we can’t save for [while] Wall Street bankers gamble away billions with no downside risk.”
One of three young anarchists shrouded in black with only their eyes visible reported being OK at an event that included Ron Paul supporters to “express solidarity with a common cause against the corporatocracy.”
Tremonton Ron Paul-ite Dete Maurer marched haltingly at the back, hoping red lights would slow the pace. The disabled construction worker said, “We Libertarians have a lot in common with what’s going on here. Bribery of elected officials by lobbyists must stop.”
Ike Murphy is a database manager for a major corporation, has a working wife, a son and a $170,000 mortgage on a house now worth $140,000. “Me paying my mortgage didn't cause the housing bubble. It was banks trading worthless paper.”
Skip Stahr, a welder and pipe fitter, is giving up a job to marry and move to Logan. Not worried about finding something given his skills, he detests the vast income gap between CEOs and workers. His fiancée, Cory Stanley, has a PhD in biology but can’t find work in her field. Neither can she sell her house to seek it elsewhere. Currently under-employed at a government agency, she hesitates destroying her credit by walking away from her mortgage. “Government protects the banks and corporations,” she says.
New Utahn Leslie Simon teaches humanities at Utah Valley University. The specialist in Victorian literature muses, “Dickens would have been here.” Her husband, Kerry, is a T-shirt manufacturer who stays competitive with Chinese-made products by pocketing less himself.
Joe Estrada, an Ogden special-education teacher, marched with his son in a stroller. The recently disaffected Democrat-turned-Independent objects to the revolving door between government and corporations and laments, “Obama said he'd get rid of lobbyists in government.”
At the Pioneer Park tent encampment, paralegal Pete Litster helps run the kitchen and reports that food donations have been adequate so far “to help feed the homeless there.”
Aharon Ben Or is a Harvard computer-science grad who passed up a lucrative career to devote himself to spiritual and social activism. He organizes the camp’s multidenominational meditations and free school. Other committees clean the park restrooms, provide first aid, promote safety at street crossings during marches and monitor camp security.
I’ve been sleeping in my own bed but hope the movement nationally will morph from protest into directed action. I’d like to see Americans realize that what they think is a liability ... debt ... is their best weapon and stop payment on mortgages, car payments, student loans and credit cards until concrete steps are taken to end the corporate corruption of government. We could hold in escrow all payments until the Supreme Court reverses Citizens United by voiding Clarence Thomas’s tainted vote; the Obama Justice Department hands out indictments for the ’08 collapse; Congress passes campaign-finance reform, term limits, and stricter lobbying regulations; and banks enact reasonable credit policies and then waive all penalties for the debt strikers.
I suspect the other side may be starting to pay attention to such drastic possibilities. A vivid recollection from the first march was looking from across the street at Salt Lake City’s premier office tower, 222 South Main, where Goldman Sachs occupies the 7th through 14th floors, sans name on the marquee. As we chanted “Shame on Goldman Sachs,” the full-length windows in most of the building were lined with motionless workers resembling a vast mannequin warehouse.
I can only guess what they were thinking, but the somber stances suggested to me a realization that the nation is souring on the antics of employers like theirs. Many Americans sense that shift, and the Occupy Together movement is making it happen.