Sweeping across the country with the vengeance of an out of control brush fire, Occupy Wall Street protests have only gathered speed while heading into a fourth week of action. Spurred by corporate greed and the climate of hate created by a bickering Congress, protesters have taken to the streets to voice their frustration with government and economic disparities between the upper and middle class.
Still others are marching simply for the right to have a roof over their heads and food to eat. “I felt it was important because I have been personally affected by the uneven distribution of wealth and power in this country. I’ve been displaced due to underemployment and unemployment,” said Veronica Taylor, as she sat near Wall Street in protest with others.
Further fanning the flames of anger focused on politicians and bankers alike, citizens are speaking out against the conflict of interest between big banks and the federal government. In a country where major banking CEOs, such as Henry Paulson, can retire from Goldman Sachs only to take the position of Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, many are calling a foul on the lack of regulations within the American system.
“I’m sick and tired of the corporations working in conjunction with the government,” said Winny Hines while protesting in Lower Manhattan’s Zucotti Park, a major site for the Occupy Wall Street protest. “We’re not ignorant and we’re not going to just sit back while they have their way with us.”
With similar occupation movements occurring in cities nationwide, Occupy Baltimore held its first General Assembly on Oct. 4.
Standing in solidarity with cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C., Occupy Baltimore, like Occupy Wall Street, has turned into a full blown movement making room for all issues of social injustice plaguing the country. Holding McKeldin Square on the corner of Light and Pratt Street, protesters say their occupation will take place 24-hours a day indefinitely.
Sharing the opinion of those who prompted the initial protest in New York City on September 17, Baltimoreans young and old gathered to make their demands known.
“We need help,” said Terrance Hines, a 19-year-old Baltimore native who voiced irritation with companies that are outsourcing jobs and misusing funds that could help tackle the 9.1 national unemployment rate. “They need to start hiring. They have a lot of money that they don’t want to let go but what’s the worst that can happen when you put money into the community and the city?”
Many struggling Americans still harbor resentment created by the million dollar conferences, vacations, and CEO salary bonuses enjoyed by the wealthy mere days after the passage of the 2008 $700 billion dollar bailout funded with tax payer dollars. Saving major banks and auto companies from going under, the bailout was necessary to prevent an even deeper recession, but protesters say they haven’t seen the return on their investment.
“We bailed out the banks and the car dealerships now where is the trickle down of the wealth promised to us? People are going through and it’s like Congress can’t hear,” said LaKiesha Ingram, who is fed up with politicians making excuses instead of progress in the interest of the majority of American people. “There is no unity and it is pathetic to be so greedy,” said Ingram.
Believing that 99 percent of the population should not be controlled by the wealthiest one percent of the people, protesters are demanding that government put an end to the party politics that has taken the focus off the American people. At a time where firehouses are being closed down and skeletal school budgets are forced to make even more cuts, protesters are furious to hear that middle and lower class Americans are paying up to 30 percent of their income in taxes while the wealthiest Americans are paying as low as 17 percent in some cases.
Initially a protest against money hungry corporations has now opened more dialogue on the state of the education system, universal health care, unemployment, and homelessness.
“There are a lot of issues that everyone is concerned with. Homelessness should be the number one issue. I’ve noticed a lot disabled people are homeless and I don’t understand how you can have someone in a wheelchair sleeping on a corner at night,” said Rae Wilberson, who has lived in Baltimore for 29 years.