Now in its fifth week, the Occupy Wall Street solidarity protesters in Burlington are beginning to channel their energy into more direct action.
Demonstrators plan to stage an actual occupation — of City Hall Park — starting this Friday.
On Sunday, about 150 people gathered in City Hall Park and marched up and down Church Street. Back at the park, the crowd held a "speak out" and "general assembly." The latter resembles a large town meeting, where facilitators help people make proposals to the group — either to form subgroups or take collective action — and bring specific proposals on which the assembly can vote.
The biggest "Occupy Vermont" rally to date was last Saturday, when as many as 500 people gathered in City Hall Park and marched through downtown Burlington. At last Sunday's weekly rally, about 250 people came together and held Burlington's first general assembly. From that meeting, several subgroups were formed — including ones focused on direct action, anti-misogyny, the economy, and media.
After a brief report from the spokesman for the "strategy working group," a demonstrator who identified himself only as Will, the rally-goers agreed to occupy City Hall Park starting at 3 p.m. this coming Friday. The occupation will last through the weekend.
When asked what the purpose of the occupation will be, Will replied, "That's a good question. We're open to suggestions."
People planning to camp out for the weekend should bring tents, sleeping bags, food and other things to keep themselves "comfortable," said Will. People who have extra camping gear were encouraged to bring it.
This is the status of the nascent "Occupy" movement that is bringing together socialists and libertarians, peaceniks and labor activists, veterans and students. There is no one unifying message, platform or list of easy-to-recite demands.
In general, the crowd wants justice and fairness, and wants big government and big business to stop messing around with little folk. And, they want to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reform the Federal Reserve, get rid of the two-party political system, call on the University of Vermont to craft fair budgets for students and workers and — last but not least — close Vermont Yankee.
Additional occupations are in the works. The University of Vermont is one possible location as is Vermont Yankee, according to rally attendees who have attended a so-called "strategy working group."
"There are other places we are thinking to occupy that might get us into trouble," said Will. "Because of that, we're not saying where that might be in order to keep the element of surprise on our side."
Matthew Cropp, one of the early organizers of Vermont's Occupy rallies, suggested a group of people picket outside of one of the large, out-of-state banks.
Al Salzman, a retired teacher from Franklin County, made the trek to Burlington to unveil his latest protest sign, a police tape-style banner that read: "Shumlin's Budget = Mortal Idiocy & Cruelty! Makes the Rich Richer & Screws the Elderly & Poor!" Under these words were written, "We're all Greeks," referencing the unrest in Greece over austerity measures being taken to keep the country from complete insolvency.
Salzman said he wants to channel some of the pent-up anger and frustration at Wall Street toward things closer to home, for instance the state budget. He hopes more people begin paying attention to the budget-cutting measures being weighed in Montpelier.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has asked agency budget writers to cut next year's budget by 4 percent. As of now, that would not include restoration of a 3 percent pay cut to state workers.
The "media working group" has established a wiki for the "Occupy Burlington" effort, which is designed to allow more people to participate — albeit electronically — in the various working groups that meet in between the weekly rallies. That wiki site is www.owsvt.wikispaces.com. There, people can check out reports from the various working groups, and follow the "Occupy" groups springing up in other parts of the state — including Bennington, Brattleboro, Montpelier and Rutland.
The general assembly, which occurred around the fountain at the center of City Hall Park, displaced some of the homeless who had been gathered there to drink and play chess.
Upset by being displaced, two of the men confronted the protesters. In turn, the protesters tried to explain to the men that they were, in fact, allies. That didn't seem to appease the men who were stumbling and slurring their words. Shortly afterward, two uniformed police officers arrived to talk to the men; the officers also dumped out liquid from at least one water bottle belonging to the homeless group, which sought refuge from the protesters on the steps of City Hall.
Unlike in New York City, where police officers are buffering the 1 percent from the rowdy masses, Burlington cops were keeping the 99 percent from being harassed by folks who might be called the 99.999999 percent.