Occupy Bloomsburg: A National Movement Becomes Local

The nationwide protest known as Occupy Wall Street made its presence known in Bloomsburg this past Saturday, November 5th, with a demonstration in Market Square. Organized by Bloomsburg University students through their Occupy Bloomsburg Facebook page, the gathering consisted of local university students and citizens who are concerned with what they see as an improper relationship between corporations and government.

Attracting various numbers throughout the day, with an estimated 25-30 people attending over the afternoon, the demonstrators hoped to call attention to not only corporate influence over politics, but to raise local awareness over the perceived unfairness of society in which 1% of the population controls the majority of the wealth. In an article posted last week, The Bloomsburg Daily examined the Occupy movement as a whole, its goals, its decentralized structure, and the governmental violence it has faced in some locations.

Tyler Dockery, a Bloomsburg University student from Perkasie and one of the organizers of the event, commented on the explosive growth of the Occupy Bloomsburg Facebook group earlier in the week that led to this recent demonstration. “It boomed so quickly,” said Mr. Dockery. “We had 30 members and then in one day it more than doubled in size. [As of Saturday] we’re up to 165.” The group membership continues to grow, with the numbers reaching 264 as of Monday, November 7th.

With such rapid growth in a diverse movement Mr. Dockery commented that, while important, the purpose of Saturday’s gathering wasn’t any one message in particular. Rather the important factor was making people aware and letting them know that individual voices could be heard. “In the future we’re looking to have events with more of a set goal but as of right now we’re just looking to build up more support and just have more people following us.”

Although the group was focused on making their presence known and building support for future efforts, this did not detract from the message and cause that brought them together initially.

John Walker and his wife Sandy came to express their frustration and anger over corporate evasion of taxation. “Exxon and corporations like them are the ones who are getting big breaks on taxes, big loopholes,” stated Mr. Walker. “When you say you got to [eliminate loopholes, but] their lawyers will just find a way around it, well that’s giving up.”

“What has happened is that the corporations are thumbing their noses at the government, they’re saying we don’t want regulation, and if you regulate us we’ll do what we want to anyhow.”

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University, expressed her concern, touching a variety of issues that the Occupy movement encompasses. “I hope that a number of different but related things will be the outcome of this. I hope that we can see the overturning of the Citizens United [Supreme Court case] that allows corporations to count as persons in the sense that they can contribute unlimited numbers of dollars and effectively buy campaigns, candidates, and influence in Washington. I would like to see the banks regulated in such a fashion that we will not face another mortgage crisis. I would like to see CEOs pay their fair share of taxes. I would like to see the 1% in general pay their fair share of taxes.”

Speaking of the conditions that have sparked these nationwide protests, Dr. Lee said, “This is not democratic, it’s not consistent with the vision of our Constitution, it’s not consistent with the Bill of Rights.”

While these and other issues are at the heart of the Occupy movements, Mr. Dockery spoke to the modest, immediate goals of Saturday’s rally while keeping an eye to the future. “As of today I was looking for more of an awareness, getting people to understand that they do have a chance to speak out, they do have a chance to make a difference within our society.”

The Occupy Movement: A Global Event is Happening in Your Backyard

Occupy Wall Street, Day 1
Occupy Wall Street, Day 1
On September 17, 1787 the Philadelphia Convention granted its “unanimous consent” to the final draft of United States Constitution, submitting it to general assemblies and conventions in each State for approval. This document established the people as sovereign, with the government ruling in their interest and with their consent.

Two hundred and twenty-four years later, on September 17, 2011, individuals exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, petition, and speech began to congregate in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Plaza.  Expressing a growing frustration with a government and private sector no longer perceived as working in their interest or with their consent, this gathering, known as Occupy Wall Street, has spread to over 100 cities and towns across the United States, including Wilkes-Barre, Sunbury, Danville, and Bloomsburg.

The Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) arose out of a national groundswell of support around a very simple idea: corporations and government together have too much power. The Occupy movement supports verifiable honesty and integrity in our government, especially with regard to corporate influence.  Less than 1% of Americans monetarily controls the US.  A desire to peacefully restore balance to our society is what unites the remaining 99%.  This is the heart of Occupy Wall Street.

Klarese Donnelley, a Bloomsburg University student and a member of the Occupy Bloomsburg Facebook page, said “This movement is important because it speaks for most of America.”  She said she is not an activist, but you don’t need to be “to make a difference in the world”.

Emily and Kadin Sparkle at OWS
Emily and Kadin Sparkle, wife and son of the author, in Liberty Plaza, Manhattan
To investigate the meaning of this truly grass roots organization, on October 5th my family went to the movement’s epicenter in Manhattan.  Initially what we saw in Liberty Plaza appeared to be a haphazard scene. But looking closer, what at first glance seemed to be chaotic, revealed the individual organization of thousands of citizens: there were stations for information, media, first aid, sign making, even a kitchen.

Participants were from many backgrounds. Dock workers, lawyers, hippies, nurses, engineers, teachers, bankers, veterans, and retirees all stood side by side.  We left Wall Street with a strong sense that a large number of Americans from all walks of life were angry with the ill-effects corporate control has on our government.  We drove home knowing we are also the 99%, and the voice of the “little guy” can indeed be heard.

Intentionally leaderless, OWS participants meet daily in local General Assemblies, during which decisions are made through a democratic process of public consensus. Each Occupy site is independent, though most strongly reflect the movements of the New York City General Assembly. Tyler Combelic, a web designer and month long protester said “I have found a voice I had thought I lost to apathy and cynicism, which has become prevalent in this country.”

In an unusual approach for a community seeking change, the movement is without specific demands. Instead, OWS has a goal: to draw attention to the imbalance of corporate power over government.  It has not stipulated specific actions to take, which is a political task. There is an underlying belief that working within a “broken” system is essentially pointless, and that many changes to our government are needed before particular issues can be addressed.

This lack of immediate demands has proved a successful strategy.  Critics have a difficult time arguing that a more democratic and economically balanced society is a bad idea. Even Presidential Candidate, Governor Mitt Romney, who originally said Occupy Wall Street was “dangerous… class warfare”, has come to say “I understand how those people feel.”

Although the movement is peaceful, the reaction of local governments has not always been.  Several OWS protests faced strong police pressure and even violence in the form of rubber bullets, tear gas, nightsticks, pepper spray and horses.

On October 25th, Occupy Oakland was forcibly evicted from their peaceful assembly by riot police in the middle of the night. The assault left several protesters injured, including Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran who suffered a fractured skull from a projectile, possibly a tear gas canister, fired from near riot police lines. This video shows police throwing a flashbang grenade into a group of people attempting to come to the aid of Mr. Olsen.

OWS Internet Use
OWS Participant Publicizing OWS Activity over the Internet
Police assaults and State violence, such as those committed against Mr. Olsen however, are no longer local events. Traditional media is being bypassed by thousands of smart phones and independent journalism.  Perhaps for the first time individuals are able to report nationally on the events they see about them.

Mainstream media began its coverage of OWS by ridiculing its initial participants. Despite this, the movement rapidly grew through email, social media, texting, photos, and live video. Visuals of violent police actions and masses of protesters have widely circulated through the Internet.

Every town in America can participate through collective organization online.  As an example, according to OccupyTogether.org, protest sites have formed in Danville, Sunbury, Wilkes-Barre, and other Pennsylvania towns.

In Bloomsburg, Tyler Dockery, a Bloomsburg University student and resident of Perkasie, started the Occupy Bloomsburg Facebook page. Dockery began the group because “nothing gets a message across like a group of people sharing the same ideals.”

Bucky Sparkle was born Brian Conner and raised in Bloomsburg.  He now lives in rural Massachusetts with his wife and son.  He is a small business owner and yoga teacher.

[Correction, 3 November: At the time this article was posted, Danville, Sunbury, and Wilkes-Barre were all listed as having Occupy movements according to Occupytogether.org. Both the internet and the Occupy movement are two very dynamic things and information changes fast and frequently. What was likely there once is not there now. A current listing of local movements can be found by going to the OccupyTogether.org Directory and entering “Pennsylvania” in the search box. -TBD]

Photo Credits: Bucky Sparkle, David Shankbone