As the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeps the nation, some Juneau residents started to question, ‘Where is Occupy Juneau?” including 28-year-old James Marcus, who works three jobs to make ends meet, despite holding a college degree. Marcus doesn’t have any experience organizing, or much time, but he took the lead on the Occupy Juneau demonstration Saturday.
Locals clad in rain gear began gathering in Marine Park around noon, the proposed meeting time, and began talking with other demonstrators as they arrived. Marine Park is also a hangout for some of Juneau’s most disenfranchised; one such man tried to engage the demonstrators in a defensive manner. Marcus was tasked with explaining to the man just what the Occupy movement was about, a question inevitably on the minds of many. Marcus said that the movement wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats, but about people being angry and frustrated about having to work so hard to barely survive, while corporations and their executives are amassing record wealth. He said that taxing corporations and wealthy individuals could allow the government to better address the needs of its citizens.
Demonstrators took sharpie markers to cardboard and voiced some popular sentiments, such as “I am the 99 percent” or “We have no millions to spend. Will we be heard?” while another young woman carried a sign reading simply, “What about my future?” At around 12:30 p.m., with about 10 people braving the weather to march, the group took to a route Marcus had devised. Along the way, the chant “Human need, not corporate greed” could be heard.
There was little activity downtown, but the group received positive feedback from those who took notice. Some drivers honked, some stopped to take photos, and one man thanked the group for making the effort. Another man joined the group and started the chant, “Where’s my golden parachute?” while a demonstrator wrote on a piece of cardboard to create a sign for the man, who suffers from arthritis.
“Nobody’s going to have any retirement anymore, it’s ridiculous, I can’t believe it. People are working their entire lives paying taxes.” said the newcomer, who chose to remain unnamed.
Another demonstrator, environmental attorney Neil Gormley, added that despite the shortcomings in government revenue needed to support government programs and with high unemployment rates, many lawmakers continue to push for lower taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals. The demonstrators agree this method has not been effective and believe the Occupy movement could be a way to have their voices heard.
“I’m going to make a difference in this country,” shouted the newcomer, “I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough.”
Nikki Lopez is a student at the university and questions, in writing, “Will my degree count?” The group Saturday consisted mainly of people who hold degrees, or those who soon will, who question the system that they feel won’t support the growing number of people with high debt loads and low wage jobs, struggling to survive. Participants have a strong belief that the movement is inclusive, hence the 99 percent claim; the dialog that occurred between demonstrators and bystanders of varying demographics yielded mostly concurrent beliefs regarding issues of wealth disparity.
While standing before the Wells Fargo Bank building in downtown, former community organizer, Jackie Wagner, suggested they take a moment to talk about further building the movement in Juneau and organizing the next event. Marcus started a Facebook group on Thursday and Wagner shared she had only learned of the demonstration the night before.
“The greater presence we have, the more people will get involved.” one demonstrator suggested, to general consensus.
The demonstrators plan to regroup next Saturday, hoping for greater numbers but with no serious hopes for better weather. Marcus led much of the dialog, with other participants contributing suggestions and support for continued Occupy Juneau activity.
“The best way to make a difference,” states Marcus, “is to hit them where they can feel it. On November 5th, if you have an account with a too-big-to-fail corporate bank, close your accounts.”
He adds, “I’m not suggesting you hide your money under a mattress, that’s not realistic. But move it to a smaller institution like a credit union.” Credit unions are not-for-profit entities that are accountable to the member shareholders, compared with the for-profit corporate banks in question, most of which received government money to keep from going belly up in the financial crisis that is blamed for the current state of the economy.
The Occupy movement has been organized largely through social media, and this demonstration was no different. With the exception of the people who saw the demonstration Saturday, all participants had heard about it via the Facebook page, “Occupy Juneau,” administered by Marcus, or by searching for Juneau on the website www.meetup.com/
occupytogether which shows Occupy demonstrations organized in nearly 1800 cities worldwide, including Anchorage and Fairbanks, with tens of thousands of participants checking in through the website.
When asked what they want from the Occupy movement, most responses can be condensed to supporters wanting to make a living working one job, not two or three, with health insurance and the assurance that they can someday retire.
Participants plan to Occupy Juneau again this coming Saturday; information can most easily be found on the Occupy Juneau Facebook page, www.meetup.com/occupytogether or using Twitter hash tag
• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.