On Oct. 15, thousands of people gathered at Santa Rosa City Hall and marched downtown in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Calling themselves the 99%, demonstrators held signs castigating widespread unemployment, cuts to education and healthcare, big-bank bailouts and political power of corporations.
Among the day’s speakers offering solutions was Ben Boyce, a labor rights and social justice advocate from Sonoma.
“Number one: we need a moratorium on foreclosures; number two: an end to the Bush tax cuts; number three: establish a financial transaction tax to pay for the social services, the teachers, nurses, firefighters that protect us, that are the backbone of the middle class; number four: we need to have a national jobs program,” Boyce said, cheers erupting after each point.
With an estimated 2,750 people, Occupy Santa Rosa ranked sixth on a New York Times list of attendance figures for similar events around the country on Oct. 15—below only New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.
Scott, a carpenter in his mid-30s who did not give his last name and whose frustration with threats of foreclosure inspired his presence at city hall, echoed a familiar sentiment. “I’ve been through the bank system with my house,” he said. “A lot of my friends have, too. It’s all a scam. If people get together, move their accounts, go more local, corporations will do something different.”
City council members Gary Wysocky and Susan Gorin attended the Saturday rally, lending support. “It’s really important,” Gorin said, “that we direct our energies in correctly identifying that we want to see some serious fixes in our banking system and economic system.”
Wysocky joined the rally, he said, “so the next generation can have a shot at an American dream—because they don’t have it right now. They don’t have it. The income disparity keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
As in New York, protesters at Santa Rosa City Hall have pledged to stay. According to Frank Anderson, a 19-year-old business student at SRJC and one of the event’s organizers, 62 people stayed overnight after Saturday’s march and rally.
“We want to build more community and find solutions to issues that are happening right now,” he explained. “We’re not just holding up signs. We are talking about what needs to be changed and how to change it.”
On Sunday morning, fortified by oatmeal and vegetables prepared by Food Not Bombs, the sleep-deprived but motivated protesters held a general assembly, a discussion regularly interrupted by supportive horns and shouts from the street.
Karyl Averill, a 34-year-old work-at-home mom, stayed overnight Saturday with her two young daughters. Describing herself as a first-time activist, Averill explained that a demoralizing and fruitless job search by her husband—and the fact that her children are uninsured—spurred her to get involved. “I’d like to see them reverse the Citizens United decision and end corporate personhood,” she said.
City officials have so far been cooperative, offering to turn off the sprinklers overnight so that the protesters won’t get wet, said Averill. As of Tuesday morning, police were working with the protesters, even as they enforced camping ordinances by waking up the 30 or so people who stayed overnight on Monday.
Police chief Tom Schwedhelm told the Press Democrat that protesters may remain overnight if they comply with city ordinances forbidding sleeping, cooking or setting up household items. On Sunday night, SRPD enforced those ordinances, asking the group to pack up everything except for food and water.
“Our best strategy was to go directly to the police and the people who are involved with the city,” said Averill, adding that the police have been “sweet and supportive.”
Francisco Diaz, an SRJC anthropology student and organizer of the event, told the Bohemian that the plan is to stay for the “foreseeable future,” despite Santa Rosa officials’ denial of a request to camp at city hall through Dec. 24.
It remains to be seen how sympathetic police and city officials will be in the long-term.
Tess McDermott, a 20-year-old SSU student currently acting as Occupy Santa Rosa’s unofficial PR person, says this is only the beginning. “We are here, physically occupying this space until we are heard. The Press Democrat said we’re leaving on Dec. 24, but we are here to stay.”