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Eye on the Occupiers

news2How does Occupy Santa Cruz fit into the global movement for democracy?

Ed Frey, an attorney in Santa Cruz, has been unhappy with the political process and decisions of policymakers in the United States for decades—particularly the lack of a voice given to everyday people. He is not alone. On Sept. 17, the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City’s financial district erupted, and Frey found a vehicle for his cause. He participated on day one of the movement in San Francisco’s branch-off protest, Occupy San Francisco. When Occupy Santa Cruz (OSC) developed, Frey immediately joined the effort.

“I do not think it’s a policy change—no bill or piece of legislation—that we need,” says Frey. “We need a process change.” Frey thinks people should demand full access to facts, and that officeholders should be directly accountable to the people they represent.

On the Water Street curb, at the OSC outpost, a man and woman brandish poster messages of “Wake Up, Stand Up, Speak Up” and “Be the Change.” Passing cars honk and wave in solidarity. Behind them, on the steps of the Superior Courthouse, is a crowd of about 50. Some circle up on the grass for a nonviolence training workshop. Others paint signs and enjoy quiet conversation.

This scene is typical of the OSC movement, whose participants span diverse facets of the Santa Cruz population. The individuals present at the courthouse vary from hour to hour, day to day, but the organization gathers 24/7. Burgeoned in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protest, as well as hundreds of worldwide branch-off “occupations” that continue to spring up, the local movement seeks to confront the effects of wealth disparities present in society by way of direct democratic conversation and nonviolent action.

The occupy movement points out that in the United States today, one percent of the people hold more than one-fourth of the nation’s income and 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. Occupiers hereby coined themselves the nickname ”the 99 percenters.”

news2-2“I am not happy about the fact that there’s so much financial inequality right now, and that that plays out in a stronger corporate influence of politics,” says Yasmeine Mabrook, a woman in her 20s who sits on the courthouse steps awaiting the General Assembly meeting that OSC holds nightly. “The only way to fight back is to get people involved and working towards change.”

In a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 43 percent of Americans agreed with the views of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

Reasons to support “Occupy” vary between individuals, though most stem from financial inequality. Critics of the occupy movement chastise occupiers for their lack of particular goals and call their ideology amorphous.

Mabrook says this lack of particulars makes the movement all-inclusive. “I think it’s important, actually, not to have specific goals,” she says. “There are so many problems that we can’t solve them with one solution. ... The issue is structural ... it starts as economic but then when you really look at it, it’s about the environment, it’s about racism, sexism. That’s all built into our economic system.”

Though cities across the nation have seen arrests of occupiers and physical conflict with police, there have been none so far in Santa Cruz. However, local critics of the occupation have voiced concern over the environment of San Lorenzo Park, where the occupiers have set up tents to sleep overnight.

The Santa Cruz Police Department says it supports the right for OSC to exist as long as it continues in a respectful manner.

“We’re taking a more balanced approach to this,” says SCPD spokesperson Zach Friend. “We encourage the organization to maintain open communication, respect public safety, and respect the environment, meaning trash and waste management.”

Craig Metz, 44, is a local marriage and family therapist. He feels that this movement may be the one chance he has seen in his lifetime to enact considerable positive change in the world. “Whether it goes forward or not is dependent upon people’s involvement,” says Metz, who notes he is not an organizer of OSC, but participates. “I really believe in democracy and I think it’s possible for us to have further participation in the systems that govern us. ... With the financial collapse that started in ’07, the result has been an upward distribution of wealth.”

Metz points particularly to the bailout of the national banks, which he says did little to benefit everyday people.

In fact, one of the biggest grievances occupiers and their supporters have is with the banks system. The occupy movement is a large advocate of Bank Transfer Day (BTD), which encourages people to transfer their money from corporate banks, like Bank of America or Chase, to a local bank or credit union on Saturday, Nov. 5.

According to BTD’s Facebook page, it is organized separate from the occupy movement, but acknowledges the enthusiastic support from occupiers.

For local participant Francis Andrade, the occupy movement has already met at least one of its aims—to deter apathy.

“[The movement] is largely economic but I think it’s really about getting people involved in the decisions that affect their lives,” he says. “This is kind of what the goal is—getting people political.”  Photo: Jesse Clark

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