More than 350 people marched through downtown Burlington on Sunday afternoon in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City — the third such rally in as many weeks.
With a street band leading the procession, the throng marched from City Hall Park up Church Street to the fountain at the top block, turned around, and marched down the street again as shoppers and diners looked on — some smiling, some seemingly dumbfounded and some applauding.
Marchers chanted, "All day, all week, occupy Wall Street" (see video below) as they marched first through the alleyway onto Church Street and along the narrow street passage between the outdoor patios at Sweetwaters and Ri Ra.
As with last week, protest messages and demands ran the gamut and the political spectrum. The multi-generational crowd's demands were as varied as its attendees: End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support unionized workers at Fletcher Allen Health Care and the University of Vermont, end the corporate influence on the electoral system, end the "corporatization" at UVM, support migrant farm workers, end the Federal Reserve, and the list went on.
When the marchers reached College Street, they made a right turn and "occupied" the intersection of College and St. Paul streets, as they did last week, on the steps of Citizens Bank. Citizens is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which received billions of U.S. taxpayers' dollars through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, otherwise known as the financial bailout of 2008.
As they marched down College Street, the crowd repeated another rallying cry from the march: "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out." (see video below)
Others joined in the rally and at one point, the crowd appeared to swell to nearly 500 people.
Though the protesters were not of one mind politically and weren't calling for identical demands, a number of the protesters appeared to agree on a few key points: That the political system has been gamed by monied influence peddlers and financial institutions often wield too much power.
One speaker at the rally, Robert Skiff of South Burlington, tried to unify the group through what he believes are shared objectives.
"We are socialists, communists, anarchists, libertarians," said Skiff, pointing to himself when he said the word libertarian. "Capitalists, Democrats, Republicans, but we all know that something is deeply wrong in our democracy and we will no longer be silent and we raise our voice to our common enemies: mega-corporations, banks that are too big to fail and the Federal Reserve."
Skiff urged the crowd to think about occupying City Hall Park — permanently — as a show of solidarity with protesters in New York City.
Absent from the rally, as was largely the case last week, were politicians. Robert Cavooris, of Burlington, took note of their absence, but added that politicians are starting to take notice and speaking up in support of the occupation on Wall Street.
"Let them join us, but don't let them take it over. This is not about a re-election strategy," said Cavooris. "This is not a movement of the ballot box, this is a movement of the streets."
One of the speakers, Paul Fleckenstein, reminded the crowd that this week marks the tenth anniversary of another occupation — the occupation of Afghanistan.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are what drew Roger Gibeault and Mary McGinley, an elderly pair of protesters, to Sunday's rally. The pair missed last week's protest but were moved to attend Sunday's event because of their long-standing work with the local chapter of Pax Christi, a peace group that celebrated its 30th anniversary this past week.
"What we stand for as Catholics and as human beings is peace and justice for the poor, and for everyone in the world," said McGinley, as she held a sign that read: "Stop Greed / We Need / Regulation".
"We started two wars and collected no taxes to support it," said Gibeault. "That's just never been done before. Now look where we're at."
Both Gibeault and McGinley said they believed that many of the so-called "99 percent" may not be aware of how much money flows to financial institutions and large corporations or how little trickles down to them.
The "99 percent" references everyone, economically, who is not among the country's wealthiest 1 percent. Various reports show that the concentration of wealth at the top 1 percent exceeds that of the bottom 95 percent combined.
Gibeault and McGinley are also increasingly upset by the golden parachutes and high pay of top administrators at UVM. "It's becoming corporatized," said Gibeault, "and whenever that happens they put themselves first over people."
Several speakers decried the recent golden parachute given to former UVM President Dan Fogel and what they see as the mistreatment of university workers.
Nick Gerber, a UVM freshman from Pennsylvania, told the crowd that unionized workers at UVM need community support because the administration is trying to cut back on retirees' health care benefits and change benefits for new hires. Gerber is a member of Students for University Democracy, an on-campus student group
Kate Cadreact, a nurse at FAHC and self-described "farmer's wife," said she came to the rally — and spoke to the crowd — because she has a daughter struggling to make a living in New York City. She also came because her son at UVM just saw his financial aid slashed in half while Fogel received a $400,000 severance package and a $195,000-a-year job teaching English, and her former boss — FAHC CEO Melinda Estes — left the hospital earning more than $2 million annually.
"We were forced to sell off some of our dairy herd to pay for tuition," said Cadreact. "I wrote to the Board of Trustees to complain and didn't receive a response. I wrote to my politicians, and heard nothing. The political system is dead, we need to do this ourselves."
Several speakers at the rally asked people to bring more friends to next week's rally — to be held Saturday at City Hall Park — to grow their numbers even more. Last week roughly 150 people joined the protest. Other rallies will be held throughout Vermont on Saturday, with sites organized in Brattleboro, Montpelier and Rutland.
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This first video shows the protest march as it left City Hall Park and headed through the alleyway onto Church Street, chanting "All day, all week; occupy Wall Street."
The next video shows protesters heading down College Street, from Church Street, on their way to the steps of Citizens Bank, chanting "Banks got bailed out; we got sold out."
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