A group of nearly 150 people rallied in downtown Burlington Sunday in solidarity with the thousands of protesters who have been occupying Wall Street in New York City.
Chanting "we are the 99 percent," the crowd called for economic, labor and environmental justice. Like the rally in New York City, the Burlington gathering became a catch-all for venting frustration with government bailouts of banks and corporations while unemployment, and underemployment, hovers at 16 percent nationally.
"It is time for those of us in the 99 percent to organize and fight back," said Jonathan Leavitt, an event organizer.
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.
Budget cuts as a result of the flagging economy is "something that touches all of us in the 99 percent," added Leavitt. "Conservatives on the city council here in Burlington — who are the majority on the council — are looking to make cuts at fire, police, library and the arts and our mayor, who is wholly incompetent, only serves to help them."
Protesters overtook the corner of St. Paul and College streets, blocking part of the intersection at times. Speakers used the steps of the Citizens Bank — under the bank clock — as their makeshift stage.
Citizens Bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which received billions in bailout money from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
As has been the case in the New York City protests, the "demands" of the protesters vary, as do their solutions. Avowed socialists and libertarians were part of Sunday's rally in Burlington, with a general theme of taking back control of the nation's finances from the one percent.
Most of the anger — whether from college students or even an undocumented farm worker who attended — was directed at global financial institutions, as marked by the signs, "Goldman Sucks" and "End Wall St. Dictatorship."
Leavitt said the event was part of a "broad-based movement for justice" and told the crowd that later this month the Vermont Worker's Center was overseeing a statewide canvassing effort to better gauge Vermonters' sentiment about state and national economic policies.
Organizers said protests will occur every Sunday in Burlington as long as the Wall Street protests continue. Several people at the Burlington rally had traveled to New York City and others, including local organizer Matthew Cropp, were planning to go there. The next Burlington rally will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9.
"We've gone from 15 people last week to this," said Cropp, as he gestured to the crowd. "Just think what we can do next week. We will be here, strong and standing together in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street."
Like the New York protests, the list of complaints ran the gamut from anger at Wall Street for taking billions in taxpayer bailout money while foreclosing on homes and refusing to loan money to small businesses to issues more close to home — like potential city and state budget cuts and energy issues.
As at any protest in Vermont, opponents of Vermont Yankee asked the crowd to lend support to activists trying to close the nuclear power plant in 2012.
Another protester asked the crowd to learn more about the impact of industrial-scale wind developments on the state's ridge lines, such as the project currently being built by Green Mountain Power on Lowell Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom.
About halfway through the event, Burlington police showed up to monitor the rally and move traffic through the busy intersection. People in the crowd began to murmur, wondering how the Queen City's finest would react to the crowd that was partially blocking traffic. Many whipped out cell phones and video cameras and began recording as two officers monitored the scene.
Police officers guided traffic around the crowd and in a couple of instances politely asked some of the protesters to take a step forward to make room for cars. The protesters obliged. There were no arrests and no confrontations and several demonstrators thanked the officers and the crowd for showing mutual respect.
"I just want to thank our brothers and sisters in uniform," said Rob Skiff, of South Burlington, a clean-cut guy in a shirt and tie — not the normal Burlington protest garb. "If the banksters have their way, your pension, your security, your children's future will be at risk. We stand with you and we are here to say that we will help our brothers and sisters in uniform from the banksters and the corporations."
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