Vermont's Occupy Wall Street solidarity movement saw some of its biggest rallies yet this past weekend, and its first steps toward harnessing the energy from these protests into more concrete action.
On Saturday, roughly 500 people filled City Hall Park and then marched up Church Street before heading up the hill to Fletcher Allen Health Care and the University of Vermont. There, protesters called for fair contracts for staff at the two institutions.
Contract talks between the administration and all three of UVM's unions are at an impasse, while nurses are already engaged in tough negotiations for a new contract.
On Sunday, fewer than 200 protesters gathered in City Hall Park for the first "general assembly" after four consecutive weeks of protests and speakouts.
Saturday's rally was far larger, in part, because unions were specifically pushing to get their members involved in supporting these rallies. More than 1000 people gathered at several locations around the state at rallies organized, in part, by the Vermont Worker's Center.
In Burlington, Saturday's protest was peppered with members of United Academics, who represent full-time faculty at the UVM, and the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, who represent nurses at Fletcher Allen Health Care.
Mari Cordes, president of the nurses union, addressed the group — asking the crowd if they'd march to the "golden city on the hill" as she labeled it and ask for fair contracts for nurses and other employees.
The divide between the top pay of administrators and the lowest-paid workers is growing, Cordes said.
Another big draw for Saturday's rally was Sara Lee Guthrie, the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, who led the crowd in several sing-a-longs, including a rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Joined by her husband Johnny Irion and their daughter, the famous folksinger progeny also marched with the protesters, leading them in song up Church Street. (See videos below.)
During Sunday's assembly, the crowd, led by facilitators, agreed on an agenda for the day's proceedings, and broke off into smaller groups to discuss ways to better harness the protest energy into more concrete action. Later the group marched through parts of the downtown.
Co-facilitators Anna Krutak and Ian Williams explained how the general assembly works and how items can be proposed to the group.
To ensure the assembly isn't co-opted by one person and that everyone gathered has an equal stake in the proceedings, Williams made it clear to remind people that, "No facilitator or speaker should be in a position of power, nor should this movement seek to create that."
At their breakout groups, protesters talked about how to focus on issues related to supporting labor unions, promoting a pro-peace / anti-war agenda, addressing misogyny within the "movement" and elements of direct action, including whether to permanently occupy City Hall Park.
Larry Hamilton, a World War II veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, has attended several of the "Occupy" rallies in Burlington. Asked what brings him out each week, he at first replied, "Mainly ... everything." After chuckling at his own answer, Hamilton added, "The whole reason I'm here is to emphasize the link between wars and corporations. We've got to break the power that corporations have over our legislators."
That sentiment — to sever the links between money and politics — was echoed at last Sunday's rally, too, which saw more than 350 protesters in the streets of Burlington.
Participants in this past Sunday's break-out sessions are hoping to create a more cohesive and encompassing set of "demands" or calls to action on a wide variety of topics — the economy, the influence of money in politics, war, the environment and labor, among other topics. In addition, at least one speaker reminded people of the upcoming International Credit Union Day on October 20 and urged people to move their money from commercial banks to local credit unions.
The following are videos of Saturday's rallies. The photos above are from Sunday's rally.
On Saturday the roughly 500 protesters filled a city block as they moved en masse up Church Street. As you can see from the following video, each segment of the march had its own chant, its own music and its own variety of signage. This gives you a sense of the size of the crowd and its varied calls for action.
The pre-march gathering, however, was the highlight for many of the attendees. Sara Lee Guthrie, granddaughter of famed folk singer Woody Guthrie and daughter of Arlo Guthrie, treated the crowd to several songs. She was accompanied by her husband, musician Johnny Irion. The pair sang perhaps Woody Guthrie's best-known song, "This Land is Your Land." The duo sang several verses that most people may not know exists. See if you can pick them out.
Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion also led the crowd, musically, in the standard marching chant of "We are the 99 percent" as the protest headed from City Hall Park to Church Street.
And, finally, if you're fans of Woody Guthrie and Wilco's effort to put some of his old notebook scribblings to music: Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion gave the crowd their rendition of "Airline to Heaven."
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