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Government, Politics & Issues

Occupy St. Louis briefly occupies downtown streets for rally and march

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2011 - Shouting "We are the 99 percent!" nearly 1,000 sign-waving participants and sympathizers of Occupy St. Louis took to the streets Friday to highlight their belief that too much power and money are increasingly concentrated among the few.

"Corporate greed has got to go!" declared Candace Smith, who has been participating in the Occupied movement, which has transformed part of Kiener Plaza into a tent city for over a week.

Smith joined Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, and others in addressing the crowd at a rally in Kiener before all marched down Market Street for a symbolic protest outside the biggest Bank of America building in town.

"To take our money, and then doing what they do to us, it has to stop!" Soutier said, igniting cheers.

He noted that similar marches were being held Friday in about 120 cities as part of the Occupied Wall Street movement, which has attracted various progressive groups and labor organizations as spinoffs have been formed.

St. Louis police, many on bicycles, lined Friday's march route, but no incidents were reported. Vans equipped to house any rowdy protesters lined a couple side streets but went unused.

Shouted the crowd at various points during the 90-minute event:

  • "We are too big to fail!"
  • "Whose streets? Our streets!"
  • "What do we want? Jobs!"

Indeed, although various marchers waved signs advancing different causes -- from ending war to gay rights -- the common thread was their concern about the lack of jobs.
Linda Alford, an autoworker for General Motors at the Wentzville plant, said she has voluntarily moved back and forth to GM facilities in other states in recent years, pulling up stakes each time, "just to keep a job."

"Our wages are going down," she said, while corporate profits appear to be going up.

"These corporations are so greedy," Alford continued. "They're not willing to pay their taxes or give poor people and the middle class a chance."

Bank of America, the nation's largest, has been targeted nationally by the Occupied movement for its perceived role in the economic downturn, amid complaints about the institution's handling of the flood of home foreclosures and its acceptance of billions of dollars in federal bailout money.

Friday's demonstration was symbolic because no bank officials were believed to be on hand to watch the marchers, some of whom joked that their audience was primarily made up of dozens of police -- some surrounding the building -- and people going to the Cardinals' baseball game.

Many of the red-adorned onlookers, some of whom took photos of the march, were offered fliers with the headline "Go Cardinals! From the 99 percent."

The flier's tone then shifted: "Don't need tickets because you own the team? Not worried about parking, you'll just take your private jet? No? Then you're one of the 99 percent."

The marchers moved through downtown along a route that police kept clear of cars. Parts of Broadway and Market were briefly closed to traffic, even though the march came as workers rushed home while game-goers rushed in.

Angie O'Gorman, of St. Louis, was a sympathetic onlooker. "It's finally happening," she said, referring to the economic unrest tied to the Occupied movement in various cities around the country.

Rob Swearingen, a local lawyer, said, "I'm very happy that the focus is back on Wall Street, where it belonged."

"The tea party grabbed the anger and started talking about nonsense like blaming government," Swearingen said, while others complained that conservatives sought improperly to shift blame to public employees.

Saturday is a nationally scheduled Day of Action for the Occupied movement, with a large rally and march planned in Kansas City. Speakers exhorted Friday's crowd to stay involved -- and for the Kiener campers to stay put.

Missouri's two U.S. senators -- Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt -- hold different opinions of the Occupy movement's message, but both agree that they have a right to march.

Soutier said in an interview after Friday's event that he believed the public was catching on to what really was at stake. "This is grassroots at its best," he said. "Every good revolution starts somewhere."

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