Occupy Hartford keeps fighting for followers and space

Eight days after the movement started in Bushnell Park, Occupy Hartford awoke on a damp Thursday morning in a patch of land at Broad Street and Farmington Avenue, their small campground apparently tolerated by police as they continue to protest wealth disparity in the United States.

On Wednesday, Hartford police issued a statement saying city regulations prohibit tents at the little plot of land, which the protesters have named “Turning Point Park,” but Brian Jeffrey, who stayed there overnight, said there was no trouble from police.

Jon Prue, an organizer with Occupy Hartford, said the group initially moved from Bushnell Park last week because signs posted in the park say it closes at dusk and they didn’t want to cause trouble with police. Although tents supposedly are prohibited, police did say the group could put up event canopies if the group obtains the necessary permits.

Jeffrey and Prue both said Occupy Hartford is seeking the permits and continues to communicate with police.

Occupy Hartford has attracted a variety of faces, a mixed group of young and old, unemployed and employed and even some homeless.

Earlier this week, Lillie Lavado, 28, of West Hartford, sat in a lawn chair near the road with her 5-month-old daughter Mariam in her lap, waving at cars driving by and encouraging them to honk in support of the Occupy Hartford movement.

“I want to make other parents comfortable to be here,” she said. “This movement isn’t just hippy art students.”


Lillie Lavado and her daughter Mariam

Makeshift signs, deflated tents, lawn chairs and even activity tables with bubbles for children lay scattered across the plot of land.

“I want to support those who can’t be here,” Lavado said. “I know people who work around the corner, but they can’t be here every day.

Lavado lives in West Hartford and only occupies during the day. She said she is unemployed, as is Mariam’s father, her fiancé, a disabled veteran who completed two tours of duty in Iraq. The couple, both originally from Connecticut, returned from Fort Hood in Texas last February when her fiancé was medically discharged for torn ligaments in his hip and a back injury. Lavado said they’ve been collecting unemployment and looking for full-time jobs since they returned to Connecticut.

“We’re not starving, but we could be,” Lavado said. “We’re one accident away. What we’re trying to make people realize is that it’s not just us,” she said, referring to members of the Occupy movement. “It’s all of us. We’re all teetering on the edge.”

Lavado and others first noticed Occupy Hartford as it began organizing on the Internet and through social media earlier this month. The Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City, which started mid-September, encouraged other cities to start their own demonstrations. Connecticut cities now joining the movement include Hartford, New Haven, New London and Bridgeport.

The Wall Street protests have received criticism for projecting a message too broad and too diffuse for clear political action, but Hartford protestors said the main message centers on ending corporate greed and economic disparity in America. Lavado said the political system essentially created two sets of constituents by listening to corporate America and special interests with money, while marginalizing the rest of the country, or the “99 percent” of people who don’t constitute the country’s wealthiest 1 percent.

“Ninety-nine percent: that’s the message,” she said. “Everything else falls under that umbrella. We’re all on the brink of losing jobs or our insurance. Why is it that government can’t get anything accomplished? We don’t have the money to be heard, so we have to pool together to be heard.”

In addition to wars and joblessness, unmanageable debt makes the list of grievances falling under the Occupy umbrella. Lavado said she attended Capital Community College and completed an individualized degree program at Trinity College, leaving her with about $25,000 in debt. She said she hopes to start her graduate studies in communications at Quinnipiac University this January, although it would add another $100,000 to her rising debt. She said her fiancé started at Tunxis Community College in Farmington because he felt he had to go to school if he wanted to find a job.

“When you’re in a place like Fort Hood, you really see what’s wrong with this country,” she said. “There’s so much poverty within the army. Everybody’s in debt. These young guys want to go to school, but they can’t afford it, so they join the army.”

“One of the criticisms we keep getting is that we’re just over-educated and unemployed,” Prue said. Prue, 28, said he works as an in-home tutor for Professional Tutors of America, a Califonia-based tutoring service, while delivering food for DP Dough. He became an organizer of Occupy Hartford after visiting the protests on Wall Street.

He has helped organize committees and rallies among Hartford’s demonstrators while talking to Hartford authorities. Occupy Hartford has a finance committee for handling fundraising and donations and a direct action committee, whose members spend the day spreading word about the movement.

The group holds “general assembly” meetings every day at 5:30 p.m. to discuss their next moves–including plans for a march on the Bank of America building Friday at 5:00 p.m.

When demonstrations kicked off on October 5, Prue said he expected the movement to grow quickly. A week later, he admits he isn’t too excited about the turnout.

“We need numbers now, honestly,” he said. “We have 300 people at the rallies, but less than 10 percent are staying. We still have a lot to do to make this a solid movement.”