“Occupy Wall Street” arrived in Hartford on Wednesday morning, albeit on a smaller scale than mass protests of New York. Their demonstration came on the same day as another meeting about social justice, where Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, “Dying wealthy is greatly overrated.”
Malloy, who resisted tax-the-rich calls earlier this year, was not among the protesters in Bushnell Park, where about 70 people gathered to organize around grievances about corporate greed and economic injustice, issues fueling protests that have spread from New York to nearly 150 other cities.
In Hartford, the protesters found each other through social media, then gathered in a public park near the state Capitol and corporate high-rises to find common ground and sharpen a message in New York that has been criticized as too broad, too diffuse to translate into political action.
“I suggest that we limit specific issues so that we can seek unity,” said David Morse, a freelance journalist and protestor from Storrs. He said that while the issues vary, the general concerns remain the same. “Our concerns are shared by so many people. The people gathered here is a small group, but we represent millions.”
Many Hartford protestors said their message is clear: they share one, unifying objection to the greed and corruption of the wealthiest 1 percent of America.
Craig Breitsprecher, dressed in a suit and tie, held a cardboard sign before heading off to work in Hartford’s financial industry. He declined to say where he worked, but he said he spent three days at New York City’s Occupy Wall Street and that he’s excited to take the movement to Hartford.
“We the people are getting shafted,” he said. “A gallon of milk, a dozen eggs; these things are getting harder to buy and very slowly, our standard of living is decreasing. We’re not asleep and we’re trying to draw attention to that. I talk to people every day that lost every penny they worked for to the financial collapse. All that money spent on stimulus went to institutional investors and big businesses.”
JoAnne Bauer, a self-described artist and educator, said she blamed the media for creating the notion that the Occupy message is unclear.
“I think it’s just a media tactic,” she said. “The message is clear. We are suffering from economic disparity. You can see it in Connecticut where the wealthiest people live in Fairfield Country, yet we still have some of the poorest cities.”
The Hartford group started online at the Occupy Together website, which attempts to bring the protest movement to other cities, and later on Facebook. The original post for a Hartford protest appeared on Occupy Together on September 27 and interested commenters began organizing the next day. Members of the group met Sunday night at the Charter Oak Cultural Center for the first time.
Jon Prue, a radio personality at WHUS radio based at the University of Connecticut Storrs campus, said he’s a co-facilitator with Occupy Hartford. He said the group will convene again in the park at 5 p.m. to welcome those getting out of work. While he calls himself a co-facilitator, he said the group doesn’t have one specific leader.
“We’re the 99 percent,” he said, echoing Occupy Wall Street’s message of protest against the greed and corruption of the wealthiest 1 percent of America. “Each individual person is here with a different understanding. The idea of a general assembly is to give a voice to everyone.”
Prue said group members will start discussing when they plan to start “occupying” full time, or staying in the park all day and night. He said the group only formed a week ago online and people already want to start the occupation, whereas Occupy Wall Street took three months to plan before anything happened on the ground.
“I expect us to grow quickly,” he said.
Prue led a group discussion about the formation of committees. He said Occupy Hartford still had a long way to go and that they needed a legal committee to understand their rights, a food and shelter committee and an expression team to “direct their creativity into something people can recognize and relate with.”
As Occupy Hartford grew, so did Hartford Police presence. They asked protestors to not block vehicle or pedestrian traffic, otherwise, they wouldn’t interfere. The role of police presence at Occupy Wall Street in New York City has become a subject of debate after police arrested 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday.
Erika Davis Pitre, one of the Hartford protestors, said she felt like the police were willing to work with them, but the number of officers surprised her.
“I live in Hartford and I’ve never seen this many police at once in Hartford,” she said. “I’m just wondering where the message got to the point where it’s a message to be feared.”
A few blocks away and later in the day, the governor spoke with members of the Social Enterprise Trust at a “Beyond Business as Usual” luncheon at the Hartford Club.
The crowd looked different, but a similar message of institutional economic change resonated throughout the room, even if the rhetoric was different. Social Enterprise Trust works as a charitable organization that seeks non-traditional, socially conscious approaches to business.
“Dying wealthy is greatly overrated,” Malloy said. “And dying wealthy and not having done anything, at least if you follow some of the steps of every major religion, is damnation. So bridging that gap can be a life’s work or it can be work that is accepted at any portion in one’s life.”
Malloy emphasized finding ways to contribute to society and finding joy in the provision of service to others in everyday business.
“You have an obligation to leave the world a better place for having been in it,” he said.
The governor, however, earlier this year rejected calls to hit the rich with an even steeper increase than he imposed, noting the top rate also was increased in 2009. Malloy also was intent on keep Connecticut’s top rate competitive with nearby states.
Robert Egger, president of the Washington, D.C. Central Kitchen, which works to feed the homeless, agreed that economic institutional change lies in a socially conscious approach to business, by defeating harm with the way people spend their money.
“The backbone of philanthropy in America is based on people who already struggle to make end’s meet,” he said. “And yet they still donate.”
He said dynamic leadership can also bring about institutional change.
“All it takes is one person and others will follow.”