More than 400 supporters of “Occupy Cincinnati” converged at Lytle Park around a statue of Abraham Lincoln at 11 a.m. under a fall sun and the high-rise headquarters of corporate giants like Proctor & Gamble, Kroger, PNC Bank and Chiquita that towered in the sky above them.
Organizers issued a press release later in the day and said the number of people participating in the event had grown to approximately 700-850.
Nathan Lane, an electrician and native of Cincinnati, helped organize the initial meeting in response to interest from other citizens to show solidarity for the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have been taking place in New York City since Sept. 17.
The New York group is a “leaderless resistance movement” inclusive of all people and political persuasions, according to the Cincinnati-based offshoot.
“We are fighting to give a voice to the 99% of us who don’t have expensive lobbyists or vast fortunes to buy favors and special consideration from our politicians,” the local group said in response to questions posed by Big 3 News.
The New York group says it is an ally of people who “feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world”, and in a published Declaration highlighted a number of grievances, including:
- Illegal forclosures
- Taxpayer bailouts
- Inequality and discrimination in the workplace
- Bargaining rights of employees
- Poisoned food supply
More than 1,185 groups have popped up in cities across the country. Spokesmen say about 50-100 people attended the first local meeting, with significant buzz generated on social sites like Twitter and Facebook. “Occupy Cincinnati” is using the “Arab Spring” tactic, according to organizers, to achieve their ends and to encourage “non-violence” to ensure the safety of participants.
“The support from all comers has been very encouraging, and there’s a lot of interest in what’s happening,” Occupy Cincinnati told Big 3 News. “We are confident that the more people learn about what we really stand for, the more people will support us.”
One local activist, Greg, spoke with Big 3 News at Lytle Park and said the group functions through committees. He said he has been politically involved for a while now and would like to see more collaboration between the local group and other cities.
“We make decisions based on a consensus of our members,” the group said. “We created a handful of committees to address specific aspects of the event and our organization as a whole, and people chose the committee(s) they wanted to work with. The committees do the work, and committee leaders communicate with the rest of the group.”
In Cincinnati, the sometimes disorganized participants chanted slogans like, “Corporate Greed Has Got To Go,” “We Are The 99,” and “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”, while drums beat in the background, people carried signs showing their displeasure with corporate America, and motorists honked their horns in support.
The Cincinnati Police Department maintained a visible presence in cars, on foot and on horses during the event, which was largely peaceful with the exception of a few verbal confrontations.
“The Cincinnati Police Department was very professional and respectful to all individuals that occupied,” the group said.
After a meet-and-greet session at Lytle Park, the protesters embarked on a march that took them past the corporate anchors of Cincinnati. They paused at several buildings and different members took turns reading grievances against each particular company.
The march ended in downtown’s Fountain Square, where a smaller group of about 50-85 people supported the occupation into the early hours of Sunday morning with no arrests, according to the group. A general assembly meeting was scheduled for 2 pm on Sunday in Garfield Park.
Who Are the 99%?
“Occupy Cincinnati” said there is much diversity within its ranks and traditional stereotypes fail to do the movement justice.
“We are everybody else,” the group said. “We are your neighbors, your friends, your family, and the people who live or work down the street.”
A freelance photographer with “Occupy Cincinnati” said he was surprised at the number of older people who attended, especially since the media portrays the movement as youth-based.
While local organizers said the protest is “not about political party or persuasion”, the Saturday event contained an unmistakable leftist and progressive feel to it. The mainstream media has suggested the “Occupy” protests are the liberals’ answer to the Tea Party movement.
Several people in union shirts were standing at park entrances during the event. People held signs denouncing conservative targets like Fox News and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, literature was circulated against Ohio’s union reform Senate Bill 5 (For Issue 2, Against Issue 2), and at one point along the march route protesters shouted against Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Organizing for America
Big 3 News asked “Occupy Cincinnati” about the movement’s connections to liberal or progressive causes, its sources of funding and possible affiliations with hacktivist and injustice groups like Anonymous (the group has heavily promoted the protests around the country, and several people in Cincinnati wore Guy Fawkes masks which has become a symbol for Anonymous). As of press time, the group said a team was working on responses.
The national “Occupy Wall Street” General Assembly website directs donations to a page operated by a group called Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), which has been active in the United States since 1979 and has its roots in solidarity activism and the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.
“In the intervening years we have participated in the formation of many coalitions including the Stop CAFTA coalition and the Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition,” AFGJ says on its website. “We also act as a fiscal sponsor to over two dozen projects that do not have their own tax-exempt status — our newest being Occupy Wall Street.”
“Continue fighting for change in your communities…”
Initial organizer and lead spokesman for “Occupy Cincinnati”, Nathan Lane, has ties to a Democratic National Committee community organizing group called “Organizing For America (OFA).” The grass roots group, championed by President-elect Barack Obama on January 17, 2009, seeks to mobilize supporters to help advance the President’s legislative agenda. Other “Occupy” organizers, such as Ray Lutz in San Diego, seem to be heavily tied to the Democratic Party.
Lane, who describes himself on his Facebook account as the “neighborhood team leader” for OFA in Cincinnati neighborhoods, also served as a Precinct Executive with the Hamilton County Democratic Party. He credits President Obama for bringing him back in the Democratic fold.
“I still support him and think he’s trying to steer us in the right direction, but I am growing increasingly frustrated with the ability of the FAR right minority party, and a VERY moderate majority party to derail everything he’s trying to accomplish.”
Lane said he uses the Facebook account to “conduct my various subversive political activities.”
Protesting the protesters
Some on the streets disagreed with “Occupy Cincinnati’s” message and shouted “communists” and “socialists” along the march route.
“This is very dangerous,” an unidentified man who favors returning to Constitutional principles said of the protests. “It is very easy to generate chaos, and riots.”
Some protest supporters accused the man of “trolling”, or grandstanding to create a disturbance, and asked him to throw away his sign that had a warning not be used as pawns and join them. An organizer with a bull horn blaring in the background tried to drown out the confrontation and urged protesters not to get distracted.
A woman who was laughed at by the crowd for identifying herself as a Tea Party supporter and ” a free thinker” challenged protesters on the notion that they were truly representing 99% of America.
“I don’t understand what their message is,” the woman said. “Are you part of the 53%? Those of us that pay taxes? Or are you part of the 47%”
“I value freedom more than my government handout…”
“Occupy Cincinnati” said it wants to reject the political labels and focus on embracing and celebrating humanity by helping bring justice to people.
“Focusing on one political party or the other is one of many distractions the 1% uses to keep us from focusing on the real issues at hand,” the group said.
Earlier this week, Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain said in a Wall Street Journal interview that protesters should direct their frustrations away from corporations and banks to the failed policies of the current occupant of the White House.
“I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama Administration,” Cain said. “These demonstrations — I don’t understand what are they looking for? To me it comes across as anti-capitalism.”
“Occupy Cincinnati” dismissed claims against them by Cain and an increasing number of conservative leaders who have called them mobs.
“Anyone who tries to say that we are all hippies, druggies, slackers or commies, or that we want to take down capitalism is wrong or lying,” the group said. “Consider the source and you can probably tell which. We are not radical or extremist, unless wanting government by the people that actually serves the vast majority of the people has somehow become extreme.”
It was fitting that the Queen City would find herself thrust in the national protest spotlight as financial institutions such as Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank, and CNG Holdings, Inc. call Cincinnati home.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), regulators shut down more than 70 banks this year, a decrease from 2010′s all-time high number of 157 failed institutions from the Great Recession.
As members of “Occupy Cincinnati” marched through the city’s impoverished neighborhoods with dilapidated buildings, boarded up windows and trash littering the streets, their message of the little guy getting trampled on by big business and big banks seemed to resonate with residents.
“They got bailed out, we got sold out,” protesters chanted as people craned their necks out of apartment windows and doorways and danced along in the streets.
When asked how long they expected the occupation of Cincinnati to last, the group offered up this prediction.
“Until the system has been fixed so that the 99% are again represented, and everyone has a chance at a decent life and achieving the American Dream, we will be here.”
(Editor’s note: All photos must be credited to Big 3 News)
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