Occupy New Hampshire takes over White Park

Last modified: 10/10/2011 12:00:00 AM
White Park became ground zero of the Occupy New Hampshire movement yesterday, as residents from across the state descended on Concord to decide how to make their voices heard in a fashion similar to the ongoing Wall Street protests.

Using a consensus-building direct democracy format, about 100 people decided to begin an occupation of Veterans Park in Manchester at noon Saturday. The protesters, who intend to meet for a daily general assembly and occupy the park in shifts, will join a growing movement concerned about the influence of money and big business on government.

"I've been to protests before, but this is the most exciting movement I've seen so far," said Matthew Richards, a 20-year-old student at the University of New Hampshire in Manchester.

One of the most vocal organizers yesterday was Brett Chamberlin, a Durham native who is a junior at New York University. Chamberlin has been attending the Wall Street occupation since it began Sept. 17. With Chamberlin's direction, the group was organized into committees that will meet at the park to discuss topics like education, labor, art and religion.

"So far, the consensus at Occupy Wall Street has been that we're hesitating to make official demands because a movement doesn't have demands necessarily. We want it to be seen more as a movement," as opposed to a protest, he said. Occupy events have now sprung up in cities across the country.

Also, making demands at this point might turn people off from joining, he said.

"I think we're there more to respond to the problems and recognize that things are messed up before we necessarily try to channel that into demands," he said. "It's complicated."

Ken Roos, first vice president of the State Employees' Association, was active in the discussion about how to go about the occupation. He said corporate profits go into off-shore tax shelters and private jets for CEOs instead of hiring more employees or improving employee benefits.

"The 1 percent controls everything that's going on in the country, and has had a negative impact not just on the 99 percent but the entire country," he said. "As much as the government tries to follow the rules that the corporations are saying - as far as, 'provide us with tax breaks and things like that and we'll create jobs' - they're not creating them. At least not in the United States."

Leah Wolczko, an unemployed teacher in Manchester, first became politically involved through the anti-tax Tea Party movement. Present yesterday were hardcore communists and hardcore anarchists, she said, and "even those divergent positions can come to an agreement on what needs to change immediately."

Wolczko said the Tea Party movement, now associated with Republican politicians, and the Occupy movement, thought to be sparked by a more left-leaning sentiment, are "the same thing to me."

"The Tea Party at its heart was against unfair advantage and big government that gives it and creates the inequalities," she said. "This is a very diverse group politically, and not everybody agrees on how the inequality has come about. But we all agree that it's here."

Ed Cunningham, the 62-year-old chairman of the Kensington Democrats, said the people in both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have similar concerns, but go about it in different ways.

"I think (the Tea Party was) co-opted by the Republican Party to win an election," he said. "I don't think you can push these people anywhere they don't want to go."

Cunningham, toting a towering American flag, said the meeting reminded him of a "constitutional congress."

"This is amazing," he said. "This is what it was."

Sherry Gould, a 57-year-old social worker from Warner, said she loved watching people "in live-free-or-die (New Hampshire), one of the most politicalized states in the world, rise to the challenge and be able to put their partisan differences aside, find common ground."

Gould said she came out because of "my children and my grandchildren and this crappy, crappy world that we're handing them."

"It breaks my heart to see the lack of opportunity for young people," she said. "All these people using their skills to build this movement are building a resume. Even if they can't get a job."

Leah Woods, a 39-year old Portsmouth resident who teaches woodworking, said she is worried that in politics, "increasingly allegiances seem to be more towards corporations and more towards organizations that have a lot of money." Figuring out where the problem starts is a difficult issue the Occupy movement can begin to address, she said.

"It's a really big, abstract issue that cannot be pinpointed to any one particular company or person," she said. "I think there's so many factors that contribute to this place that the country is going, where people who have are on a path to have more and people who don't have are on a path to have less."

Matt Lawrence, an unemployed 27-year-old from Manchester, said he is hoping the Occupy movement can make "our elected officials actually represent us again," in Washington.

"The time and the place for calling your local politician seems to have come and gone, and it seems like it doesn't really do anything," he said.

Curtis Russell, a 30-year-old Manchester resident who described himself as an individualist-anarchist, wasn't pleased with the hours spent yesterday trying to structure Occupy New Hampshire. Mimicking the Wall Street protests, where megaphones have been banned, the meeting used an active listening format where speakers paused every couple words as the crowd repeated what they said to make sure all had heard.

"It's a meeting to establish bureaucracy and I'm more interested in destroying bureaucracy," he said. "I think it's a waste of time in that respect . . . these people are still hacking at the limbs of a tree and they're ignoring the roots."

The Occupy movement is too focused on reforming government without trying to get rid of it, he said.

"Arguably, global corporations are a huge detriment to mankind but they are unable to exist without their partner, the state," he said.

Andrew Boyd, 42, of Concord said he came out to see what was going on, but wasn't ready to associate himself with the group.

"I'm not sure about who they are yet," he said.

However, Boyd said it's always good for people to gather publicly, at any time.

"That's important - our right to gather is in need of exercise," he said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)

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