I arrived at the Utah State Capitol shortly before 10 a.m, the time at which we were supposed to meet to rally. Only a few protestors were already there. It was cold and windy with intermittent rain. I had a florescent green poster board which read, "The middle class is too big to fail."
As the showers continued, hundreds of Utahns converged to voice their discontent with the status quo of the economic system. The local news channels soon arrived to interview protestors, now surpassing 300. I spoke with all the reporters, emphasizing time and again that this movement is about the fundamental role of government -- to ensure that we're able to enjoy our freedoms equally. We want fraternity in the face of the injustices being perpetrated against us; compassion and kindness towards each other. The Occupy movement is about the sort of country we want to be: empathetic, communitarian and morally imaginative, not every-man-for-himself; disparate and divided.
Our numbers grew. Every so often we'd break into chant. First it was "What do we want? Democracy! When do we want it? Now!" Then "justice" replaced "democracy." A small group of people standing on some stairs started to sing "The Star Spangled Banner." Drums beat. Everyone cheered and clapped. A woman yelled "Repeal Citizens United!" which we all seconded with a loud "YEAH!" A single counter-protestor stood on the median in the nearby road. As a group of protestors walked past him to join the rally, he muttered, "Get a job." I wondered what his job was, and considering that it was Thursday morning, why he wasn't at it.
A passionate libertarian started ranting in the middle of the crowd. Someone suggested we should refuse to vote (at all) until things changed. I disagreed. Voting is the most powerful and empowering tool at our disposal, the very means by which we create the change we purport to want. Someone else suggested we throw out all the bums -- literally, all of them. I disagreed again. There are politicians who are trying to do right by the people, but are simply overshadowed by money and special interests. One older gentleman with a white mustache demanded free TV. I laughed at first, then began to wonder if he was serious when he demanded it again.
A young protestor held a sign that read, "I couldn't afford to buy my politician, so I made this sign instead." I think it was the best sign of all.
While we congregated on the steps of the Capitol, waiting to march on the Big Banks, one of the organizers of Occupy Salt Lake City handed out a flyer detailing the peaceful precepts of the rally -- no violence, no drugs, no animosity towards each other. This was a rally of unity and solidarity, I thought. To provoke internal division would undermine our message and ultimately be self-defeating.
In my mind I contrasted the nature of this nationwide movement with that of the Tea Party. I recalled the violence with which they had rallied last year. One man tried to stomp on a lady's head at a Rand Paul debate. Another man punched a woman at a town hall in Nevada. A reporter asked me whether Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots can garner the media attention that the Tea Party "faction" did. I told him we aren't a faction, but rather, the 99 percent to which the media and our leaders should be responsive and accountable. The powers that be have grown out of touch and aloof.
At about 11 a.m., we began our march into downtown Salt Lake City to confront the Big Businesses that have so egregiously wronged the middle class. As we trudged down the hill, at times in a downpour, we chanted "We are the 99 percent!" and "No more corporate greed!"
FIrst, we stopped at the Federal Reserve. Most of us echoed, "Shame on the Fed!"
I abstained this time. The Fed isn't responsible for our economic woes. Its monetary policy and tools aren't magic. Solutions begin and end with policymakers in Washington, who are not asking of themselves, "How can I help the less fortunate?" but are instead engaged in a transparent effort to paralyze government and strand those who rely on it in times of trouble. This movement is trying to effect meaningful change to the tenor of the discourse in D.C., which lately is misguided and pernicious.
A group of peacekeepers in yellow apparel directed the march and liaised with the Salt Lake City police, of which there were only a few. The peacekeepers kept stray protestors off the streets and away from the trains, for the most part. Three hundred loud, frustrated, wet protestors aren't so easy to control, but there were no instances of confrontation with the police. No arrests. No violence. No provocation. It was peaceful through and through.
We made out way past Key Bank, and gave them the same treatment as the Fed: "Shame on Key!" Then came Chase. It's ironic that I have a laundry list of grievances with Chase, yet nonetheless bank with them. I need to cancel my accounts.
We were on the other side of the street when we reached the Chase Bank, but created enough resonance in the crowded area to draw employees to the windows. Some videoed us. Some took pictures. Others pointed. Most just watched and listened. We reversed course and came to Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. Camerawomen walked into the middle of the road near the rail line to photograph the front lines of protestors. By this point, my voice was hoarse. But the rain hadn't dampened our spirits in the slightest. We aren't asking for bailouts or hand outs, but simply help out. We are too big to fail. Democracy depends on us too much. And I believe government is too big to fail us, much less fail to acknowledge our plight.
Finally we came to Goldman Sachs. Sachs collapsed in 2008 after it sold bonds backed by sketchy subprime mortgages to eager investors -- to everyone because the securities were sold under the pretense of AAA ratings. Once again, we were stuck on the other side of the road. That didn't prevent us from making a racket. Construction workers adjacent to the building stopped to watch us chant "Shame on you!" A few street vendors, selling hot dogs, smiled and videotaped the scene.
From there, we turned to our final destination, Pioneer Park, which a number of us planned to occupy indefinitely as a group. But I had to leave for work. And I was soaking wet.
As I was leaving, someone complimented my now tattered, torn and nearly ruined sign.
"Yeah, it sort of looks like the middle class," I said.
But unlike my sign, which met its end in the garbage, the middle class has begun to fight and will never give up.
Jake Rush, a student at the University of Utah who writes for The Daily Utah Chronicle, is an activist dedicated to social justice. This is his first contribution to Off the Bus 2012. If you would like to contribute your news to The Huffington Post's platform for citizen journalism, sign up at www.offthebus.org.
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