By: Michelle Gregg
Drive by Friendship Square, downtown Moscow around 5 p.m. daily and an array of colorful signs with passionate words might be seen. They use their voice, signs, flyers, social media groups, blogs and general assemblies to attract attention.
They call themselves the 99 percent.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began Sept. 17 in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, initiated by online Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters. In an a New York Times interview with Kalle Lasn, editor and co-founder of Adbusters, said the Middle East uprisings and the constant economic struggle inspired him to start the Occupy movement.
On July 13, 2011, Adbusters created the Twitter account #OCCUPYWALLSTREET. After interest on the issue increased, the protest and encampments began Sep. 17.
The 99 percent refers to their claim that the majority of the population is controlled by the remaining 1 percent, who hold all the money and power over major corporations and politics.
Although the Occupy movement started in major cities throughout America, Moscow, along with numerous small towns have joined in the increasingly popular protests.
Sarah Sundquist, founder of the Occupy Moscow group, said being a full-time student and mother to her 10-month-old daughter is already hard. The rising cost of food and gas, along with the Idaho health care cuts can be discouraging, she said.
“The Occupy idea is an important concept because the issues of social inequality affect everyone,” Sundquist said. “Whether you live in a giant city or a small town, East Coast or West Coast, we are all facing the same issues with unemployment and unfair social policies.”
Sundquist said she started the Occupy Moscow group to inform Moscow residents and students about the real meaning of Occupy Wall Street, because the Palouse had limited media coverage regarding any Occupy movements. About 15 to 20 people came to her first Occupy Moscow event, announced on Facebook, and from there they have grown to be known around the Palouse, she said.
“Through that first Occupy event, I got a lot of contact information from others who had similar issues and supported the values of the OWS protestors,” Sundquist said. “With those supporters we try and get at least a few people out to Friendship Square daily from 4 p.m. to about 6 p.m.”
Sundquist said with OM, she wanted to address the more important, local concerns in the community so they are able to understand the issues that our country is dealing with and how the results could impact them.
“Personally, I know a lot of students who continually struggle with the rising rates of loan debt and the tuition and fees that keep on rising,” Sundquist said. “Many of the protestors in the nationwide Occupy movement are educated people in their mid to late twenties but still unemployed.”
Sundquist said when looking for employment, she had a hard time finding a job that could pay the bills for her and her daughter.
“No one can afford to live off of minimum wage anymore, but those business are the only ones hiring,” Sundquist said. “A lot of my friends that have recently graduated aren’t using their degrees, they’re working at sandwich shops.”
Sundquist said because of the rising debt, Idaho’s first cuts were in Medicaid and Medicare.
“When these cuts are made people with disabilities can’t afford the home assistance they rely on to get them out of bed in the morning and into bed at night,” Sundquist said. “So they have to choose one of the two.”
A lot of people are also being affected by the rising costs of heating and energy as well, Sundquist said.
“People can’t even afford to keep their houses at a warm temperature so they get sick, but have no money to go to the doctor,” Sundquist said. “This isn’t just happening in Idaho but across the country.”
Sundquist said Occupy Moscow has recently joined together with Washington State University’s Occupy the Palouse, and have collaborated for events such as Occupy Chase Bank in Pullman.
Despite Latah County being Idaho’s only blue county, Occupy groups have made their way across the typically conservative state.
Tom Kershaw, who serves as a spokesman for Occupy Boise said their group has made a prominent presence in the state’s capitol of Boise and continues to grow.
“Because we live in the state capitol, which deals with anything political, we can take advantage of Occupy Boise expanding and use its voice to influence the hindering effect of Idaho’s political decisions,” Kershaw said.
The Boise occupiers stand behind the meaning of the 99 percent and bring many of those values from the national level to the local concerns.
“For people to truly understand the weight of the problem, confronting local issues in every geographic location that are directly related to the problems OWS is addressing is what needs to happen,” he said.
Kershaw said Zion bank wanted to build a branch on a vacant lot in downtown Boise.
“The bank would cost $4 million and we would be paying for it with increased taxes,” Kershaw said.
The Occupy movement has have become a new American institution, he said. So whether the movement continues as a protest, camp-out or just a group of Americans, it’s not going to go away, he said.
“The fact is that one way or another, the occupiers have become connected in a network, nationwide and beyond, and because everyone’s issues are related, it is the now,” Kershaw said.
To form larger and more effective groups, small towns and cities are partnering up to make their voice heard.
Greg Norrell, from the Occupy Idaho Falls group, said he hopes the unwavering support of the Occupy goals helps communicate and implement social and economic changes within our nation.
“We try to propel our organization in the interest of everyone, the OWS disputes are a lot of things we can agree on, just the same as the rest of America,” Norrell said.
The passion that is expended by the Occupiers in larger cities continues to arouse interest in the American public. After almost three months of camping out in public areas, various prominent city movements have faced eviction by police forces.
Forceful and sometimes violent evictions in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, Oakland, Portland, and more have happened within the last month. However, it hasn’t stopped devoted Occupiers from going on.
Violence seems to intensify their passion for the movement and to inspire other Occupy groups nationwide. On Dec. 7, Occupiers participated in the “Day of Action: Occupiers Unite,” hoping to sway the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. Over 70 arrests were made in Washington D.C. when hundreds of Occupiers refused to move from the targeted K Street, the nation’s long standing lobbying industry, according to The Washington Post.
According to USA Today, the next nationwide Occupy movement is set for Dec. 12, when Occupiers hope to shut down West Coast ports with a mass community protest, in what they call “Wall Street on the waterfront.” Their goal is to “disrupt and blockade the economic apparatus of the 1 percent,” according to the Occupy Ports website.
Occupy blockades are planned in Seattle, Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, and San Diego, Calif., Denver, Colo., Anchorage, and Vancouver, B.C., according to the Occupy Ports website.
Sundquist said she hopes to see more creativity from Occupiers across the country to get their message heard. On a local level, she said they hope to organize more events and get more people involved with the Occupy issues.
“For me it’s been inspiring to watch this national movement grow where all types of people working together,” she said. “And bringing to national issues onto a local level, we need to continue foster the idea that hard work can help build the Moscow community and a lot could be solved.”