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The populist-themed and increasingly popular "Occupy Wall Street" movement hit Connecticut’s capital city on Wednesday, as dozens of protestors gathered before the entrance to Bushnell Park in Hartford to express their dissatisfaction with what they termed income inequality and corporate greed.
What started as a small gathering of a handful of protestors shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday morning had swelled to a large and vocal group that numbered close to a hundred less than an hour later — and the movement showed no signs of losing steam as the morning wore on and more and more people seemed to be drawn to the crowd.
“I haven’t been to a protest in years, but this brings me out because I am concerned,” said David Morse, a middle-aged Storrs resident who described himself as a freelance journalist who also owns and operates several rental properties. Morse wore a blue suit and tie and carried a sign that read, “Tax the Rich.” He said he was concerned that the income gap between the upper class and the middle class in America was causing irreparable harm not just to the economy but the welfare of the country.
“We’re losing our safety net for the poor, and rich people are getting a lot richer,” he said. “…I think people who are making millions of dollars need to be taxed. We need to restore the more equitable system we had 30 years ago.”
Craig Breitsprecher, a recent college graduate who said he works in the finance industry in Hartford, came to the rally dressed in slacks and a shirt and tie, holding a sign that read “We Can’t Afford A Lobbyist – The 99%.”
“What we hope to accomplish is really to draw awareness. Our standard of living, our monetary value, our power as a country has dropped significantly over the past three or four years, really ever said the fiscal collapse of 2008,” he said. “We really never fixed the problem, we just threw a bunch of money at it. We’ve been really living in a dreamland that this was all going to fix itself.”
Jule Michel, a social worker from Hartford who emigrated from Germany five years ago, said she was drawn to the group because of the economic disparity between rich and poor in this country.
“I came here to show my support for a moment that, hopefully, creates an understanding that giving to the rich with tax breaks and bank bailouts and anything that removes money from the middle class to the upper class needs to end,” she said. “Everybody needs to start paying their fair share.”
Michel said she was alerted to Wednesday’s protest via a website, occupywallst.org.
The movement, which began in September in New York City with a series of protest in downtown Manhattan, has been gaining steam across the nation of late thanks to social media groups and the Internet. Wednesday’s protest in Hartford is just one of dozens of similar protest already held or planned throughout the nation.
Breitsprecher said he was at some of the rallies in New York City that originated the movement, and he said he was not surprised that the movement was catching on across the country.
“The unemployment rate for people ages 18 to 25 is just around 50 percent,” he said. “The rest of us, one in 10 of us don’t have a job. I think the problem is we’re over-educated and underemployed.”
Joe Prue, a Scotland, CT, resident who was one of the first protestors on the scene Wednesday morning, said a Facebook group to promote Wednesday’s event, Occupy Hartford, started with seven likes last week. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had almost 1,200 likes.
“We have no centralized leadership and we have to determine our demands,” Prue said. “But you can’t deny that this movement is catching on with people.”
Protestors in Hartford Wednesday morning took the opportunity to organize into a more cohesive unit, establishing ground rules and planning future rallies, including a second rally planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday in front of Bushnell Park for people just getting out of work.
As the amount of protestors increased in the downtown area Wednesday morning, so did the police presence. Police asked protestors not to obstruct pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic, but otherwise left them alone; some of the protestors stayed in the park until noon.
Whether or not the Occupy Wall Street movement has traction or transformative staying power remains to be seen, but it was clearly striking a chord with many in Hartford on Wednesday.
A motorist idling in traffic in front of the park at about 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, likely on his way to work, honked at the protestors, rolled down his window and called out in solidarity,” I lost my retirement. Can you help me find it?”