Around 65 people gathered on a sidewalk outside Bushnell Park Wednesday morning and identified economic injustice as the primary unifying principle of the Occupy Hartford movement.
The activity in Hartford represents the latest incarnation of a movement that began last month in Manhattan with the ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. Since then demonstrations have sprouted up in dozens of cities across the country. University of Connecticut students were expected to stage a walkout Wednesday afternoon to show solidarity for the movement.
Jon Prue, a WHUS radio host and one of the group’s organizers, said the Hartford meeting was organizational in nature and did not represent the beginning of a formal occupation. However, the group moved to establish a handful of committees to address the logistical concerns of a long-term occupation.
Rather than employ a microphone or bullhorn, the group used a technique it called “the people’s mic” to conduct its meeting. Whenever an individual spoke, the entire group would parrot his or her exact words back. Prue described himself as “just one of the 99 percent,” but he led much of the assembly’s discussion Wednesday.
“The first step is to educate ourselves and have these committees formed so our occupation goes well, so people can stay here indefinitely if our needs are not met,” he said.
Prue said the group would need to establish a legal team, to avoid trouble with the law. They would have to reach out for medical support, he said. Food and shelter committees would have to be formed, as well as media outreach and expression committees, he said.
Some occupation movements in other cities have drafted formal demands to be met before the demonstrators will disperse. The Hartford group had yet to determine exactly what its demands will be and Prue wouldn’t speak to what the group will likely decide.
“All I would say is we’re here to figure out the best way to approach building a better tomorrow because unfortunately our representatives don’t represent us. So we have to take our sovereignty back and demand change,” he said.
Dissatisfaction with the government was a common complaint among the demonstrators. David Morse, a freelance journalist from Storrs, said he came out to demonstrate because he was unhappy with the direction the country was headed. He said he wanted to support the most progressive elements of the political system.
“That means social justice, it means gender equity, it means a fair taxation system. The wealthy should not be getting off free. I think if these executives are getting really bloated salaries in the multi-millions, they should be paying a good chunk of that back to the society that’s supporting them,” he said.
Morse was among many at the meeting who advocated keeping the group’s message as general as possible. Many Americans share the concerns of the demonstrators so the more fundamental the message is the more support they will likely get, he said.
Organizers of the movement on Wall Street have posted to their website a proposed list of demands primarily focused on shifting the tax burden more on to corporations and the rich and strengthening government oversight and enforcement of the corporate financial system.
But some media accounts of the demonstrations have focused attention the varying message and principles of many of the people involved with the protests. JoAnne Bauer of Hartford told the group she thought the media was willfully choosing to not see the message the demonstrations are trying to send.
“It’s my strong belief that that is just a silly tactic. The message is clear—we are suffering. People in the cities in particular are suffering because of the economic disparities, the economic injustices,” she said.
That disparity is especially evident in Connecticut, a state that has both impoverished cities and Fairfield County, home to some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, she said.
The occupation movement represents a chance for different types of activists to unify under one umbrella for a cause, she said. It has already drawn college students, folks from anti-war movement and the gay and lesbian movement, she said.
“People are coming together around the fact that their pocketbooks are hurting. We don’t have money for education, we don’t have money for public services. We’re in trouble in the city of Hartford,” she said