Sarasota's "99 percent" joins burgeoning Occupy movement

all potos Eva Gray/Catalyst

The first Occupy Sarasota demonstration took place on Thursday, Oct. 6 on Main St in front of the Bank of America. Protesters rallied to show solidarity with the now-international Occupy Together movement.

Miranda Crouse of Bradenton held a sign that read, “Eat the Rich.” “I’m sick of the poor people and the middle class people who are struggling to survive, while these people on wall street are absolutely destroying our economy and destroying our nation are getting billions of our tax payer dollars and receiving multi million dollar bonuses at the end of the year,” she said. “Normal hardworking people are being laid off and cant find jobs and can barely afford to feed their families … It’s enough.

“Ever since the 1970s the middle class has gotten smaller, and the gap between the rich and the poor has just gotten wider,” she continued. “I don’t understand why people haven’t taken to the streets before this… people should be pissed, they should be scared, they should be taking to the streets and demanding their opportunity to make a living – to get by in this country, not just scrape by, but actually have something: own a home, have a retirement account, to not just be paying for the rich to have their summer and winter houses.

“All you gave to do is go to Siesta Key, go to Bird Key and see how [the wealthy] are living,” Crouse commented on Sarasota’s manifestation of the United States’ wealth gap. “If you go over to Newtown you see how Sarasota is really living.”

“We need more jobs, they’re shouldn’t be such a disparity,” supporter Susan Camano said. “I think its time for the country to come together … People are fed up, it’s just the time…. I e-mailed senators, council members, what else can I do? You can’t make people change; it has to be something dramatic that will change them.”

Oct. 15 marked a day of action for hundreds of Occupations around the world.  This past weekend saw actions in hundreds of cities in the US, including rallies in cities and towns all over Florida.  Residents of Sarasota and surrounding areas gathered at Island Park.

The Sarasota rallies have made an effort to stay true to the tactic of Occupy Together, even though the actions serve as protest rather than true occupations. “We try to build a consensus among the people who show up to the general assembly meetings,” organizer Jim Galiano said. “There aren’t leaders, but more like facilitators who keep people from hijacking the meeting by putting up a slant or a political agenda.

“We want to make this as user friendly as possible,” Galiano continued. “It’s not about we’re the answer to the Tea Party, we’re the answer to conservatism, liberalism. What we are are people whose voices have not been heard or articulated for years … some of us are business owners, some of us are retired, some of us are just getting out of college or are in college, and there’s issues that are affecting each and every one of us… we are accountable for every penny we spend, every penny we borrow… and there’s the Federal Reserve which sends hundreds of millions of dollars with zero accountability or oversight to projects overseas that no one even know about… an awareness is spreading.”

Galiano explained that it is still unclear of what the solutions are, and that it will take time and consensus building to reach an alternative to the current financial system. “We are trying to identify the problems right now,” he said.

“I thought if there was ever a time to get off the chair, that time is now, because this opportunity may never come again in a lifetime,” he continued. “It happened in the 60s, but I think that movement was hijacked by drugs and alcohol, and I think we learned that … no one is here to break the law, they’re here to be heard.

“Regardless of what’s going on in New York, its no longer just about New York, it’s about the United States,” Galiano concluded.

Tommy, a Venice resident, said he came to protest for his son. “I want to be able to afford to live, I want to be able to have a house, I want to be able to afford for my son go to school,” he said.

The 99 percent represent an array of viewpoints and ideas of change. While the Occupy movement does not adhere to established political parties’ agendas, there are many voices creating dialogue across struggles – from unions, indigenous, LGBTQ, immigrants, and organizations for people of color.

“Its important to recognize that while everyone is feeling the brunt of the economic crisis right now, this issue has been going on for hundreds of years,” thesis student Kefira Baron of the Uhuru Solidarity movement said.

“We agree with [the Occupy movement], but it’s not a recent phenomenon,” first-year Samantha Hosains added. “We see this as a way to meet people who might unite with this interest in changing the system in a bigger way, not just reforming and getting rid of corrupt people, because that’s just a short term solution… this crisis can’t sustain itself – [this Occupy movement] is evidence of how unsustainable the system is.”

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