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Occupying Brattleboro

First protest draws diverse crowd to Wells Fountain

BRATTLEBORO—Wall Street came to Main Street on Saturday afternoon.

More than 200 people crowded around the Wells Memorial Fountain to be part of a event held in conjunction with hundreds of others around the world in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.

Oct. 15 was designated as a global day of protest, with events in more than 80 countries and nearly 1,000 cities worldwide.

And Brattleboro did its part with an event that saw a mix of the stalwart demonstrators who’ve been marching since the 1960s, along with toddlers, teenagers, and people who were still new to the idea of public protest.

Many of the participants had one particular cause or another that they supported, but nearly all were in agreement on the main point of the Occupy Wall Street movement — curbing corporate power.

Starting early

Although the stated time for Saturday’s event was 2 p.m., a handful of early birds showed up at noontime to get things started.

One of them was Treah Pichette of Athens, who said that the last time she was standing at the Wells Fountain, she was protesting the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I’ve been waiting and expecting something like this for years,” she said. “Corporations run the world, and the whole idea that corporations have the same rights as people is ridiculous.”

Kimberly Seto of Brattleboro came with her husband, an unemployed union carpenter, and their two young children.

“I’m here to stop the greed,” she said. “We were close to buying a house, but when the housing market collapsed, my husband stopped getting work. He can’t even afford to pay his union dues.”

She said that she’s “not one to go to protests, but I read about this on Facebook, and saw what was going on in New York. We voted for [President] Obama, but he hasn’t been able to do anything. It’s time for us to help him.”

Brian Shafford of West Brattleboro talked about the need to have politicians that were accountable to the people. “The people in New York are saying it better than I can. I’d love to be there, but I don’t have the means.”

Kiera Lewis of Brattleboro came as part of the Vermont Workers Center’s contingent, the group that helped to organize events in Montpelier and Burlington over the weekend.

“I’m fed up and here to motivate other community members to raise our voices and be part of the decision process,” she said, carrying a sign that read “This is What Democracy Looks Like.”

Jen Wiechers of Brattleboro noted the positive energy of the event. “Protests aren’t my thing, but this isn’t a protest, it’s a movement that’s more positive. It’s different, and a long time in coming.”

Mothers and daughters

Five-year-old Ted Scheltema of Guilford held up a sign “Democracy, Not Plutocracy.” His mother, Nicole Petrin, said her two children were excited to come.

“He really wanted to hold a sign,” said Petrin. “This was his first protest, but being here is going to make a difference for their whole lives.”

Another mother, Aurora Nunez of Hartford, Conn., was in town to visit her son, who attends Marlboro College.

“I’m here to be supportive of this movement,” she said. “Things are really out of control. Working people can’t survive, and more and more people are falling out of the middle class. This might be the time that people finally realize what has happened to their country.”

The mother-daughter tandem of Teri and Jodi Bates of Rockingham said they knew exactly why they needed to be there.

“The state of this country is a mess and all the politicians are crooked,” said Teri. “They don’t govern, they’re worried about their next election. Everybody’s sick of the same old, same old.”

“This is beyond just rich and poor,” said Jodi, Teri’s daughter, who was holding a “Honk If You’re One of the 99%” sign. “This is about fairness and seeing the economy work for everybody.”

Reviving the dream

Ron Pickering of Brattleboro led the Vermont AFL-CIO from 1993 to 2003.

“I watched so many jobs disappear in that time, ” he said. “When I was young, you could get a decent job, live a good life, and end up retiring from the place you started at. That’s all gone now.”

Daryl Pillsbury agreed. He said he went down to Wall Street last Tuesday on his day off from his job at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, and he planned to do so again this week.

“This isn’t going to go away,” said the former Brattleboro Selectboard member and state representative. “There are a lot of angry people around the country that the American Dream is gone.”

“There’s a general dissatisfaction that we all share, regardless of our politics,” said state Rep. John Moran, D-Wardsboro, who attended along with his legislative colleague Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington. “We need to build a fairer economy.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #123 (Wednesday, October 19, 2011).

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