The Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York has spread to dozens of U.S. cities and countries around the world, including the New London community. Protesters have “occupied” Parade Plaza across from Union Train Station in downtown New London between the hours of 4 PM to 6 PM every day since early October. The crowd typically garners anywhere between twenty and thirty protesters who gather in response to corporate greed and the influence of financial institutions in the political system.
Like the larger movement, the New London protests echo an anti-corporate sentiment, with signs at Parade Plaza reading, “Corporations buy the government they want,” “Corporations are not people” and “People are not commodities.”
The protesters in New London seem to envision a United States that directs fewer resources to the military and more attention to education.
Len Raymond, who works for the New London school system, has acted as one of the main organizers for the Occupy New London movement. He set up the Facebook page and regularly posts various protesters’ ideas from the meet ups, including, “Find ways to focus on positive, affirmative action” and “Take on the challenge of inspiring other small towns to have an Occupy event.”
Raymond said that he became involved with the movement because “it is such an opportunity for advancement of a civilization. We have this civilized world that has all these specialists to solve problems, and it has kind of taken the soul out of community.”
Raymond described a unique tactic of protest he is planning that would simulate the impact of failing businesses by staging a question and answer forum with members of the community. Raymond said that the forum is meant “to bring out feelings. The key thing is that there has to be emotion. If there is nothing people feel emotional about, it doesn’t work.”
Raymond’s focus on community reflects the larger commitment of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which attempts to give equal voice to the citizens that comprise the middle and lower classes. It borrows from the protesters’ slogan, “We are the 99%,” which refers to the difference in wealth between the top 1% and the remaining citizens of the United States.
“Another way to look at [the movement] is that civilization tends to go dumb sometimes and protesting is making us smart again. The dumbness is because the community element goes dormant sometimes,” said Raymond.
So far, the use of signs, shouting and solidarity at Parade Plaza has attracted even more members of the community to the movement. Brian Sayles of Quaker Hill, who works in the healthcare industry, said he saw the protesters a few days after they started in early October and felt compelled to join. “I think that we’re a community of people who depend on each other and it’s more important now than ever to take a stand.”
Sayles was attracted to the Occupy Movement as a member of the middle class. “I’m concerned about the middle class and I’m struggling to stay in the middle class because we’re getting a lot of pressure from those who are considered greedy on Wall Street.”
In response to low job creation and high unemployment, a common motivation for Occupy Wall Street protesters, Sayles said, “we’re still exporting a lot of our jobs and it bothers me to know that there are companies sitting on top of a lot of cash and are not willing to invest in American workers and not creating jobs.”
As the father of two small children, he fears for their future and their ability to secure work after they complete college.
In addition to residents of New London, Connecticut College students have also taken to the streets of downtown, joining the local movement in solidarity with protesters around the world.
Eliza Bryant ’12, who has been involved with the movement in New York, decided to Occupy New London, “because it is a good way for Connecticut College students like me who are too geographically tied down to get involved in Occupy Wall Street. However, occupy New London is in dire need of more supporters and organization. As of right now, it is too small to have much of an impact.”
Mihir Sharma ’12 described the need for the movement in New London. However, he remains hesitant about its potential for impact.
“Any widespread global movement has to have local elements support it … I’m not optimistic, but let’s not confuse hope and expectation. I expect little change in the short-run, but I hope for better. Hope is not quantifiable. It’s the invisible drive that keeps people going day after day at Zuccotti Park, at Washington Square Park, in Boston, L.A., Austin, Chicago, New London and nearly 1,000 cities around the world – risking arrest, quitting jobs, taking leave, leaving their children with the neighbors, all to get their voice heard.”
Despite whether the protesters’ somewhat ambiguous goals are met, occupiers are exercising their right to free speech, which Raymond describes as a form of courage.
“We’ve had a death of courage. People are used to not getting involved so there’s a lot of stuff people see that should be done and they don’t do it because they don’t have the courage.” •