The plan was to meet and arrange carpooling. Kate Veh and Eric Treider had been sending messages back-and-forth on Facebook. They decided to hold a meeting in hopes of finding people interested in traveling to Anchorage for Saturday’s United for Global Change rally.
The rally was part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, an ongoing series of demonstrations in major cities around the U.S. that started in New York City. Thus, Veh created an Occupy Kenai & Soldotna Facebook page. She was skeptical anyone would show up to the Kenai Peninsula College meeting place, but seven individuals did.
A small group of Central Kenai Peninsula residents made the drive to Anchorage Saturday to participate in the Occupy movement. The trip marks the beginning of the Peninsula’s own Occupy group.
About ten minutes after starting the carpooling meeting on Thursday, seven people of varying age groups were discussing what the Occupy movement meant to them. Each was convinced that although the Peninsula may lack the numbers of Occupy Anchorage it was important to take notice of current events and become involved in their own way.
Veh admitted she has never been to a political rally. The global aspect of Saturday’s rally was what intrigued her most. A total of 869 cities participated in the rally.
Not everyone at the meeting agreed with all the goals recently formulated by the main protesters is New York City. Some common themes, however, were prevalent in the discussion, such as corporate greed and an ineffective political system.
“Lots of people in a lot of cities are participating in the Global Change rally. Anchorage is participating, Homer, Fairbanks, possibly Juneau. Someone here wanted to do something in Kenai,” Veh said. “We just decided to go to Anchorage. The purpose is to let our politicians and our financial elites know that they serve us. It is up to the people to decide our future.”
KPC student Kelsea Fowler, 19, attended the Thursday meeting. Political angst has been building over the past decade, she said.
“I think it’s like a volcano. It’s been building for a long time. The eruption seems sudden, but the pressure has been there,” she said. “The eruption is the only thing anyone pays attention to. People have been displeased for — I would say about a decade.”
The movement has received a mixed reception from elected officials.
Vice President Joe Biden likened the protests to the tea party, stating on Oct. 7, “What are the people up there on the other end of the political spectrum saying? The same thing: ‘Look guys, the bargain is not on the level anymore.’ In the minds of the vast majority of the American — the middle class is being screwed.”
Herman Cain, 2012 Republican presidential candidate, stated in an Oct. 5 interview that the movement was “anti-capitalist” and argued “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”
Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican presidential candidate, called the protests “dangerous” and “class warfare.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough elected officials did not return calls for comment.
Demonstrators and news organizations have compared the Occupy demonstrations to the Arab Spring, particularly the Egyptian revolution, as participants of the event are protesting economic inequality.
It’s hard to say whether the Occupy Wall Street movement has the potential to create the change the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo did, Trieder said.
“It’s a continuous process of promoting awareness, and we’re planting a seed this weekend,” he said. “A lot of people understand that corporations are really in control of things but feel powerless to do anything about it. Once others see people doing something about it things will begin to change.”
Another reason Veh and Trieder traveled to Anchorage is to gain insight from Occupy Anchorage, which has been organizing for about two weeks. She hoped to learn the process from the larger group and return to the Peninsula with solid ideas for making change.
The trip was a positive experience for the Peninsula residents. Veh waived her sign dressed as a nun, and Treider waived his sign dressed as a billionaire. Vehicles honked in support as they passed the rally — for the most part, as their were a few middle fingers directed at the protesters, Treider said.
Horizontal leadership at the rally was evident. There was no one spokesperson with about a half-dozen people helping organize the rally.
“It is a leaderless movement, so everyone who wanted to speak got to speak,” Veh said. “They didn’t have a sound system, so people would say something and then it would be repeated (by the crowd).”
This method of speaking and repeating is being used by the protesters in New York City.
There were a few attendees at the Thursday meeting that could not travel to Anchorage. Instead, they brought ideas for local action.
Occupational Safety student Vincent Johnson, 30, wrote a few templates of a single letter. He plans to send the letter to state leaders, corporate executives and other applicable persons in what he is dubbing “Occupy Mailboxes.”
Encouraging others to sign and make changes to the letters as they see fit, Johnson hopes to gain the attention of decision makers around the state. Go straight after the politicians with Occupy ideas and let them know why it is that people are gathering, he said.
The letter’s focus is the overreaching rights corporations enjoy, he said.
“It’s unfair that mega corporations and the ultra rich get tax breaks while the rest of us scrounge around for gas money,” Johnson said.
When the carpooling meeting began the sole intention was to organize Saturday’s trip, but after an hour the small group had arranged a follow-up meeting for Oct. 20.
The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Soldotna.
Attendees were also encouraged to “like” the Occupy Kenai & Soldotna, Alaska Facebook page, so the group can facilitate discussions online.
By the end of Thursday’s meeting Veh was convinced the small group had potential to grow. Some attendees heard of the event only a day prior.
“I’m amazed at the enthusiasm here,” she said. “This global event is being put together in a week and a half. So I’m amazed seven people showed up. I’m surprised anyone showed up.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.