Brandishing signs scolding big banks, about 30 people participated in the East County sector of the Occupy Wall Street movement, picketing outside Wells Fargo and Bank of America on Somersville Road in Antioch. The protesters spoke out against major banking practices they felt are unfair.
Many cars passing by honked in support of the effort.
“I think it’s wonderful to have that many people out here,” local MoveOn.org representative Chris Flores said. “We’ve had really good sign-ups, but I think more people turned out than I thought. I love the positive feedback.”
However, while Occupy rallies in Oakland and other big cities have made headlines for violence and vandalism, those who coordinate these events in East County have made sure there’s no reason for the police to be called.
Organizer Harry Thurston even made sure to stay on the sidewalk during the rally, and not step onto the ramp leading to Bank of America’s ATMs. Thurston, who walked around leading cheers with a megaphone, said the Occupy movement is most successful when these protests are peaceful.
Protesters didn’t physically confront bank employees or customers, but simply stood outside the banks and raised awareness. Organizing members also passed out information showing the benefits of opening an account at a local credit union instead of a major bank, as well as how to do so.
“This is not about destroying, it’s about fixing,” Thurston said. “Change comes through peaceful, determined, purposeful need. We can only do things peacefully. Civil disobedience doesn’t mean violence; it means peaceful requests for change. That’s how change will happen for the better.”
Those who stood out and participated on Saturday came from many walks of life, from students all the way to a World War II veteran. Los Medanos College student Red Westfield of Pittsburg said she had been following the Occupy protests in the news and was excited to hear of local events. She held a sign in front of Bank of America that read “Outlaw corporate tax havens.” She said she plans to attend more of the local Occupy rallies, since it saves a trip to Berkeley or Oakland.
“Now that it’s here in my hometown,” Westfield said, “I feel almost an obligation to come out and show my support.”
The Occupy protesters gather together under the phrase “We are the 99 percent.” The members have spoken out against the statistic illustrating that the richest 1 percent of Americans account for more than 40 percent of the country’s wealth. Many protesters express displeasure with the high price of health insurance, the war in Afghanistan, joblessness and the disproportionately low taxes paid by America’s richest citizens. According to the California Department of Labor, 10 percent of Contra Costa County residents are unemployed.
These rallies serve as a way for people to have a voice and speak for what they believe in. Thurston noted at a previous rally that while the regular citizens who comprise the 99 percent might not have money or political power, they do have strength in numbers.
“I feel really good about it, getting people out here,” Antioch resident Jimmy Rumelhart said. “It’s better than sitting around and not doing anything.”