Friday, October 14, 2011

#OccupyBuffalo was more Occupy and less Buffalo than I expected.

With some free time at hand and an interest in the #Occupy movement, Heather and I went to Niagara Square, just in front of Buffalo's City Hall to see what all the hubub was about.

Not sure what to expect, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised when we got off the NFTA Metro Rail at Lafayette Square and were immediately greeted with a throng of marching protesters headed our way. We weren't sure where they were going or what they were up to, but they were headed away from Niagara Square. We figured they'd circle around and make their way back to the square (which, of course is really a circle), so we headed there. She figured she'd be better off getting shots of them coming back to the square than shots of their backs as they walked away from us.

Arriving at the square, I was surprised to see about a dozen people milling around. Frankly, that's about all the people I expected to see in total, especially given it was about noon on a weekday. This is Buffalo, afterall. We're not exactly known for our protests. But with the 30 or so people we saw marching and the dozen or so left behind, this group had about 50 people in all. Quite impressive, in my opinion.
The folks that were marching had made their way to the Chase offices at Main Place Mall, we learned ... so we headed there to find them protesting in front of the mall, taking turns to speak and chanting. The group had grown slightly in numbers, I assume because onlookers formed a ring outside the protesters.

The speakers each took a few minutes to bemoan Chase's greed and explain what the #Occupy movement meant to them.

One of the criticisms that I've seen about the #Occupy movement is that there is no stated goal. I think that this could be detrimental to the group in the longrun, but this is what a real grassroots movement looks like. In 2009, I thought the Tea Party was a grassroots movement, only to learn that it was nothing of the sort. It was just a bunch of people who hated the Democrats. I was quite disappointed.

One thing that I noticed was that the group was a pretty decent cross section of America. Yes, there were girls in tie-dyed shirts. But there were also guys in suits and ties. This was not a collection of hippies ... or homeless people. They were not all 20. And they weren't union activists. These were people who took some time out of their day to protest corporate greed and the government that allows it.

Many people have said that the #Occupy movement is a Democratic movement. I think that the Republicans would love to tie this to the Democrats ... and the Democrats would love to think that they actually had grassroots support. This does not seem to be the case to me, though. The people I saw and heard in Buffalo spoke out against government as a whole - not one party or the other. They were just as upset with Obama as they were at Boehner. This is what I had hoped the Tea Party would be.
One thing that I found really interesting was that everything the group did, they did by vote. At one point, they voted to go inside Main Place Mall to deliver a letter to Chase. They were denied by security and then voted to go make copies of the letter and deliver them individually.

The guy who was working security, by the way, couldn't have been nicer to the group. He seemed to understand their plight and they seemed to understand his. He was just doing his job.

While walking back from Chase, the group passed by a Bank of America office. There was security standing outside while they passed, talking on his phone. I overheard him say, "Yeah, they just walked right by ... headed to Niagara Square. No, they did not stop." He didn't give me the impression he'd be as pleasant as the guy at Main Place Mall.

I read the results of a survey the other day that said 82 percent of Americans were aware of the #Occupy movement. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but a lot of people stopped and asked what the protest was about. Each protester gave his or her own version, of course, but the main theme was "corporate greed and the government allowing it - to the detriment of the 99 percent."

Saturday, the group is holding a general assembly in front of Buffalo's City Hall at noon. They expect hundreds of people. I'll be there. I'm still not sure if I'll be part of the group ... or an observer again like I was today. I can tell you this, though: Upon "meeting" the Tea Party in 2009, I was immediately turned off. This group did not give me that feeling.

I know I'm not one of the 1 percent, which means I'm certainly one of the 99.


I have more photos online. Check them out there.

Heather took some great photos, by the way. Hopefully she'll get them online soon. She said she'd link to them on her twitter: @hngrimmer

For more on #OccupyBuffalo, click here.