300 protesters gather for Occupy Anchorage

About 300 people entered Town Square last Saturday as part of Occupy Anchorage. Alaska is one of the 47 states and 1,040 cities that have an Occupy movement, as of Oct 8.

The protest is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began Sept 17, when 1,000 protestors filled Zuccotti Park, two blocks north of Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street began as a demonstration against corporate greed, and has since developed as a vehicle to voice all shades of discontent.

“Everyone has a different take. Mine are unions and corporate greed,” said Brian MacMillan, a local union member and one of the organizers with Occupy Anchorage.

McMillan said others are protesting for improved health care, bank foreclosures on homes, environmental degradation, homelessness, and philosophies that value profit over the welfare of people.

Saturday’s protest had representatives from several groups.  The Alaska Workers Association was out polling people, asking, “What do you think of the Tea Party”, “Who is your favorite Alaskan candidates,” etc.

Four supporters of One Anchorage marched over from the Starbucks on 5,th avenue a few minutes before the scheduled protest at 3pm.

Their group wants to add an anti-discriminations law for gay and transgender people, and they used the event to gain signatures to place the initiative on the April 2012 ballot.

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The Loud Speakers

24 individuals signed up to speak through the PA. The first speaker was Jed Whitter, a former Independent candidate for an Alaskan Senate seat.

“Who is giving all this money to all this war that congress doesn’t have the courage to declare,” Whitter asked through the loud speaker.

Liberal radio show host Shannyn Moore tweeted,

“Wahoo! Heading to #OccupyAnchorage in town square. I am bringing Scott @McAdamsforAK ! #OWS

McAdams was the third speaker.

Several speakers focused on the boycott of the Sheraton and Hilton, including Native Rights activist Desa Jacobbson.

“That is no way for an Alaskan worker to be treated, and Alaska will not stand for it because it’s uncivilized,” Jacobbson said.

Jacobbson was one of the three women to speak, and the only minority member.

For the first two hours, participants were predominantly white. UAA Professor Philip Munger noted the difference.

“I wish there were more minorities here because in some of (the civil rights) protests they were critical. I don’t see many more minorities than the Tea Party protests I went to in Wasilla. There was one black guy there who attended, and that’s because his boss made him,” Munger said.

Other than the large number of white protestors, Saturday’s 3pm protest differed from Wednesday’s in another significant way: the average age went up about two decades.  However younger people and different races filtered into the square around 5:45pm.

Will 60’s activism return?

Older generations have high hopes for this movement. Columnists in the New York Times and Washington Post have suggested similarities to protests during the 60s and 70s.

Jacobbson and Munger, who were both active in those protests, saw that the same issues were being fought over.

“They’re standing for the same principles. Human rights are human rights,” Jacobbson said.

Retiree Linda Scates agreed, adding that she hoped the Occupy movement would reach the same level of involvement as the civil rights movements.

“This is your future we’re talking about. The kids that come out of college now—I just read this this morning—these kids aren’t being able to get jobs commensurate with their education, and it’s going to be affecting them for at least 15 years from now. This affects you guys. A lot. This is your life,” Scates said.

While Jacobbson was very pleased with the turnout, with estimates ranging from 200 to 350, Scates was expecting more people. She wondered if “generation X” could maintain the momentum.

“It’s not like Vietnam. My friends were being sent to war. We had the draft back then and people didn’t really have a choice. Unlike now, where we have a volunteer army. So I hope (Occupy Anchorage) will continue, but to be honest I really don’t know for sure.”


How the protests grew

Organizers Chelsee Largo and Brian MacMillan are still amazed that more than four people cared to show up for the first meeting.

MacMillan created the “Occupy Anchorage” Facebook page Oct 2, the day after 700 protestors were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. He announced an initial meeting for Oct. 2 at Snow Goose Cafe downtown. Having announced it only hours before 6pm, neither organizer was expecting many to show up.

“We honestly thought only four or five people would show up. That this is really happening, all this now, amazes me,” Largo said.

Within four days the “Occupy Anchorage” Facebook page had 332 likes. Three days later it had a total of 797 “likes.

At press time, the member’s page has doubled from 100 members to 200 members in three days.

The Occupy movements have been criticized for being unfocused, and some participants were initially skeptical.

“At first I was very skeptical. I’ve seen a lot of, just like you’ve been hearing, a lot of adolescent hippies with peace signs and pro marijuana signs, and I was like ok here are some radicals. But it started to grow , it started developing like a real cause. People are really tired of this and here is an opportunity, and they’re showing that the 99%–as it’s been called—really have the power. We really have it in our constitutional rights to replace those in power,” Robert Burns, a small business owner, said.

Occupy Anchorage is rapidly becoming more organized, according to UAA student Vitor de Carli, who was featured in photos by the Anchorage Daily News for donning face paint and a loudspeaker.

Carli said organizers have targeted 20 areas that need to be addressed, and will assign volunteers to those areas as needed. One of these committees is to focus on UAA.

Committees were finalized last Sunday in the student union.