Occupy New Haven officially began Saturday afternoon, with around 1,000 people gathering on the New Haven Green. Protesters, armed with homemade signs, tents and guitars, marched around the Green for a half-hour before holding a rally in the center of the park to mark the start of the Elm City’s “occupation,” New Haven’s manifestation of the protest movement sweeping the globe.
Occupiers began to show up around 11 a.m., painting cardboard signs and chatting among themselves before the march began shortly after noon. The number of protesters swelled to its highest, around 1,000, during and immediately after the march, and by 4 p.m. had dissipated to a core group of around 300 people.
“I feel like the number of people that showed up the first day, it’s only going to continue growing,” said Amber Oestreich, a protest organizer from New York. “Hopefully we’ll make a statement here.”
While some critics have accused the Occupy movement of being unsure of what it wants, protesters showed up for a variety of reasons. Occupier Randy Laist said he came to express support for “humane and rational” social causes, while Jason Kulas described his top four demands as something to counteract the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, banking reform, the elimination of corporate tax loopholes, and income tax reform.
Lauren Phillips ’12 added that she would like to see better a better form of redistribution to address the fact that only 1 percent of American society possesses 42 percent of the nation’s wealth.
“I know a lot of people are complaining about [the protests] not having concrete demands, but it’s a general outpouring of frustration,” Phillips said.
Protesters carried signs reading “Billionaires, your time is up,” “The people are too big to fail” and “I lost my job but found an occupation,” while chanting “We are the 99 percent,” as police watched quietly.
New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said Saturday afternoon that the protesters had been “great,” and that there had been no issues thus far.
On the second day of the protest, occupier Jess Bachinski said that unlike some of the other protests across the globe, Occupy New Haven has not encountered any resistance. Indeed, she added that one policeman came and introduced himself to protesters, asking them not to call him “officer” and saying he supported the protests.
An hour after the protests began, the first of around 30 “Occupy Occupy” counterprotesters appeared, drawing support from students at Yale and four other Connecticut universities. Michael Knowles ’12, chairman of the Yale College Republicans and one of the organizers of the Occupy Occupy New Haven group, said he spoke with some of the protesters.
“No single occupier — and I spoke with dozens — could name a single solution to the problems for which they had assembled; most couldn’t even name the problems,” Knowles wrote in an email Saturday after the counterprotest. “Some of the protesters were quite nice, but even the most reasonable was unable to discuss basic economics, public policy or what they were protesting.”
Elizabeth Henry ’14, another Occupy Occupy organizer, said that the counterprotest went “wonderfully” and that they were successfully able to make their statement that the Occupy protests are “misguided and unproductive.”
She added that her interactions with the Occupy New Haven protesters were mixed.
“Some of the Occupy protesters just wanted to yell at us,” Henry said. “However, there were also some protesters who were genuinely interested in engaging in civil dialogue with us, and I think we were successful in getting them to consider a different side of the issue.”
She added that she thought both sides could agree that they are upset with the current economic situation and “Washington’s failure to do anything about it.”
Oestreich, who said she will drop out of St. John’s University to work full time with the Occupy movement, has traveled the East Coast to help the different manifestations of the Occupy protests share ideas and information, and does not believe the movement’s lack of a singular message hurts the protests.
“We don’t want well-defined demands because that would [exclude] people,” Oestreich said, adding that the goal of the Occupy protests is to spark discussion first, and effect change later. She said that one of the few demands the group agreed on was taking corporations out of politics.
Saturday was “Global Occupation Day,” she said, with cities across the world holding similar protests. As for the future of New Haven’s protests, Oestreich said she is extremely optimistic given the large number that came out for Saturday’s march.
By Sunday night, there were around 30 tents on the New Haven Green. Protesters said the occupation has no plan to end.