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The Voice - Student Newspaper October 19, 2010

The other 99% speak out- Phoenix joins The Occupy Wall Street movement

By Harper MacNeill

It seems like a long time coming, but Phoenix finally took part in the month-long Occupy Wall Street movement.

The protests kicked off with a pre-march on Friday, Oct. 14. The marchers started at Civic Space Park, 424 N. Central Ave downtown, at 3p.m. Friday and wound their way down the street to Cesar Chavez Memorial Park. Thousands of people descended on the square to inaugurate the Phoenix chapter of the global march for universal human rights.

The protesters came from all walks of life- seniors protesting Medicare cuts rubbed shoulders with medical marijuana advocates; students burdened by crippling student loans, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Syrians calling for the overthrow of Bashar Assad; the "Women in Black" held hands with workers calling for fair wages. And though it seemed that the protests are diverse, there is a common thread running through this outcry: give us jobs, fair wages, universal health-care, and regulate the banks or bring them down.

But this was only the beginning. The pre-march ended peaceably Friday, only to be picked-up bigger and better on Saturday. The march changed it's character to become more of a street fair without the annoying vendors.

There were open mics all over the Cesar Chavez Square. Participants could move from talk to talk, hearing every- thing from rap to bible-thumpers, to "Free Syria" or a call for fair wages and an end to predatory student loans.

The demonstration Saturday was a dazzling display of a grassroots protest Arizona-style. The mood was not angry, but festive it had the feel of Woodstock,

Arizona-full of art and poetry. The demonstration appears to be a celebration of American solidarity through tough times. This is an outcry for all people who have an agenda and need to speak out.

"I'm here because I've lost everything," said one woman in a motorized wheelchair. "Now I'm try- ing to save my social security."

A group of International Workers of the World stood by her listening. One of them came down from Minnesota. "I am here in solidarity with Arizona workers," he said.

Everywhere there were protest signs-legalize marijuana; prosecute the banksters; Wall Street got a bailout-where is mine; fund education, not endless wars; and one that is important to all GCC students-free students from crippling school loan debt.

The media has characterized the Occupy movement as left-wing, but in Phoenix that characterization is dead wrong. Poet/ rapper Apollo Poetry who now lives in Phoenix proclaimed he was a Republican. There were rumors at the beginning of the march organization that the Tea Party would be at the march. Though that appears to have been incorrect, the occupation is still young. The Phoenix Police were on hand throughout the demonstration. The officers made every effort to avoid confrontation with protestors.

According to one officer, the only problem they had with the protests came at the beginning of the main march on Saturday, when several minutemen came armed to protest gun control and border issues. Phoenix police say they checked gun permits and stood ready to protect the marchers should violence break out.

"We are glad the march organizers chose Cesar Chavez Park to hold their demonstrations," said Sergeant Mark Schweikert of the Phoenix Police Department." Cesar Chavez was an Arizonan who was an example of non-violence. The symbolism of putting the protests here was important."

"Arizonans are unique," said another officer. "We are more likely to respect our police. Maybe it's just being part of the Old West."

Perhaps that respect goes both ways. The Occupy Phoenix website remarked that many police could relate to the march that they have faced job cuts and some have lost homes to foreclosure. In the early evening the protest moved on to a make shift campsite at Margaret Hance .

According to the Occupy Phoenix website, Mayor Phil Gordon approved the evening's occupation at Hance Park, stating that police observing the protest had been instructed to exercise "extreme caution" in practical terms, to maintain a non-aggressive stance and refrain from making arrests except in the case of violent acts on the part of the occupants.

The site quotes Occupy Phoenix activist Alfredo Gutierrez as relaying a message from the mayor that if peaceful occupants were arrested, Gordon himself would arrive at the park to be arrested alongside the #Occupy Phoenix members assembled.

Let's keep it up Phoenix. We can make this Woodstock instead of the 1999 Seattle riots.

Arizona has been hit hard by the recession. In September, one on every 93 homes in the state defaulted while the jobless rate hovers over nine percent. Economic problems have affected all Arizonans. We have to keep up the pressure so let's make it fun and peaceful.

We are off to a good start so let's keep it up!

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Content revised 6/4/12