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SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of people, upset about what they see as corporate greed and the failure of government to represent the people, gathered at the Capitol Thursday morning to demonstrate with the Occupy Salt Lake City movement.
They chanted "We are the 99 percent," a phrase repeated often, to emphasize that they think a small portion of the country runs and owns virtually everything, and they want this to change.
Despite rain and cold, about 300 people marched from the Capitol through the financial center of Salt Lake, shouting slogans like "They say cut back, we say fight back," and holding signs denouncing corporations and the Federal Reserve. The march stopped in front of Salt Lake's Federal Reserve building to demonstrate, as well as Chase bank, Wells Fargo and CBS News. The march stretched for three blocks at times.
When marchers reached Pioneer park, they almost immediately began setting up camp, with several tents and tables erected, showing their intention to stay there "all day, all week."
Gregory Lucero, one of several spokespeople for Occupy SLC, ran up and down the group with a blow horn throughout the march, leading people in slogans and helping to direct the demonstrators.
"We definitely had a win. We had hundreds of people out marching against the banks and corporations that have been feeding off our country, in Utah. That's a real win," he said.
The "Occupy" movement began as an idea floated by the Canadian anti-consumerism group AdBusters several months ago, but gathered numbers and media attention when a group decided to take up residence in Zuccotti Park in New York City Sept 17. Galvanized by mass arrests of over 700 demonstrators Oct 1, the movement has begun to spread across the nation.
Occupy SLC has said that they formed in order to show solidarity with the group in Zuccotti Park, as well as others. They intend to reside in Pioneer Park indefinitely, until they are recognized and their demands are met.
Goals, criticisms, responses
The group has received criticism for so far failing to articulate specifically what their demands are, and for having vague goals. What it means to be "recognized" has not been entirely clear.
But Alex Fabela, another spokesperson, was able to give some specific examples. She said for now they are supporting demands made by the Occupy Wall Street group.
"For example, taking a way the right of corporations to have the same rights as human beings. And also the Glass- Steagall Act - to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act that gave more restrictions to corporations," Fabela said.
"It's basically centered around economic and financial legislation, and the changing of those things to benefit the American population as a whole and not that one percent that is benefiting the most from it as of now."
She was also keenly aware of a lack of goals that are locally oriented, but said that group's "general assembly" would decide on those as things move forward. Still, there are already some things on the table.
Friday, Oct. 7 at 12 p.m. and 6 p.m.
"Some of the popular things I've heard brought up are education reform, because of the poor education system we do have in this state," she said.
Occupy SLC has met in a nightly general assembly where they vote on everything from where to demonstrate to how to handle food, water, and shelter. They say they'll continue to do so while in Pioneer Park. The first meeting is scheduled for tonight at 7:00 p.m.
"There is careful time and energy being put into formulating and revising the best way to handle the crisis we are in," said Skylar Hawk, who started a Facebook page for the group where much of the coordinating has taken place. In less than a week, over 7,000 people were members of the page.
"All of the movements hold democratic general assemblies to discuss the most productive way to end the corruption and manipulation that exists in our current systems, as well as an unofficial list of demands posted by the Occupy Wall Street movement," Hawk said.
While the march and demonstrations were perfectly legal, there are a number of issues with occupying the park. Sleeping or camping in the park is prohibited. However, Detective Dennis McGowan, public information officer for SLCPD, said a free expression permit has been issued, allowing demonstrators to be there legally for 24 hours.
Demonstrators have the option to apply for another permit for up to a month pending a vote by the group and approval by the police.
Occupy SLC met with police to discuss permits and legal issues, and invited police to attend their general assembly Wednesday night. They tried to maintain a good relationship with the police prior to and during the demonstrations and occupation, given the troubles that have plagued the movement on Wall Street. Four officers came and stood behind organizers Wednesday to observe.
"They were very friendly," said Sgt. Jenn Diederich, whose police beat centers around Pioneer Park.
"If worst comes to absolute worst, we'll sleep on half a sidewalk to a person if we have to," Fabela said. Sleeping on the sidewalk is legal as long as normal traffic is allowed to move past.
Fabela also said that there are several other sites that were considered before choosing Pioneer Park, like Gallavan Plaza or Main Street, and it's possible the general assembly could vote to move to one of those.
There will also be a gathering in Southern Utah tonight at 5 p.m. at Vernon Worthen Park in St. George.