HARTFORD —— Garret Schenck, unemployed from Massachusetts, brought provisions to spend the night on a grassy triangle of land that people were calling Turning Point Park on Friday.
As protesters against Wall Street gathered outside Bushnell Park to march, the 55-year-old had propped up a freshly painted sign — "ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Occupy Hartford" — on an easel facing Farmington Avenue near Broad Street. It was 5 p.m. and the start of the "occupation."
"The nation's been asleep, our young people have been asleep," said Schenck, who demonstrated on Wall Street in 1979 and was inspired by the recent people's uprising in Egypt. "Everyone's been tranquilized by 'American Idol.'"
"That's what I'm talking about!" said Irma Santiago of Hartford, a retired housekeeper, as she walked by and saw Schenck's sign. "What's going to happen to our babies when they grow up?"
"Corporate profits are at an all-time high," Schenck said.
Santiago turned to the passing motorists, some who were honking in support. "Beat the horns!" she cheered.
Down the block, on Asylum Street across from Union Station, about 250 "Occupy Hartford" demonstrators soon began their march through downtown with police escorts that blocked traffic. Union supporters, teenagers and college students, senior citizens and families with young children — what they had in common, according to their shouts, is being "the 99 percent." In short, not the super rich.
"The banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" they recited.
They chanted about corporate greed and control, high unemployment and economic injustice.
An offshoot of the "Occupy Wall Street" protest in New York City, they walked in a roughly mile-long loop that by 6:10 p.m. had taken them to the edge of Asylum Hill where Schenck and others had set up camp. Honks came from truckers and cars in a slow crawl on I-84 to a woman headed west in a silver Porsche and a guy driving down Broad in a white Ford Mustang who yelled, "Let's tax the … out of the rich!"
Among the marchers was Ethan Warner, a 27-year-old English teacher at Platt High School in Meriden who carried a sign with this Orwellian quote: "Until they become conscious they will never rebel."
"We read '1984' and every year it becomes more and more relevant," Warner said.
And for a while, Tom Durkin of Middletown followed the demonstrators, trying to convince a few that there is a bigger "enemy" than Wall Street.
"The Federal Reserve is the freaking problem. They funneled Wall Street all the money with all these bailouts, and the middle class is getting screwed — I agree with that," said Durkin, 53, a self-employed Libertarian who wants Ron Paul to be president. On Sunday, Durkin plans to protest with a bullhorn at the Reserve on Liberty Street in New York City with his 20-year-old son, Jeff.
"But the Federal Reserve is behind everything," Durkin continued. "They're destroying this country. … They're driving our dollar down to nothin'."
For those who planned to camp at the corner of Broad and Farmington, the land carried symbolism as a point between downtown and the major insurance companies headquartered in Asylum Hill. The "occupation" was to continue throughout the weekend, although there were no specific plans for further marches or demonstrations.
"Hopefully there will be people around the clock at the occupation site," said JoAnne Bauer of Hartford, who has been active in the movement. "We're welcoming folks to be there whenever they can."
Demonstrators are allowed to sleep there overnight, but tents should be taken down in the morning, police said. Participants are not allowed to block traffic or start campfires.
Authorities said they would provide "police presence" in the area as necessary.
The movement began planning in Hartford last week. More than 60 people attended a meeting Sunday at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, participants said, and several Facebook pages have been formed to support "Occupy Hartford."
On Wednesday, about 70 people gathered at Bushnell Park in the morning and another 30 at night to discuss what kind of protest might unfold in Hartford.
As with other "Occupy" protests across the country, the focus during planning sessions has been broad. The group has discussed a range of issues that include unemployment, insurance reform, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Paul Talbot, who created one of the "Occupy Hartford" Facebook groups, contended that the occupation will "lead to a storm of ideas." What happens next, he said Friday, "will be driven by the response of the public once the movement starts to grow locally."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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