Moving in: Boulder gets occupied

Elizabeth Miller | Boulder Weekly

At Occupy Boulder events later this week, the messaging may struggle to stay on target. Signs could relay a medley of wants and wishes from the government, endorsements on current ballot issues for Boulder County, and tried and true calls for peace. The events planned, a protest Friday evening and a rally and march Saturday morning, were organized by two of several Occupy Boulder groups, which haven’t yet combined forces and are actively declining to identify leaders, instead handing organizational tasks to the masses.

But it’s possible that the method is the message. And these protesters banding together to voice their various concerns share a prevailing discontent: They’re not happy with their representation at present and want to give the government a shakedown.

“Basically I’m just an American woman living down the street who decided to take some action to unite the people of Boulder to take action for this movement that is now sweeping across the country,” says Rebecca Sell, chief coordinator for one of the Occupy Boulder groups. “I’m no politician. I don’t claim to know or understand policies. My husband and I, we’re on food stamps, living in affordable housing, and I have an interview Wednesday for a $9-an-hour job.”

Sell created the Facebook page for Occupy Boulder, which promotes the events for all Occupy Boulder groups. Her group had planned an Oct. 15 rally, then found out about another group planning a rally that day. Rather than double-book attendees, Sell says, they’ve moved their event to November.

“We’re hoping for unification here in Boulder, not to have so many little protests all over the place but more to unify all together to have larger events, larger rallies,” Sell says.

But if there are core differences between one Occupy Boulder and another, they should remain separate, she says.

In the meantime, there’s little concern that people will get rallied-out.

“I think emotions are running pretty high right now. I think that the American people are pretty frustrated. There’s a lot of pent-up energy that needs to be voiced,” Sell says. “The momentum is building.”

The beauty of the movement, and the mark of its truly grassroots nature, is its inability to be pigeonholed, she says.

“We represent, in general, I think, a collective resistance to the corporate powers that be and to an entire system of government and way of life that is no longer useful to us,” Sell says. “We don’t have all the answers right now. I think this is the time for uniting. It’s not so much the time for taking action on decisions.”

Solidarity and unification may be the first challenges facing the various Occupy Boulder groups, which met throughout last week and into this week. Members have been attending the Occupy Denver events, and now are hoping to “occupy” their own communities. At a Tuesday meeting outside the old courthouse on Pearl Street, many of the 20-some attendees expressed an interest in establishing a camp in Boulder that would be occupied 24/7.

“I think the main problem is we can get 20 people here, 20 people there, but we’re getting drowned out by the amount of money that’s getting poured into the system,” one attendee said at the meeting.

“Do I think we’ll be successful? I really don’t know. I hope so,” says Henk Vandenbergh, Jr., who put out the initial call for the Tuesday gathering.

“When I walk among the crowd at the Occupy Denver, I get the sense that people are coming together as human beings, not as Republicans or Democrats. … People are looking to change things.”

Those assembled agreed to plan for meetings a couple times a week, beginning with meeting again on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 12:30 p.m.

“The movement doesn’t turn anyone away. It’s important. It’s about everybody. If somebody who is a hedge fund manager wants to come down and say ‘Yeah, I don’t pay enough in taxes. I think we need to fix the system,’ they’re more than welcome to come join this movement,” says Joseph Illingworth, who attended the Tuesday gathering. “The system is rigged toward a very minute portion of the population, and we need to do something to fix that, and I think taking the momentum from this movement and trying to turn it into actual policy should be the overall goal.”

The 4:30 p.m. Friday Occupy Boulder protest, which will be held at the intersection of 26th Street and Canyon near a Bank of America (whether the bank was the target could not be confirmed), is organized in cooperation with MoveOn. org and will focus on a “jobs not cuts” message, according to Dara Rotunno, who is doing media outreach for the group.

Saturday’s event begins with a rally at 11 a.m. outside the banks at Broadway and Canyon, then, at noon, attendees will march a route that includes Pearl Street before gathering at Friendship Cities Park at Broadway and Canyon for a general assembly.

“We would really like to see power back in the hands of the people, and we would like to see Congress representing the people and not the banks,” says Carolyn Bninski, a volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and one of the organizers of Saturday’s Occupy Boulder rally. “There’s broad, widespread discontent about the way that things are happening right now, and I think [protesting] sends a message to our elected officials that people are not asleep. People are awake and they’re watching and they want there to be, they want our government to be in service of the wide majority of the people, not just in service of the wealthiest people.”

That could mean radical steps like restructuring Congress or adjusting the powers of the Supreme Court, and almost certainly means reforming campaign finance laws and the rights given to corporations.

“I think at the end of the day people in elected office pay attention to the potential voters on various issues,” says Francis Beer, a retired University of Colorado political science professor.

Protesting is a tested method of demonstrating popular resistance or support, and protests show that at the end of the day, votes trump money.

“It’s a way of showing strength in numbers,” Beer says. “It’s before we go to the ballot box. It’s before we take public opinion surveys. It’s unfiltered. … It’s a form of popular lobbying. It’s letting people in elected office know that there are a lot of people out in the world who are paying attention to what they’re doing or not doing.”

Conveniently, the act of protesting does what some of the Occupy Boulder protesters say they mean to prioritize as a message.

“It’s a form of push back against the money,” Beer says. “It’s the people against the money.”

And though the message of Occupy Wall Street was initially difficult to extract and the end goal is still unclear, their demands are not.

“The concrete demands are implicit.

The concrete demands are that the legislators pay attention to the needs of ordinary people,” Beer says.

But to get anywhere, the protesters are going to have to stay mad for a while. Or at least renew the passions when the weather improves.

“People won’t see their demands met, and spring is a much more friendly environment for demonstrating,” Beer says. “But it’s a mistake to disregard the demonstrations and figure, well it’ll be over soon and they’ll all go away.”

Eastern Europe, the Middle East and America in the 1960s all show that demonstrations can have an effect.

“Demonstrations can be very powerful political tools, and demonstrations can have very substantial political impacts,” he says. “Just because we haven’t had that in our country in half a century doesn’t mean that the demonstrations are wrong.”



Sign-making party at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center (corner of Quince and Broadway in Boulder).

Protest at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Canyon and 26th Street.

Rally and march at 11 a.m. Saturday at Canyon and Broadway.