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Occupy Whidbey occupies Coupeville
For the second time in as many weeks, nearly 50 people from across Island County converged in Coupeville Saturday to participate in an ever-growing protest of big banks and multinational corporations.
Donning everything from homemade signs that read, “I’m mad as hell” to U.S. flags with peace signs, demonstrators manned the four corners of Highway 20 and Main Street and protested for several hours.
“I think what we’re doing here today is significant,” said Marshall Goldberg, an Oak Harbor resident. “It’s one of many, many things we need to do to raise awareness in the American people as to what’s happening in this country.”
Wearing a jacket that looked like a U.S. flag, Goldberg, a retired physician and a former chairman of the Island County Democratic Party, said he took to the street because he feels there is undue corporate influence in the country’s political and economic system and that it must be stopped.
Last weekend’s demonstration in Coupeville is one of the latest spin-offs of Occupy Wall Street, a protest that started in New York this past September and has mushroomed into an international movement.
According to Occupy Wall Street’s website, it has spread to “over 100 cities in the U.S. and actions in over 1,500 cities globally.” The organization’s mission is to fight “the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.”
“The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1 percent of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future,” the website says.
Here on Central Whidbey, at least three groups with similar messages were represented Saturday. According to Che Gilliland, a Coupeville resident and elementary school teacher, they include Occupy Whidbey, Move Your Money and Move On.
Matthew DiAngelo, also of Coupeville, has been involved in Occupy Whidbey. Its mission is geared toward education and “waking people up” who are unfamiliar with the problems on Wall Street, he said.
“Occupy doesn’t really have any demands,” DiAngelo said. “It’s more of knowledge is power; you can’t take that away.”
Saturday’s protestors seemed to come from all walks of life and from all over the county. And while their messages had varying themes, they all largely focused on taking power, influence and wealth away from big banks and businesses and putting it back in the hands of the majority.
For example, while Camano Island residents David and Kathy Eichert waved signs urging people to move their money from large banks to “hometown banks that take care of hometown people,” Coupeville resident Sharon Franzen and her husband advocated for the support of Main Street, which she said represents 99 percent of people.
Franzen is a former elected Island County clerk.
“I was just a working stiff of middle America trying to do my best to support my loved ones and this economic crisis has hit me as much as it has hit anybody else,” she said.
However, such views aren’t shared by all and those opinions also were represented this weekend. Surrounded by Occupy supporters, Oak Harbor resident Ty Welch stood alone with a sign that read, “Occupy Wall Street equals marxist tyranny. If you think banks are to blame, you are a useful idiot.”
Although he was not very popular with the crowd – one unidentified woman even asked him to move away – Welch stood his ground because he said he didn’t want people to think that all Whidbey Island residents were Wall Street protestors.
A federal government employee, Welch said he disagrees with the premise that big banks are to blame for the Great Recession, saying people should do their own research on what caused the mortgage meltdown.
“I think these people that think they are 99 percenters look like the 1 percenters to the rest of the world, especially the ones that are starving in places like Djibouti and Ethiopia,” Welch said.
Although many drivers seemed to support the Occupy supporters with honks and friendly waves, there were a few that made it clear they did not. One yelled out “rightwing socialist” while others employed more traditional methods of communication.
“There’s been a few that have indicated by their finger that they are 1 percenters,” Coupeville resident Gary Goltz said.
The retired construction project manager said he took to the street primarily for the next generation, particularly his grandchildren. While everyone may not agree, he said he hopes their efforts drive home a sense of awareness.
“The message I have to give to them, to give to people in general, is don’t trust the establishment,” Goltz said. “Be careful, they are after your money.”