Utah's Wall Street protest gets 'official' support
Although some of his Republican colleagues have dubbed the Occupy Wall Street protests "mobs" that could turn violent, Congressman Jason Chaffetz applauds the groups' commitment to stand up and be heard.
In fact, Chaffetz stopped by the Occupy SLC camp in Pioneer Park Friday morning to chat with some of the protesters.
"I may disagree with what they believe in," Chaffetz said, "but I will always fight for their right to express it."
In a statement Friday, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said he stands in support of residents' rights to peaceful protest and free speech.
In contrast, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on Thursday called the protests that began in New York City three weeks ago and have spread nationwide "alarming" and warned they could become violent. According to Politico, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor voiced increasing concern about the "growing mobs" that he said pit Americans against each other.
But in Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park Friday, a tent city unobtrusively began to take shape, with a fully functioning kitchen and medical tent. And the group's fluid goals also seemed to start to gel.
Salt Lake City resident Peter Litster, a 36-year-old paralegal, oversees Occupy SLC's food tent and remarked on the group's diversity.
"We're seeing left-wing populists and tea party right-wingers standing together," Litster said, "and even though we might not agree on some things, we can agree on the fact that our government is not accountable to us, and corporations have screwed it up for everybody."
How long does the group plan to "occupy" the park? Litster's answer: "If you've ever been involved in a 12-step addiction recovery program, you realize you don't need to have all the answers. You just need to take the first step, which is admitting there's a problem."
Occupy SLC spokesman William Rutledge predicts that the camp could remain in place for at least a month, except for temporary tear-downs during the Saturday farmers market, which continues through Oct. 22.
For Karo Christensen, a Web designer from Bountiful, the goal is to occupy "until we start seeing a change in the country" politicians listening and making the changes the group would like to see happen, such as getting corporate dollars out of politics and having the government take over the Federal Reserve.
The broad discontent fueling this growing movement centers on corporate greed and lack of government responsiveness to "the 99 percent."
"There's a growing number of people who can't find work and can't do things," Christensen said. "The government doesn't seem to be helping us with any of that stuff, but they jump on the chance to help the [top] 1 percent with anything that goes wrong."
The group's anger toward the banking industry displayed during Thursday's march through downtown left Howard Headlee, president of the Utah Bankers Association, "surprised and disappointed."
"I'm not sure if they know or understand what they're angry about," Headlee said, adding that "local banks were not responsible for getting us into this mess, but they will play a critical role in getting us out."
Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political scientist, said the Occupy protests have a good track record, so far, for being peaceful.
"I don't think there's any reason to assume there's going to be violence," Burbank said. As for Occupy's future, its just too early to tell, he added.
"Right now its mostly protests, but very little in the way of a plan about what might be done."
However, Hatch's speculation about violence did nothing to ease tensions, protester Litster said. "He and his social class have been pushing us for a long time, and we're pretty tired of it."
Elsewhere nationally, the Associated Press reported that the 3-week-old Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City's Zuccotti Park resembles a functioning city within the city, but with growing sanitation woes.
Coexisting with the Salt Lake City Farmers Market
Occupy SLC is camped in the southwest corner of Pioneer Park, which is home on Saturdays and Tuesdays to the Farmers Market. The Occupy group will shut down its encampment temporarily on Saturdays to make way. Through Oct. 22, the Saturday market will continue to operate in Pioneer Park, 350 S. 300 West, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Through Oct. 25, the smaller Tuesday market, using the park's northeast corner, will coexist with Occupy SLC.