Different walks of life represented at Occupy Vancouver

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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The estimated 700 participants in Saturday afternoon’s Occupy Vancouver protest and march came from backgrounds that transcended easy categorizations on age, occupational status — or even their specific reason for attending.

However, what united the masses that congregated at Esther Short Park was a collective, if generalized, sense that America had stumbled down the wrong path and needed to curb its corporate and political greed, in order to prevent ruin.

Here are portraits of five people who reflect the different concerns and similar frustrations among Occupy Vancouver’s demonstrators.

"ZOMBIE STATE OF MIND"

photoAna Jordache

In the time it would take Ms. Pac-Man to eat all the dots in a maze, Ana Jordache realized higher education’s costs would provide a major obstacle to her post-high-school dreams of becoming a doctor.

The cost of higher education, the influence of the nation’s most affluent one percent and her generation’s love of video games were among the influences the 19-year-old Fort Vancouver High alum used to create an eye-catching image of discontent.

On Jordache’s sign, Ms. Pac-Man prepared to eats dots and then a monster with a $ sign inside each. Above the images were the words “GAME OVER.”

“It’s just how we’re being controlled with everything,” she said, when asked to explain her design. “It’s almost like we’re zombies.”

She expressed hope that school financing would not preclude people from chasing their dreams in the future. Then, the mind-set of economic fear, with regard to education, would be forced to fade away.

Jordache viewed Saturday’s events and others like it across the world as a positive start.

“We’re waking up from our zombie state of mind,” she said.

PRESENT, FUTURE CONCERNS

photoBryan Helfrich

During the protest, Jordache and her brother-in-law, Bryan Helfrich, each clutched part of a flag bearing the nations of the world. The consequences of actions inside corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street are felt far beyond America’s borders, and will be felt for decades to come, Helfrich said.

His 10-month-old daughter, Phoenix, attended the event with a sign on her stroller that read “I’m Here For My Future.”

Corporations’ decisions to genetically alter food without detailing those changes already has Bryan Helfrich worried for his daughter’s health.

“They’re going to be paying to get sick and paying to get better,” the 34-year-old said.

The present is also rife with problems. Helfrich owns a small graphic design business. Predictably, its bottom line has slumped amid the national recession.

He places much of the blame for America’s economic turmoil on corporate greed. CEOs and board chairmen who break the law should face serious punishment, he said.

Like his sister-in-law, Helfrich said the Occupy movement showed America had begun to wake from its slumber. He departed the event encouraged about Vancouver’s part in the awakening.

“This shows it’s not just something the big cities are doing ... and that in a relatively small city like ours, a large group of people can realize something is wrong and needs to change,” he said.

"DEMOCRACY HAS BEEN HIJACKED"

photoDorothy Weissert

Dorthy Weissert of Washougal woke up at 5:30 Saturday morning to create a sign that illustrated her belief that corporations, Wall Street and Congress have conspired to hijack American democracy.

Weissert’s posterboard featured a pair of hands holding up two puppets — one Republican, one Democrat. Above the hands, a pig symbolized the corporations and a fat man with a cigar in his mouth symbolized Wall Street.

“Basically, our Congress takes money and does what it’s told,” she said, explaining the meaning behind her “Our Democracy Has Been Hijacked” statement on the poster’s opposite side.

Part of Weissert’s frustrations with government stem from what she sees as an inability to provide American small business owners the ability to compete with other nations, like China, which subsidizes its manufacturing industries.

Weissert and her husband own a business building machinery designed to mass produce products for Fortune 500 companies. Her business competes daily with Chinese counterparts, she said.

The result? Her business has laid off one-third of its employees — people she knows on a first name basis.

“Unlike the corporations, we care about these people making their house payments and taking care of their kids,” Weissert said.

$1 VOTES

photoScott Tiniakos

Scott Tiniakos is on the front lines of what he views as the “buy local” movement. The 54-year-old Vancouver resident is a service representative for a local office supply company. Before the recession hit, he owned an office supply company.

His message urging other businesses and consumers to buy from local vendors has become more resolute.

“What they’re doing when they spend $1 with a national corporation and not a local company is they’re making a vote against the community $1 at a time,” Tiniakos said.

Saturday’s strong turnout showed Clark County residents were fed up enough to leave their homes and share their fears and frustrations with one another in a public setting, he observed.

Tiniakos admitted he was not the most well-versed person when it came to the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. He did not have a fancy sign. The drive to become a part of something bigger than himself motivated him to attend Saturday.

“I knew I needed to do more,” Tiniakos said. “Today was a good day to do that.”

DUTY CALLS

photoTom Scharf

Tom Scharf considers himself one of the lucky ones. He only lost one-third of his savings when the recession hit.

The retired Silicon Valley engineer moved to Vancouver five years ago. Since then, he has seen several friends struggle to pay their rent and other bills.

“I have survivor’s guilt,” he said, describing why he felt a “responsibility” to attend Saturday’s event.

He described Saturday’s event as a chance for like-minded people to unite in peaceful protest against America’s current greed-obsessed course — one that involves corporate CEOs being paid millions to slash their workforces and ship jobs overseas, all in the name of profit. Whether that course is overturned will ultimately be up to the so-called 99 percent.

“If we are going to have any impact we’re going to need big numbers,” Scharf said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com<I>