Vancouver joins worldwide rally of discontent

600-700 people took to the streets of downtown Vancouver on Saturday

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Occupy Vancouver

An estimated 700 demonstrators participated in Occupy Vancouver, first meeting at Esther Short Park and then marching through downtown Vancouver, Saturday, October 15, 2011.

An estimated 700 demonstrators participated in Occupy Vancouver, first meeting at Esther Short Park and then marching through downtown Vancouver, Saturday, October 15, 2011.

Blogging the protest

Read our live blog of the Occupy Vancouver protest, view photos and other videos from the event.

Occupy Vancouver

An estimated 600 to 700 people took to the streets of downtown Vancouver on Saturday answering a call for a worldwide rally against corporate power, chronic unemployment and government cuts.

Drawing more participants than both organizers and police anticipated, the Vancouver nonviolent protest joined a global chorus of discontent in 950 cities around the world, according to United for Global Change, the main site for organizing the worldwide protests.

“People think Vancouver is a sleepy little suburb where opinions don’t matter,” said organizer Reed Rotondo of Vancouver at the rally’s start. “You are here to today to tell them it’s not true.”

The demonstration opened at noon with impassioned speeches on Esther Short Park’s bandstand, where MoveOn.org had provided a microphone.

“I worked for the IRS for 35 years,” said Vancouver resident Mark Miskiewicz. “I’ve done audits on some of the biggest corporations. I saw firsthand who runs this country. It’s not, ‘we, the people’.”

Miskiewicz, who said he was a national expert for the IRS, recalled one large oil company that was dissatisfied with its audit. Within 30 days, there was a bill in Congress to change the law, he said.

Amid the crowd, retired Camas physician Ed McAninch, 86, pushed his friend, 87-year-old Camas resident Rose Flodin, in her wheelchair close to the bandstand so that she could see the speakers.

“I’m here to get the money out of politics,” McAninch said. “It’s crazy. Mark Twain over 100 years ago said, ‘We have the best Congress money can buy.’ It’s still true.”

“I worry about my grandchildren and things working out for them,” Flodin chimed in. “Lawmakers don’t seem to be doing anything about the situation.”

Later, Sue Peabody, a history professor from Washington State University Vancouver, took the bandstand microphone to speak.

“I am here in solidarity with my students,” Peabody said. “We need to make sure we fund education, the ticket to the middle class.”

After her speech, Peabody said she fears for her students, who are amassing large debts to pay for tuition that rises each year. When they graduate, some struggle to find jobs, she said.

“Higher education has always been subsidized throughout the world,” Peabody said. “Students are paying for more than half of the cost of higher education. The cost is shifting more and more into the pockets of students.”

She said one of her students had an accident and lost a front tooth. He can’t afford to see a dentist, so he comes to class with a gap in his mouth, she said.

A few steps away from her, Vancouver resident Steve Wallace spoke into a cellphone and told his brother in Seattle: “I have never seen such an accumulation of slackers in my entire life.”

Wallace, owner of a small insurance company, said he stopped to observe the protest while he visited the Vancouver Farmers Market at 6th and Esther streets to buy some peaches for his wife.

“What’s wrong with corporate greed?” he asked. “The other 99 percent need to work for it. Steve Jobs was part of the 1 percent. He employed millions. ... If you want to be part of the 1 percent, you have to work for it. I haven’t.”

Retired nurse Sally Lyons from Vancouver said the problem is that corporations aren’t always working for their profits. For instance, they receive tax breaks that middle class citizens don’t receive, and they influence policy to increase their wealth, she said.

Just before 1:30 p.m., organizers led protesters on a 1.5 mile march starting at the park and winding around downtown.

Protesters chanted and held up homemade signs. One sign posed the question, “If corporations are people, then who are we?” Others featured quotes from the Constitution’s signers, such as Thomas Jefferson’s, “Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people.”

“This is what democracy looks like,” the protesters chanted as they marched east on West 6th Street. The procession curved north onto Washington Street and wound east on Evergreen Street. They stopped at the Evergreen bridge over Interstate 5 to chant, “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Vancouver police officers on bicycles and motorcycles halted vehicle traffic at street intersections in order to let the protesters safely pass. Some motorists honked in a showing of support for the demonstrators.

“If my right to stand here and speak up is all I have left, then, it’s all I can do,” said Vancouver resident Pat Rucker. “If I had big campaign check, I could do more.”

Rucker went back to school to study engineering after he was laid off in 2007 from Columbia Machine. Since then, he has seen his friends laid off, and some are on the verge of becoming homeless.

“Right now, the wealthiest minority class is making more and more money, and it’s not filtering down to people who just want to work and have a chance to go to school,” Rucker said.

Rucker said the first step to solving the problem is to reform campaign finance, which now indirectly allows corporations to buy the votes of elected officials.

“Campaigns should be publicly funded,” he said.

After the demonstration on the bridge, the protesters reversed course on Evergreen and headed south on Main Street. Turning west on West 6th, they began to march along the periphery of the Vancouver Farmers Market 6th and Esther streets and then back into the park.

The procession was remarkably orderly, staying largely on sidewalks. No problems or violence were reported, said Vancouver police Cmdr. Amy Foster.

Foster said she was impressed by the cooperation between police and protesters. About eight police officers were added to the force Saturday to provide traffic control, she said.

The demonstration occurred right on schedule, beginning promptly at noon and wrapping just before the appointed conclusion of 3 p.m. Volunteers picked up trash from the park grounds as the crowd dispersed.

Vendors at the farmers market gave conflicting reports on how the protest affected business.

Ron Stark, owner of “T bee S” honey, said business slowed down by about 20 percent.

“I think people just wanted to avoid the hassle,” Stark said.

Carlota Dias, owner of the Alex Farms stand, said she had about the same number of customers as on any other Saturday.

“It was good,” Dias said through a translator.

Organizer Stephanie Rotondo said the turnout Saturday surpassed her expectations.

“I am so proud of the people of Vancouver,” she said. “I think it went amazingly, wonderfully well. It could not have gone better. At the beginning I asked everyone to please, take care of the park because we paid for it, and it’s our space. I think they did that. People helped pick up a little bit. A lot of the stuff they picked up was stuff that was already there.”

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://www.twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://www.facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com