Wall Street protest sprouts in Hartford

Barbara Sarmento of Farmington, standing in center with a health insurance sign, poses for a friend with Andrew King of Hartford, who holds the 'Occupy Hartford' sign, as people gather for an Occupy Hartford march at Bushnell Park in Hartford on Friday.
Barbara Sarmento of Farmington, standing in center with a health insurance sign, poses for a friend with Andrew King of Hartford, who holds the "Occupy Hartford" sign, as people gather for an Occupy Hartford march at Bushnell Park in Hartford on Friday.

Hartford - Connecticut's version of "Occupy Wall Street" had its largest gathering to date Friday as more than 200 people joined an "Occupy Hartford" march through downtown and prepared to camp in a park.

Participants ranged from bearded young men to disgruntled office workers to a handful of senior citizens who once protested the Vietnam War.

"In 1968 I had a 10-month-old baby on my back with a wet handkerchief on her head," said Claudia Bell, 66, of Bloomfield, recalling her war protest days. "Now she's demonstrating with her own children at 'Occupy Wall Street' (in New York)."

The 40-minute march began at about 5:20 p.m in Bushnell Park near the Capitol. It proceeded through the city's central business district, where police officers on bicycles held back intersection traffic.

The demonstrators carried aloft a large variety of homemade protest signs ("Tax the Rich" and "Economic Justice") and joined in a series of power-to-the-people chants ("We got sold out! Banks got bailed out!" and "How do we fix this deficit? End the wars, tax the rich!").

There was no one leader of the demonstration, although a core group of organizers guided the procession and led chants. The loudest protester was undoubtedly Craig Breitsprecher of Hartford, who blew into a giant plastic horn called a vuvuzela that was heard for blocks. The 23-year-old said he took part in the first three days of the Wall Street demonstrations in New York City and is excited to see the movement spreading through the country.

Breitsprecher was also among a number of demonstrators who marched in business attire after having sprinted from work.

The first "Occupy Hartford" demonstrations occurred Wednesday in Bushnell Park, attracting about 70 people, according to news reports. Those demonstrators formed what they called a "general assembly," which voted to go forward with Friday's march through downtown. The event was publicized on Facebook, among other places.

Many motorists honked their horns to show support for the passing demonstration, and happy-hour patrons waved from windows or stepped outside to offer encouragement

After looping back to Bushnell Park, the marchers proceeded up a hill to a sliver of parkland within sight of the gold-domed Capitol that they called "Turning Point Park." Upon arrival, Breitsprecher led a final chant: "Whose park? Our park!"

Dave Rozza, 33, a self-described activist from West Hartford, said some of the marchers planned to camp out there at least overnight, and perhaps longer.

Different demonstrators offered different reasons for marching Friday. Yet the general target of their frustrations seemed to be rapacious corporations and financial institutions.

"I think it's a critical time in America - a chance for regular people to have their voices heard above the corporate interests," said demonstrator Tom King, 50, a genetics professor at Central Connecticut State University. "I don't think we can bring back the American dream. I think we burned it up."

For Peter Gowen, 29, an out-of-work house painter and drywall installer, the demonstration movement is about people's fight for "economic justice."

"I want a chance to work hard and make a decent living again," Gowen said, adding that he doesn't blame President Barack Obama for the dismal economic situation because he thinks the president's best efforts have been impeded. But he sais he does want to see Obama speak directly to the people taking part in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

Several demonstrators expressed mixed feelings about the tea party movement, which has blamed oversized government and out-of-control spending for much of the nation's woes.

"Many of them are distracted by the snake charmer from the real problem - corporations and Wall Street," said demonstrator Wayne Dailey, 65, a retired psychologist from East Haddam.

The closest thing to a counterprotest was Tom Dunkin, 53, of Middletown, who stood in Bushnell Park yelling his opinion on why the demonstrators have it wrong. The problem isn't Wall Street, he said. "The Federal Reserve is the enemy!," he argued. "The Fed gave the banks all the money!"

There was no confrontation, although there was an attempt at integration.

"You can join us and protest the Federal Reserve," one woman yelled back.

j.reindl@theday.com

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