New London under 'occupation'

Activists hold an Occupy New London event on the Parade in downtown New London on Monday. The group plans to continue demonstrating for two weeks in solidarity with the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.
Activists hold an Occupy New London event on the Parade in downtown New London on Monday. The group plans to continue demonstrating for two weeks in solidarity with the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.

New London - Rebekah Lesher was driving by the Parade on her way to the grocery store Monday when she saw a group of demonstrators holding signs reading, "Corporations Are Not People," "We are the 99ers" and "Cut Military Spending."

Lesher, a Humboldt County, Calif., resident visiting the region, didn't know any of the participants but felt compelled to park her car and join the 25 demonstrators in the nascent Occupy New London protest, modeled after the Occupy Wall Street movement which continues to gather strength nationwide.

"The system is not right," Lesher said. "I don't want to overthrow the government or anything, I want reforms."

The demonstration began Sunday afternoon and will take place every day at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. until Oct. 24, organizers said. A similar demonstration took place Saturday in downtown Mystic.

During the two-hour protest Monday, several cars drove by honking their horns in approval.

The demonstrators also distributed copies of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, a statement issued by the Occupy Wall Street protesters that makes allegations against corporations in the manner of the Declaration of Independence's list of indictments of King George III.

According to Carolyn Paterno, the pastor at All Souls Universalist Unitarian Church in New London, the protest is an expression of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, who, among other goals, are seeking to reform the role of money and corporations in government.

"We want to complement what has been going in New York and around the country," Paterno said.

Like the Occupy Wall Street protests, the New London version did not have a singular focus; participants held wide-ranging criticisms of corporate behavior and its ties to government.

Winnie Bellefleur of New London said that "money needs to be out of the equation."

Ron Steed of Groton, who helped organize Occupy New London, said he was inspired by the protests in New York and hoped they would lead to more "checks and balances" on Wall Street.

"It ought to be regulated," said Steed, who also criticized the mainstream media's slow reaction to the protests. He first read about them on Twitter and Facebook.

"I think the media is struggling to figure out what this is about," Steed said.

Len Raymond of New London, who set up the Occupy New London Facebook page, said he hoped the movement would make politics "more of a populist force."

"It shouldn't be training grounds for Democrats and Republicans," Raymond said.

Also making protest signs at the Parade Monday was Stonington High School sophomore Christian Marshall, who said the "occupy" movement is her first experience in political action.

"This is our freedom of speech," she said. "We can have a voice in politics."

In Hartford, participants of the Occupy Hartford movement were on day four of their occupation of a small park on a hill near the city's downtown. More than a dozen tents had sprouted at the campsite since Friday night, along with scores of new handmade placards. "Be the solution - join us," read one.

The overnight residents had no plans to leave the park and said they were under no pressure to do so by any city authorities.

"The response we're getting from this community is permit enough," said Wes Strong, 26, of East Hampton, noting the steady stream of honking cars.

The group is organizing a second demonstration march at 5 p.m. Friday through Hartford's central business district. This march is expected to have a stronger protest element since demonstrators said they plan to stop and create some type of scene in front of the downtown Bank of America office.

Garret Schenck, 55, said a big reason they're targeting Bank of America is because the institution plans to charge people $5 a month for use of debit cards, despite having received $45 billion in the 2008 bank bailout.

"As soon as we bail them out, they're passing on the bills to the taxpayers," said Schenck, a Massachusetts resident whose girlfriend lives in Avon. "It doesn't seem like there's been a whole lot of change in the financial system."

s.chupaska@theday.com

j.reindl@theday.com

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