Armed with signs, slogans and even a pitchfork, residents of San Luis Obispo took to the streets to protest on Wednesday.
A group of approximately 50 residents gathered on the steps of the downtown courthouse to show their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement 3,000 miles away in New York City.
The protest, informally known as Occupy SLO, grew to approximately 100 participants as the evening continued, with the majority of protesters being over the age of 50.
“We are the 99 percent,” the protesters chanted as drivers of passing cars honked horns in response.
“It’s simple,” one of the protesters explained. “One percent of the people in America control most of the wealth. We are the other 99 percent.”
Nearly all of the demonstrators learned about the protest less than 24 hours beforehand. One of these was San Luis Obispo resident Peggy Genoway, who had only heard about it that morning.
“I didn’t expect to see so many people here,” Genoway said. “Some of them only found out an hour ago.”
Genoway ran a massage therapy studio that she said was forced out of business because of the downward turn in the economy. For a while, she had to sleep in her studio. She then returned to school at Cuesta College in order to receive grant money so she could stay afloat.
“I had no choice,” Genoway said. “I had to follow the money.”
Looking around at the protesters on Wednesday, though, Genoway was encouraged.
“The basic thing people are protesting here is greed,” Genoway said. “And when it starts getting bad, people come out. (The greed) isn’t going to stop unless people stand up.”
Another protester was a Cal Poly professor who asked to remain anonymous because he said he wanted to keep his work and protesting separate. The professor helped to organize the event through Occupy Wall Street’s website for Wednesday’s “Day of Action.”
“Short of a national strike, which nobody wants to see, it’s up to protesters around the nation to convince politicians,” he said.
Among the respondents was a group that led a demonstration in support of the Wisconsin protest this spring.
These protests were in response to the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill that accounted for a $3.6 billion budget deficit. Part of the bill called for a limitation on collective bargaining, in which employees are able to use a representative of their body of work to negotiate such things as work hours and wages.
“We’re not against rich people,” the professor said. “I don’t hate corporations. The problem is that there are practically no regulations in place.”
However, according to the professor, the protest doesn’t have a concrete agenda.
“I don’t know exactly,” he said when asked about the subject of the protest. “We just know that something is terribly wrong when 1 percent of the population has so much of the wealth.”
In fact, the protest has a different purpose depending on who you ask: “Bring our troops home now,” read one sign. “Costco gas: unamerican,” read another.
The protesters left the courthouse and walked a block to Santa Rosa Street for better visibility of the traffic.
“We call this the October Revolution,” said protester Pete Evans, who addressed the crowd before it left the courthouse steps.
Like the other protesters, Evans didn’t have a list of demands to be met.
“Some of us think we know something,” Evans said. “A lot of us don’t. It’s like ‘The Matrix.'”
As far as general demands, however, Evans said, ultimately, the people are at the center of any protest.
“Throughout all history, throughout all regimes — Nazi Germany, Libya, America, everywhere — power rests with the people,” Evans said. “The question is whether or not they stand up and take it. Cal Poly students could rise up and force the president out in an hour if they wanted.”
Despite his assertions, Evans said student participation in the event was lacking.
“It could be that students aren’t connected to the same media we are,” Evans said.
The professor said he is hoping for more student support as well.
“I’d like to wake up more people, especially (college-aged) people,” he said, “But I guess there are just too many distractions.”
Thursday night’s demonstration at Farmers’ Market downtown, while having less protesters overall, did have more student support.
Cuesta College student Cameron Davis said he made his way to Higuera Street to join the protest.
“Unfortunately, (the protest’s purpose) is a little ambiguous at this point,” Davis said. “But I do know corporate America is out of hand right now, and corporations have too much input as to how the government is run.”
At Farmers’ Market, Occupy SLO also had a larger audience than that at the courthouse. Among them were city and regional planning senior Guy Duer and anthropology and geography senior Jordan Lambert.
“The biggest thing they’re protesting is the wage disparities and what’s going on with the wealth right now,” Duer said.
Both Duer and Lambert said they had plans to join the protest soon.
“We’ve been waiting for something like this to happen in San Luis Obispo,” Lambert said. “And now it’s here.”
Many protesters aren’t slowing down any time soon. According to Davis and others, demonstrations will continue to be held for the foreseeable future.
Davis also said it would take some kind of “socioeconomic reform” to satisfy him.
“This is only getting bigger,” Davis said. “I’m not stopping. We’re not stopping.”
More information about the global and local protests is available online.