The rain-soaked Seattle protestors who spent the lunch hour on Palm Sunday waving signs on the I-5 overpass at 45th Street NE didn’t look much like the “Occupiers” I saw camped out at Westlake Park last fall.
But the group of 30 or so protestors — made up mostly of progressive Christians from North End churches — raised points that rang a bell. Waving signs that read “Christians against Citizens United” and “Increase Taxes for the 1%”, they talked about protecting government services from budget cuts and to raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
With traffic whizzing by and the rain pouring down, I struggled to guess if this was a spring budding of the Occupy Movement emerging from the winter cold, or the last vestiges of a movement that’s all but over.
Jane Emerson, who organized the “Palm Sunday March for Economic Justice,” spoke like she was starting something new.
“I’ve never been in a protest before,” she said, citing as her inspiration personal friends she’s watched suffering economic hardship. “Come November, I don’t want to feel like I didn’t do something. I don’t live with regret well.”
Emerson pointed out that the group is non-partisan. But with five more events planned leading up to November, they’re oriented toward influencing candidates and voters in the upcoming elections.
“I will vote for the candidate who supports and will follow through with issues of economic justice,” she said.
Occupy Seattle continues to hold several general assembly meetings at the Convention Center each week, but anecdotal reports and a quick read of the minutes of those meetings, point to a fractured, frustrated movement. (The dead silence in response to several different requests for comment for this story can’t be a great sign either…)
But there have been indications that hardcore occupiers are planning a comeback. The light-poles outside my house in the Central District are pasted with colorful signs featuring Tony the Tiger calling for a general strike on May 1. Other posters draw parallels between the upcoming May 1 strike and the WTO protests that threw the city into chaos 12 years ago.
While the May 1st Seattle website (which has been endorsed by, but was not organized by Occupy Seattle) states its goal is to “shut down the city” there have been more tempered calls from Occupy LA and Occupy Wall Street for a strike on a national scale as well.
A smattering of wheat paste and process-heavy weekly meetings hardly indicate a mainstream movement that will influence on the way folks vote come November.
But the Occupy Movement has certainly changed the conversation, making 99% a buzzword that means something to almost everyone. President Obama made an effort to connect his policies to the protestors’ demands soon after the movement began last September, while many prominent Republicans acknowledged Occupy, either to criticize it, or to attempt to connect it to the Tea Party movement.
So far the candidates in local races, from the state legislature on up to governor, might not be framing their talking points around the “economic justice” emphasized by the Palm Sunday marchers. But they are definitely all talking about jobs and access to education.
And people like Emerson surely fit the profile of active and informed voters who will be participating in the upcoming elections.
If they’re the ones carrying the torch for the 99%, local candidates are certain to take notice.