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Who Are the Occupy Bradenton Protestors?


BRADENTON -- Tea Party Manatee issued a statement in their newsletter this week disputing any media attempts to categorize the Occupy movement as a liberal version of their grassroots organization.

"This is sickening!," the email, which goes out to Tea Party subscribers read. "It is unbelievable that there are those in government and the media who equate the patriotism of great Americans in the Tea Party movement to this hateful and violent mob."

Apparently that wasn't enough to make the author's point.

"We are comprised of patriots who want to put this country back on the right track! Occupy Wall Street, however, is made up of people who hate America and what it stands for."

The statement is similar to many others made by Tea Party groups and right-wing media commentators over the past several weeks. But calling protesters bums, freeloaders, cowards and traitors is not only disingenuous and insulting to the realities that surround the issues, it reflects the very narcissistic arrogance responsible for the conditions that have so many Americans feeling marginalized, discarded and used. To not validate the impoverishment that has been force-fed to the many millions of people, at no fault of their own, suggest a complete disconnect from humanity. 

Every protester I met last weekend on the streets of Bradenton is fed-up with the conditions that surround them. The word that comes up most often is greed. The majority of people I spoke with feel corporations have bought and paid for all of our legislatures, at every level of government. They feel betrayed and are not willing to listen to any more excuses. Most see the corporate/government coersion that continues to undermine the poor and middle-class as criminal. Nearly all see network media as codependent and responsible for perpetuating the myths that have led to today's extreme economic disparities.  

You can hear it in their voices and see it in their faces, they have all had enough. They are teachers, city workers, cooks, landscapers and engineers. They are retired, just out of college, middle aged and in grade school, wondering what the future has in store for them, even though they've done everything they were told to do. And they are in the streets of the cities and towns around the globe, saying in all languages, that they're not going to take it any more. So when someone trivializes their struggle, it seems their commitment to change the powers that be, grow even stronger. 

Suzanne sits in her chair with her "No to Scott - Save our State" hat. She says she was retired in 2001 when she became a peace activist. She told me, "I was then sick about the fake war and the fake president. In the 60's, I had kids in school, and had I not, I would have been out there protesting. I'm old now, but I can get out here and let them know." There was a flare in her eye that let you know she was serious.

Carly Penzik is a 22 year-old Marine. She carried a John Lennon "Imagine" poster and saw him as a icon for peace and justice. When enrolling in the Corps she had just lost her mother. Then two years later her father also passed away. She was given a hardship discharge from the military and returned disillusioned about the war and all that has been lost because of it. She said she was out there to "spark people's heads into waking up," to see what was going on. She couldn't understand why -- so many lives lost in the war and a trillion dollars with them. Carly is now just trying to get into college somehow. 

Trevor is standing there with his mother Eddie, who is a nurse. She says she is out there because, "I don't like this country being driven into the ground." Trevor, a computer tech student, says he, "just wants to get ahead." He held his Prosperity not Disparity sign proudly, and Eddie said she was certainly proud of him. 

Jessie works for the city and he's standing there between his wife Janessa and his daughter Sophia. Both Jessie and his coworker, Paul Thomas, who is there with them, say they are committed. Both gentleman are AFSCME union members and say they are there to stand up for all union workers. Paul says AFSCME is the second largest labor union in the state, and it's time to end what's been going on.

Mitch Mallett and his two buddies Terrie McGrath and Joe Spagnuolo, were there to show their support. Mitch has a radio show, It's your Gavel, located at 1490 on the dial. They all said they were there to stop the corporate greed. Terrie, in construction, has been unemployed for a year, and Joe has also been an unemployed computer tech rep since last October. 

Dennis and Joan Muoio and their Why not Trickle Up? sign said it all. Both seemed to keep the humor up, but said they take the problems serious. Both are also retired teachers and it showed, often answering a question with a question. When I asked Dennis why he was there, he asked, "What's the other side of the argument?" It's always fun to feel like one is back in school. 

Donna Turgeon was there with Skip Harmon. Donna had been there last week and both said they were there to support the "Occupation" movement. Skip is a Korean War vet. Bob Luersen and his The 99% is too Big To fail sign, used to work for a local paper, until they started outsourcing his job. Herman and Wendy supplied the music. They are married, vets who met while in the Marines. They say they are "ticked off." Heather Davis, her hubby and their son Billy. Heather says, "The Governor needs to step up. The corporations don't have the people in mind. America will be in debt forever."

Robert Phillipoff stands there with his flag and People Before Profit sign, and says, "We need a full time occupation, this is a genuine populace movement." Alex and Amia came out to show their support. She worked for a chain store that went out of business and he is still working in retail. Both say it is getting tough. Art Fletcher stands there with his picture of Lincoln. He is noticeably peeved and says, "Corporate money buys politicians." Then there is, Hippie Amy who says she is a student and looking for work.

I didn't find a "Bum" amongst them, nor did I see a "coward" or think there was one person I met that I wouldn't have over for dinner. Best I could tell, none of them hated America. In fact, it was their love of their country and what it means to them that landed them on the street with a sign. What's scary is to think there are those who claim to have what it takes to be a leader, yet choose to ignore the economic disparities that have created the millions of foreclosures on family homes, the millions of graduates that are strapped by the hundreds of billions in student loans, the millions of children that are living in poverty, the millions that have died a premature death because they can't afford health insurance and the TRILLIONS of dollars that have disappeared from the American economy, because the legislature has handed complete control to the oligarchs. 

The disenfranchised, the exploited, the real people who are occupying the streets, are not going away, unless their grievances do. To label them as traitors and throw derogatory gestures to discredit their obvious reality suggest a more serious problem. John Fitzgerald Kennedy said: "Deny a peaceful revolution, and you guarantee a violent one." That's not "advocating the violent overthrow of a government." It's simply being cognizant of history and man's desire to commune in a society where there is reasonable opportunity for those of all means. America was once that place and has become less so. These Americans would like to see it move back in that direction -- a land of opportunity. What's un-American about that? 



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