By Judith Scherr
Update, 10.16.11: A video of the October 15th Occupy march in Berkeley has been added at the foot of this story. It was created by Digital Asphalt/East Bay Media Center/Paul Kealoha Blake.
Some 300 people marched, biked and rolled their wheelchairs through downtown Berkeley Saturday, adding their voices to the Occupy Movement calling for an end to the abuse of corporate power. There were rallies and demonstrations in more than 900 cities in the U.S. and abroad, with a turnout of some 2,000 in Oakland and 3,000 in San Francisco.
“There ain’t no power like the power of the people, ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop,” Berkeley marchers chanted, waving homemade signs such as “No Taxes for Star Wars,” “This is Not a Recession; This is a Robbery,” and “Free Market Makes People Unfree.” Marchers walked on the sidewalk, accompanied by a couple of police officers on bicycles.
Before the march, a few people spoke briefly in the manner that has become familiar to the Occupy Movement, with the crowd repeating the speakers’ words so that they are heard by all. Elizabeth Kessell listed a dozen corporate misdeeds – bank foreclosures, workplace discrimination, misuse of animals, abrogation of worker rights, media control and more. She went on to call for solutions: “Exercise your rights to peaceable assembly,” she said. “Occupy public spaces [and] create a process to address the problems we face.”
King Middle School teacher Thomas Sinsheimer was among the marchers. He and his wife were wearing Berkeley Federation of Teachers t-shirts. “It’s gotten to the point in this country where it’s hard for people to survive,” he said, adding that schools feel the pinch. “Class sizes are bigger and there’s less money for programs,” he said.
West Contra Costa teacher Wendy Phillips was also there, with a sign that said, “Teachers are part of the 99%.” Phillips has lost preparation time, gained five furlough days and pays higher health care costs than she used to. “We have no music,” she said. “The parents have to pay for the music by themselves.”
A few elected officials showed up to the march and rally. Rent Board member Jesse Townley pointed out how corporations hurt Berkeley renters and homeowners: “The bank’s criminality, along with government collusion in terms of letting foreclosures go through without being modified or forgiven, means that the housing stock in Berkeley is definitely negatively affected,” he said. “The wrong that is being done is by people who are not accountable to the public.”
Councilmembers Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington were both at the rally and march. Worthington said the problem of corporate power was on national, state and local levels. In Berkeley it could be seen by the difficulty the council has had in passing a ban on plastic bags. He said he’s also concerned about how corporate money influences elections. “The amount of money that corporations are allowed to spend… in state and local elections pollutes the public policy range of possibilities,” he said.
Some media have reported in recent days that the various “occupy” events have been poorly attended. Many Berkeley residents chose to go to the much larger Oakland rally, organized, in part, by Moveon.org and other national groups. Mayor Tom Bates spoke with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan at a Laney College rally, before a march to downtown Oakland to join Occupy Oakland where some 200 tents sprawl across Frank Ogawa Plaza. There, one could spot a number of people in Berkeley Federation of Teachers shirts, Berkeley activists acting as monitors, as well as Berkeley councilmember Linda Maio.
Maio said she supported the goals of the Occupy Movement and said she believes the full Berkeley City Council supports the Berkeley occupation. “People are being trampled on over and over again [by the big corporations],” she told Berkeleyside. “Finally something is happening. As long as we’re quiet, they’ll just keep doing it over and over again.” The city council will vote on whether to support Occupy Berkeley on November 6.
Meanwhile, the Berkeley encampment is moving from the Bank of America Plaza to Martin Luther King Civic Center Park, where organizers say the occupation has room to grow and can take advantage of a city portapotty.
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