As protesters around the world marked a “global day of action,” crowds took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to vent frustration over dismal job prospects and the failure of government to get the economy back on track.
“I’m one of the 99%,” said Walt Metivier of Torrance, referring to the preponderance of Americans who are not among the nation’s wealthiest. “I work for a large oil company, and I’m fortunate. But I want to see a future for my grandchildren.” And right now, he said, he doesn’t.
Marchers carried signs reading “Corporations are not people” and “Trickledown made us pee-ons.” Some protesters railed against war, but what emerged as a unifying sentiment was that middle-class and poor Americans are being hurt at the hands of greedy corporate profiteers and politicians.
“Banks are sitting on money, and my house is under water,” said Sharon Stewart, 65, a retired USC worker who lives part time in Phoenix. “I’m frightened about Medicare and Social Security. Children and grandchildren are being negatively impacted by the economic crisis.”
Marchers were exuberant but peaceful as they moved en masse from Pershing Square to the tent camp that has occupied the grounds outside City Hall the last two weeks.
The protesters’ call-and-response chants echoed off the walls of high-rises and overpasses. “This is what democracy looks like.” “Whose streets? Our streets.” “We got sold out. Banks got bailed out.” “We are the 99%!”
Despite the frustration and anger that many protesters expressed, the march took on a decidedly festive atmosphere. Families walked together, with mothers carrying babes in Snuggies and tattooed fathers toting toddlers on their shoulders. One woman twirled a Hula-Hoop around her middle as she walked. A man strummed a guitar. Several people pounded drums.
Jennifer West, who teaches art at USC, brought her daughter Ariel, 12, from Highland Park. “We thought it was important to show as many bodies as possible,” West said. “My mother took me as a baby to a Vietnam War protest. I wanted [my daughter] to see this.”
“Kids have a voice. Let it be heard,” read the sign in Ariel’s hands.
Her mother said she hoped the protest and the “Occupy Wall Street” and related movements would help mobilize students and other young people. Both acknowledged some nervousness as several protesters stopped in front of a Bank of America branch and hoisted banners criticizing corporate greed.
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has arrived at just the right time for Anna Guercio, 30, and Tim Wong, 33, of Echo Park. Both are completing their doctorates in comparative literature at UC Irvine and are busily seeking jobs as professors. The odds are slim that they will find anything together, or separately.
“It’s shocking,” Guercio said. “A whole lot of PhDs [in oceanography and biology] are working at Trader Joe’s. There’s an immense amount of economic injustice in this country. We both came from relatively middle-class families. Now there’s no security.”
People can’t get jobs, she said, and the unemployment numbers don’t reflect the people who have stopped trying to find jobs or who are underemployed or are working in other than their chosen fields. The couple are debating whether to have children, given the financial uncertainties.
But they don’t subscribe to the idea of many in the tea party that government is to blame and that social programs should be disbanded.
“People are angry,” Wong said, “and they need something to demonize.”