Occupy Denver and the Colorado Progressive Coalition combined forces for a civil disobedience tour de force today, with events taking on both Tom Donohue, the president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, and Wells Fargo.
The only problem: The police got there first. Both times.
All week, the CPC has organized a series of events under the umbrella title Mile-High Showdown. The six-day protest shares ties to Occupy Denver and ends on Saturday with a joint rally in support of the occupation. The group's numbers have grown incrementally at each event, CPC community organizer Brooke Shannon says, culminating in its largest gathering yet at today's march to banking behemoth Wells Fargo.
"It was an organic decision to combine with each other as far as our energies," Shannon says. "We have the same exact ideals, tactics and enemies. We want to make Wall Street pay all of us back down on Main Street."
But first, the afternoon began with a luncheon: By the time Mile-High protesters arrived to add their numbers to the Occupy Denver group challenging Donohue at his speech for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, police had already removed the smaller gathering from the Denver Center for Performing Arts. Its goal was to question the big-business supporter while standing in solidarity against his status as a member of the 1 percent, and it managed to do so only during his photo shoot and then again as his limo left the area.
"We see him as the epitome of corporate greed, and we want him to know that we're here and we demand change for the next generation," Occupy protester Erika Kessler-Ison says. Behind her, others shouted "Thomas J. Donohue, we've got the dope on you!"
"We walked past him as we were escorted out of his photo session, and we asked him about money and politics and greed," Kessler-Ison added. "He ignored us."
Organizers called the police the moment the group made it inside the center's ballroom, and online attention such as the Facebook and other social media shout-outs both events received created advance warning for the cops. "About a dozen people came in and tried to harass him while we were escorting him in, but it lasted only about five minutes," said a Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry events assistant who asked not to be named.
From there, the protest escalated in both size and police attention. The small Occupy Denver group met up with the larger Mile-High Showdown gathering for a seventy-person march from 13th and Arapahoe to the downtown Wells Fargo on Broadway to draw further attention to the division between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. As the group marched, rhyming chants drew attention from shoppers and employees on smoke breaks, who stopped to take photos of the progression.
"We've worked a lot with people going through struggles with Wells Fargo and other financial institutions that no longer accurately represent the 1 percent," Shannon says. "I was talking to someone whose interest rate had increased from 6 to 29 percent overnight. We decided to take a stand but have fun with at the same time, and we had all prepared extensively for the potential to be arrested."
An event planned for Wednesday called for a flash mob of people dressed as Robin Hood, but the early snow delayed the action until today, when about thirty Robin Hoods mixed in with the Wells Fargo protest. By the time the march wound its way down to the bank, six police cars lined the street and officers, tipped by the early notice, lined up inside the entire span of the bank's glass doors and windows. The group was completely barred from entering, and when they tried to push their way in, officers refused them entry.
In response, protesters adapted to the stricter than expected situation. About twenty officers surrounded the group on the Broadway sidewalk as well, and although they attempted to prevent a Mile-High Showdown truck from entering, they were unsuccessful. A handful of protesters removed a set of furniture -- couch, sofa chair, table and folding chairs -- from the vehicle, set it up and sat down, while the remainder walked in circles around them chanting for 45 minutes. The set-up for the entire event took only three minutes, and the only acknowledgment of a riot-equipped police audience was a change in chants: "We are the 99 percent" transitioned to "The police are the 99 percent."
Although the group has conducted at least three separate joint civil disobedience training sessions in preparation for the Mile-High Showdown, only one protester has been arrested throughout the entire showdown so far. One Occupy Denver participant who managed to push his way inside the building this afternoon was dragged away from sight by police shortly after. His name has not yet been released.
"I've been completely surprised by the police reaction, especially considering how peaceful we are, but we were prepared," Shannon says. "In our civil disobedience training, we tapped into predecessors from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. It's really intense to look at yourself and decide what you're willing to do in order to change the world."
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More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Police arrest homeless vet Billy Reno for raising a tent."