Today's initial celebration of Occupy Wall Street's two-month anniversary ended with the largest display of honks from passing cars the local movement has heard in a while (at least without a ticket). The day has been designated a national cause for action for occupations across the world, and Occupy Denver has more activities planned. But a noon march through the 16th Street Mall wasn't marked by major incidents, even though participants were trailed by about 45 police officers.
The march began on the steps in front of the City & Council Building downtown, where protesters gathered with signs that reiterated earlier messages and pushed for further action in the coming weeks. In light of Saturday's recent eviction, group action like today's is important for the gathering when it comes to maintaining a constant presence in Civic Center Park.
"What I have to say is much less nice than what they just did," protester Jeannie Hartley told the crowd. "In order to make any kind of change in this city, I think it has become clear that we have to remove Mayor Hancock from office. Right now, we're occupying his steps."
From the City & County Building, approximately 200 protesters marched through the mall downtown, shouting chants on the way and sharing stories at planned stops along the rally route. "How many people here have student loans?" shouted one protester. "How many of you have loans that have increased by at least 20 percent?" For both questions, the show of hands came from at least half the group. She then shared that her own loan had increased more than 100 percent past the original rate when she defaulted on them.
It was a day for stories, recognition and, perhaps later this evening, action. It was also the first event at which Emerson De Ruiter felt comfortable speaking, though his voice shook slightly as he addressed the crowd. "I'm only nineteen, fresh out of high school, and I'm scared for my future," De Ruiter told his fellow occupiers. "I don't want it to be like this." Although younger than the majority of Occupy Denver protesters, De Ruiter's life includes significant motivation to join the cause. His family is currently in the middle of filing for bankruptcy, and his job as a lifeguard has occasionally been the one that pays for meals. His father worked with steel until six tons of it fell toward his neck, and his mother works for the Division of Child Care and sells Mary Kay cosmetics. His own career plans have changed dramatically in the time he has spent taking forty-minute bus rides from Fort Lupton to Denver to occupy the larger city.
"For the longest time, I wanted to be an airborne ranger, but I can't be a part of an establishment that has any part in this government," De Ruiter says. Behind him, one protester walks with mock menace to the US Bank Tower, and its security guards begin to look worried. "I feel like that would be a mockery of their sacrifice. I had to tell my story today because I know that everyone else has one just like mine."
In May, De Ruiter graduated from Fort Lupton High School, after which he knew college was not immediately feasible. Today, he takes classes in welding at the Community College of Denver, though he skipped his math class when he saw the gathering downtown and knew what it meant: action.
Today's anniversary will be celebrated in a variety of ways, not least among them the reminder that more more than 75 arrests have resulted from the Denver movement. This evening, the Denver Anarchist Black Cross, the organization that supports a large sector of the occupation's internal legal structure, will host a potluck for those who have been arrested as a result of the movement.
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Back at the day's first rally, though, protesters earned honks from a group as diverse as the one they vehemently represent: the 99 percent. When protesters walked down Broadway past Colfax, at least fifteen cars stopped at the light and honked -- an array that featured Mazdas, a Public Works truck and an RTD bus. When marchers turned the corner, they passed by Civic Center Park again on the way to the steps. As they walked, a Public Works maintenance crew sprayed down the tagging left from their time inside of it.
Occupy Denver's own anniversary falls next week, on November 23.
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Laywer David Lane to seek federal injunction against Denver police."