Since mid-October, downtown San Luis Obispo has been filled for several days each week by a band of marchers, chanting and holding placards.
Saturday was no different. About 30 people walked from the county courthouse, where a small encampment stands, through town chanting and waving signs.
“We are the 99 percent,” they chanted.
What started in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on Sept. 17 as a protest about income disparity and discontent with the status quo — just this past week a march in Oakland shut down the port — has sparked Occupy movements across the country including the one in San Luis Obispo.
With a Facebook page and a website, the local group, Occupy SLO, has had a presence in front of the San Luis Obispo County courthouse since Oct. 19 when the first tents sprouted up. While its numbers fluctuate, it continues to gather several days a week.
With no apparent leaders, Occupy SLO is run by a general assembly, said Evan Sylvester, a physical trainer and member of the group. The amorphous body makes decisions through consensus at its meetings — anyone is welcome. The group doles out specific responsibilities, such as outreach and legal issues, to five working groups.
While the group has many views, Sylvester said, the movement is basically “based on making political policy align with public opinion.”
Like its counterparts, Occupy SLO is multifaceted. The group’s concerns stretch from income inequality and corporate greed to homelessness, the foreclosure crisis and student debt, said Patricia Frank, an Atascadero Christmas tree farmer involved with the group.
Despite its divisions and apparent lack of focus — the group has no mission statement — its goal of maintaining an outgoing protest has already been achieved, Sylvester noted.
On Saturday, Occupy SLO protesters walking through town had a variety of motivations and goals. Most said they didn’t feel their efforts in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street were futile even if they were just marching in San Luis Obispo. Instead, they said they hope their efforts here contribute to a national conversation and lead people passing by to find out more about Occupy SLO.
Trina Blanchette, a graduate student from Cal Poly, who was marching Saturday and has been taking part in marches since Oct. 15, said she got involved because of the increasing gulf between the rich and poor. With that in mind, she said it’s important to have solidarity with the larger occupations in New York and other cities. If people gather every week, she added, to march through the “happiest city in America,” there must be discontent here as much as anywhere.
“If this was futile, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Ben Lovejoy, an Atascadero handyman and artist, said Saturday that he’s been coming to Occupy SLO marches since they started. He comes because he thinks government is controlled by money and corporate interests, not people.
“The big money controls the government,” he said.