HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- More than 100 people took to the Huntington streets Friday night to demand a voice for those "who can no longer speak to the government because of corporate interference and lobbying."Members of the grassroots "Occupy" movement protested in front of Chase Bank on 5th Avenue in Huntington in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement happening in New York with more than 15,000 marchers. The groups' overall message has been to end wealth inequality and corporate influence in government.Michael McAteer, 36, and one of the organizers for Occupy Huntington, said the group wants to localize the New York movement to make an impact within the state."West Virginians are concerned about resources leaving the state, profits from goods and natural resources not being maximized, clean water and mountaintop removal," McAteer said.He said the group met earlier this month on the Marshall University campus to create a list of demands, and want "JP Morgan Chase Bank [to] stop funding mountaintop removal. The people of Appalachia want clean energy jobs."Other demands call for creation of a clean and sustainable economy and a halt to "the destruction of the environment of Appalachia and elsewhere."Other demands were related to issues with city employees, and Occupy Huntington members called for the "complete funding of pensions of all city employees and the recognition of the union right to collective bargaining." They also want the city of Huntington to not lay off workers.
Members also want fully funded education at all levels and an end to corporate interference in public education.They also called for campaign finance reform and a political system with more than two choices "to provide a voice for the people."Occupy Huntington also demands "taxing the [wealthiest] 1 percent in Appalachia, and everywhere else."Further, they want community control of police "to end targeting of" people of color and immigrant communities, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
These demands were approved by a majority of the group, but do not reflect the opinions of every individual, McAteer said.Some critics of the movement have said that the group lacks focus and is organized from the ground up. That's what makes the movement authentic, he said."It not a top-down model of distribution. There's not a national federation of political entities organizing this. We're not money-based. There isn't any funding by huge companies," he said.The group hopes to join a similar protest in Charleston at Kanawha Riflemen's Memorial Park on Oct. 15.
On that same day, hundreds of other United States cities will host their own "occupy" events.Rebecca Casto, 19, of Nitro, said she checked the municipal codes to see if a permit would be required to protest. She said no permit is needed.She joined the protest after her father, a longtime Nitro businessman, lost his business because of a failing economy."He's owned a business my entire life and now that he's been out of work, the IRS has been hounding him. When two-thirds of the major corporations don't pay taxes, it hits close to home," she said.McAteer said he is disappointed with some members of the national media for not covering the national "occupy" movements."They are not covering this at all. I think they thought this was going to be a very little and not an organized flash pan. They thought it was going to be just college kids smoking pot and beating drums. That's not characteristic of this movement at all," he said.
Other occupy events have been planned for Parkersburg, Morgantown and Martinsburg.For more information search for "Occupy West Virginia" on Facebook or visit http://occupywv.weebly.com.
; Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.