Taking the lead from Occupy Wall Street, local supporters of the Occupy movement have forged new connections with larger groups and are planning individual and group actions aimed at issues like foreclosures, hunger, veteran support, and unemployment that are problems both nationally and on the East End.
Local Occupy supporters held their first summit with Occupy Long Island last month, and a second is planned for Saturday in Bohemia.
What is now called Occupy the Hamptons started as Occupy Sag Harbor, with James Monaco, a local book publisher, calling on people to gather on Long Wharf to express their allegiance with the national movement. Ty Wenzel, a writer and graphic artist from Springs, had been frequenting the protests in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, where she learned about the Wall Street activists’ general assembly procedures and decided to bring them to the South Fork. With her involvement, the group morphed into Occupy the Hamptons, and with the help of Faceboook, Twitter, and Meetup.com, she gathered around 300 people on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor on Oct. 15.
The goal, Ms. Wenzel said in an interview last week, is to bring about positive change in a peaceful, respectful way. At the Occupy the Hamptons meeting two Sundays ago, a friendly reminder of that was distributed, stating that “Occupy the Hamptons is a non-partisan organization, tolerant of all, regardless of racial, religious, ethnic, or sexual orientation, and tolerant of divergent viewpoints.” Through group decision-making practices, local supporters work hard to be sure that they do not represent opinions that are not shared by all.
Since winter began, the group has gotten smaller, but there are “huge plans for spring and summer,” Ms. Wenzel said. The New York Times reported earlier this month that since being evicted from Zuccotti park, Occupy Wall Street activists are traveling the country, visiting the hundreds of community groups started since their occupation. Occupy the Hamptons will be one of them.
Occupy the Hamptons is now holding its weekly general assemblies downstairs at Incarnation Lutheran Church in Water Mill. Ann Katcher, the treasurer of the church, is supportive of the cause, and welcomed the group inside. She said last Sunday that she believes “The only way to counteract the religious right is with the religious left.”
At the meeting on Feb. 12, people offered ideas for future actions and initiatives and also talked about how they became involved in the movement. Scott Lewis of North Sea, who owns a green technology company, suggested the group produce a weekly public access television program, and members unanimously agreed. Mr. Lewis said it is important to him that people understand their rights. “I’m here to let you know how to do that,” he said, recommending that protesters carry constitutional guidebooks in their pockets.
Irving Hirschberg of Amagansett told the group that the day before in Sag Harbor one of the organizers of Harborfrost, a winter festival, had tried to get police to break up an Occupy protest there, with no success. He had attended Occupy Wall Street protests early on, but said, “The minute I heard you were here, I came.” He believes the Wall Street occupiers have opened people’s eyes to how their interests are being affected by the government’s policies. “Now they need to vote sensibly,” he said, “without listening to the media.”
“I feel that government belongs to corporate power. It’s only we the people that are going to be able to change it,” said Larry Darcy of Sag Harbor. A retired police lieutenant who worked on the streets through the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, he said the younger generation is needed in the movement. “I think there is no other hope for this country.”
Laura Perrotti, a Montauk mother of two young daughters, said in a message last week that she attends general assemblies with her children “so that my daughters understand what is going on in the world, and that while we live in an area where many people drive fancy cars and live in big homes, this is not representative of the financial struggles facing many hard-working, local families like our own.” She also thinks it is a good way to demonstrate the concept of standing up for principles, and participation in civil protest and politics in general.
Ms. Perrotti said that her children painted posters for the Sunday afternoon demonstrations in Sag Harbor, choosing wording found online that they liked and understood. They picked “Stop War, Feed the Poor” and “We are the 99 Percent and We Have a Voice.”
Each general assembly has a facilitator who can add his or her ideas to the agenda, a soapbox segment, and a time for announcements. People use hand signals to indicate agreement or disagreement with an idea. On Feb. 12, the facilitator was Kyle Cranston, who said the Iraq War was a big motivating event for him, making it clear, he said, that the United States government is concerned about monetary interests above all else.
Christian Stevens, another activist, agreed with Mr. Cranston, and talked about a documentary he had seen recently about the Iraq War. “What Haliburton did to us . . . screwed the military, the soldiers, and us . . . toilet seats costing $100, $100 for a bag of laundered clothing, $45 for a six-pack of Coke made in Iraq. I am more pissed off now than ever.” He added, “I don’t think there’s hope for my generation, but maybe my son or grandson’s generation has a chance if we stand up now.”
“My big issue is Monsanto,” said Kelly Webb, who is particularly concerned about genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s, in the food supply. “All of this doesn’t matter if we’re giving ourselves cancer every day through what we’re putting in and on our bodies. There is not going to be any good food left.”
Shannone Rhea of Southampton became involved in the movement when her daughter, Rheannone Ball, was arrested in New York, and appeared on the cover of The New York Post in September. “It enraged me to see her rights being stomped on,” she said last week. “I picked her up from jail and we went right back to the park.”
The movement is not a class war, Ms. Wenzel said last week. “It’s not about money; it’s about corruption.” Although its core message seems to target the rich, it has attracted supporters in a wide range of income brackets, she said.
Beyond critiques of the system as it exists, local Occupy activists are also getting involved in more tangible efforts to make a difference. Matt Laspia of East Hampton, who lived in Zuccotti Park for a time and more recently helped facilitate the first Occupy Long Island summit, is back at school now, but is at work on a seed program to grow safe food and donate the plants to hungry East End residents.
Ms. Rhea is organizing an International Women’s Day Parade to be held in New York City on March 10, something she never thought she could or would do. “I hope the result will be hundreds of women and men supporting women in the street to celebrate how far we have come and bring visual focus to the struggles we still face,” she said.