Bring Movement to North State
by Leslie Layton
© 2011 chicoSol
posted Oct. 13
Just a few weeks ago, it would have been hard to believe that
Butte College student Jayme Beres would be the man who would soon start a movement. Then, 41-year-old Beres
was focused on his spring transfer to Chico State and cobbling together a budget to pay for it.
But one late September evening, he watched a YouTube film that shows an Occupy Wall Street protest.
"It resonated with me," Beres said.
"That was my tipping point. I haven't been altogether happy with the current administration in Washington,
and I guess I wanted to raise the volume a bit."
Beres, who had participated in only a couple of protests a decade or two ago, posted a Facebook status
update. He would stand alone, if necessary, in downtown Chico in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.
But three days later, about 125 people joined Beres for a Saturday demonstration on Chico's Wall Street, where
residents shop at a popular farmers market.
Beres' story is much like the stories other Occupy organizers are telling in rural Northern California,
where groups are springing up in places even more unlikely than Chico, and are often comprised of people
who had never before been politically active. An Oct. 11 rally was held in the conservative ridge town
of Paradise in front of two banks; two events have been held in Shasta County's Republican-voting Redding.
"This is definitely Tea Party territory," said Mike Contreras, a Redding resident who posted one of the
first Facebook pages to launch an Occupy Redding group. When 100 people showed up at the Sundial Bridge
for the first rally, "it blew us away," Contreras said.
Contreras, a 41-year-old computer consultant, had never been politically active, but he said he has
spent time in recent years "educating myself" and reading and listening to "non-corporate media."
The movement has sprung up in towns and small cities suffering from unemployment and home foreclosure
rates that are often higher than the state's averages. In Chico, the movement is bringing together
long-time political activists, community college students and professionals who
teach or work in health care.
At about 8 p.m. Oct. 12, about 30 people sat on benches in a circle in Chico's downtown City Plaza and
held an Occupy-style "General Assembly." The group was diverse, including both students and a few street
people. A small, ongoing encampment has been set up in the plaza — in violation of a city code — and six
to 10 people have spent the night there for the past several nights.
Occupy Chico members said they'll
try to get a permit.
In relation to Occupy events in Sacramento and the Bay Area, the mobilizations in Chico, Redding and Paradise
might seem small. But Occupy organizers have been surprised at the response they've gotten in such a short time.
Contreras noted that the Tea Party is impressively entrenched in the tiniest towns in Shasta and Lassen counties.
Clearly, Occupy Wall Street has become a fresh outlet for growing frustration among some rural Northern
Californians who are unconvinced the Tea Party's platform is the answer.
"We both see that things are broken, that there's a big hole in the rowboat," Contreras said of Occupy Wall
Street and the Tea Party. But the Occupiers, he said, tend to think that "it's not that we need smaller
government, it's that we need government that works."
In Redding, a pair of Tea Partiers briefly attended an Occupy protest in front of a bank. Contreras said they
asked a lot of questions and a civil dialogue took place. Members of the Occupy Redding group
consider the Tea Partiers part of the "99 percent," and say they wouldn't be turned away from an event if they
wanted to participate.
Like Occupiers elsewhere, the Northern Californians are upset about what they see as unhealthy corporate
influence in the political system, and to varying degrees worry that electoral politics have become too money-tainted.
Many say they're upset that taxpayer money was used to bail out banks that then foreclosed on their relatives and neighbors.
Vince Haynie, a pastor who leads a community coalition in Chico's low-income Chapmantown neighborhood, has
spent time with Occupy supporters at City Plaza for several evenings. Haynie himself has suffered through a
home foreclosure, and said he feels the movement represents the disenfranchised.
"I believe that if Jesus was walking this Earth, he would be with these people," Haynie said of fellow
participants. "People are really frustrated. There have been thousands of foreclosures, and that's just in
Chico. The rich are getting richer… we're going to be a society with two classes."
Reactions to the movement have been mixed. Many drivers honk in support of the City Plaza encampment in
downtown Chico, but as in other parts of the country, some question where the movement is headed, and local
newspaper reports and editorials tend to adopt a tone that is skeptical at best. Can they bring together
such disparate parties? Do they have goals that can be attained through street protests, the papers ask.
Many in the young movement are frustrated by the insistence that they produce sound bite-sized responses when
people ask what it is they want. Chico Peace & Justice Center Director Tammy Wichman said she often has to tell
people that "it's just not a 15-minute conversation."
But Occupy Chico participants are clear about several things. Most want an end to corporate personhood. Many
are opposed to the bail-out packages large banks received, and some are closing their accounts.
Some want more limits on the money special-interest lobbyists pour
Activists know there's a long road ahead to build an organizational structure that can be sustained,
and in Chico they're working to increase their numbers and maintain their encampment. Many of the community college students
are juggling midterms and part-time jobs with a new-found interest in a movement.
But Wichman and others believe that Occupy Wall Street can connect local problems to national issues,
something they say will help organizing in rural Northern California. "The standard practices
of organizing that work in big cities don't work here," said Wichman, a 26-year-old Chico native. "Here,
everyone's invested in the community more than in national issues."
And the Occupy movement has lifted the spirits of Northern California Democrats who see an alternative to the
region's generally-conservative politics emerging. In Mt. Shasta, Democrat Larry Marks said he's been urging
fellow party members to get on the Occupy bandwagon.
"I think this is a genuine movement," said Marks, a retired information technology consultant. "They're very
clear about what they stand for — they're tired of the ill distribution of wealth in this country and want something
done about it. These are things that are important to our party, and we should go with this."
Marks added: "I think they're asking, 'What should American society really look like? Should there be some kind
of cooperation?' They're countering the Tea Party idea that it should be a country where everyone is out for themselves."
According to the website occupytogether.org, there were some 1,500 groups throughout the
nation on Oct. 13. To find out about upcoming Occupy events in Marysville and communities to the north, go to
Leslie Layton can be reached at email@example.com