Rachael Atchison is not taking up space at Occupy San Francisco because she needs a job.
“I’m actually doing OK,” she said. “I’m down here because I have a social conscience.”
Atchinson, 42, is a firefighter and a paramedic who says she’s watched too many people living in bubbles, blinded to reality, as the U.S. economy has become more unstable and more inequitable around them.
“I’m out here because I believe the current system in America is not working for the majority of Americans,” she said. “I’m feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time that people are starting to wake up and starting to ask more questions.”
The Occupy Wall Street Movement is a month old, beginning in New York City, on Sept. 17. It has spread across the nation and shows no signs of letting up, despite police crackdowns, arrests, and barb-slinging commentators who would dismiss the movement as a bunch of malcontents, hippies, leftists, commies, people who need to get a job or … (add your favorite slur here and they have likely said that, too).
Even if a cold winter discourages crowds in the months to come, the sentiments that protesters are expressing are not going away.
Big government collusion with big banks and corporations. An economy stripped of opportunities by opportunists at the top. An unattended foreclosure crisis still raging out of control. These, unfortunately, are regular headlines.
The sometimes-brutal police raids, like those in San Francisco, ooze with irony since protesters are trying to do something about an economic climate that has resulted in state and municipal budget crises – and, um, police layoffs, too. One day you’re threatening to crack heads on the street – and the next, well you’re just out on the street. Click here to read about where complaints about police treatment of San Francisco protesters are going . Cracking down on protesters simply redirects the protesters.
Joe Rinaldi, 64, manages a 53-unit apartment building not far from the San Francisco protest. He says he comes whenever he can find a few hours and has been coming every day since it began.
“What makes America the great country that it is, is because people can stand up for what’s right,” he said.
Rinaldi, a New Yorker by birth, has been in San Francisco for 33 years. He is a former school teacher who wants to stand up for the kids who will inherit this country.
“I taught kids that to stand up for what they believe is right and wrong,” he said.
The kids are keeping the movement going he said. The ones who are always in the crowd have time on their hands because they can’t get jobs. “Everyone is too busy making a living to do what these kids are doing,” Rinaldi said.
“I’m kind of ashamed to say that I can only come on the weekend because I have a job,” said Dave Konsfeldt, 56.
He is a building inspector from Las Vegas. He’d be working in Vegas if there was work in Vegas, but there isn’t. So he’s working in Napa Valley and coming to the protest in his off time.
“We are thankful that the young people are out here and doing what we should actually be doing,” he said.
Konsfeldt says the Occupy movement is too readily misunderstood by its critics.
“The first thing they say is that it’s an assault on capitalism,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with capitalism. I just have a problem with what it’s morphed into.
“I actually think the system has collapsed. It’s like having a dead body right in front of you, and you’re just waiting around for someone to pronounce it dead.”