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TMCNet:  600 March Downtown

[October 16, 2011]

600 March Downtown

GREENSBORO, Oct 16, 2011 (News & Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Hundreds of protesters surrounded the Bank of America building downtown Saturday afternoon as part of the "Occupy Greensboro" protest.

"Banks got bailed out, we got sold out," they chanted to the beat of a marching drum corps, raising handmade signs and unfurling banners.

"Lobbyists Eat the Constitution for Breakfast" read one.

"Eight Years of College and Laid off Twice," another read. "Where's My Bailout?" Those who marched from the Phill G. McDonald Plaza to Festival Park said they were inspired by the movement that began on New York's Wall Street and has spread all over the world.

Police Chief Ken Miller, who oversaw his officers at Festival Park and spent some time chatting with protesters, estimated the crowd at about 600.

Organizers had expected between 500 and 1,000 people.

Some of the targets of the protest: fraud in the financial industry, economic inequality, and elected officials who protesters said serve donors and lobbyists rather than the American people.

"It's hard to live in America today without coming to the conclusion that our government and all of our institutions are for sale to the highest bidder," said Michael Duncan, 22.

Duncan said he was lucky to find a job in computer technical support after he graduated from college two years ago -- many of his friends didn't.

But he was laid off just a few months later as the company he worked for downsized. He found another job after a few months but was laid off again within a year.

"Our economy is on the verge of collapse," Duncan said. "And it's because of a housing bubble created by bankers and people on Wall Street who sold us a bill of goods, defrauded the American people and then were bailed out by our government along with a lot of other major corporations as average workers were laid off, their pay cut, and their houses foreclosed.

"Anyone who isn't angry about that hasn't been paying attention." The demonstration remained peaceful. No arrests were made as of Saturday night.

The event's organizers worked closely with police and city officials to be sure the demonstration would be safe, family friendly and nonviolent.

"Folks have the right to peaceably assemble and express their views," Miller said. "We're here to help them have the opportunity to do that as long as it's done within the law." "Some of the other demonstrations across the country have gotten out of hand," Miller said. "But I don't think we have to worry about that here. This group has been well organized and balanced." Assistant City Manager Mike Speedling said the city worked with the event's organizers to find a safe place for their demonstration. They even cut the per-day rental fee for Festival Park from $700 to $200.

"We thought that would help defer some of our costs and also provide a place for them to demonstrate in an environment that was safe," Speedling said.

That arrangement didn't sit well with everyone.

"This is a group that says it's against bailouts, and yet they get a cut rate for the park and the taxpayers pick up the difference," said Barrett Riddleberger , a member of Conservatives for Guilford County, a local tea party affiliated political action committee. "That's interesting." Riddleberger and his family were on hand Saturday, shooting video of the event.

Some of the demonstrators also objected to the close relationship between city and police officials and the group's organizers.

"It's 'Occupy Greensboro,' not 'Politely Rent Space from Greensboro,'" said Carolyn Atkins, 26. "I was really disappointed that we're trying to make a point about the corrupting nature of money and government, and we're giving money to the government to rent a public park where we should be able to demonstrate for free as part of exercising our First Amendment rights." The group also rented space at the adjoining YWCA parking lot for camping overnight to keep from being ejected from the public park, which is closed at night.

But many of the demonstrators said they appreciated the group's decision -- reached by consensus in meetings over the last week -- to rent space to minimize conflict with police and create a family-friendly environment.

The crowd was diverse, with plenty of families among their number.

Todd Horn, 40, brought his two children -- ages 7 and 4 -- to the event. He said he and his wife, both teachers, thought it was important to show their children what's really important in life.

"I want these guys not to be so involved in Pokemon and video games that they don't realize what's really going on around them," Horn said.

A few area elected officials and political candidates also were among the crowd, including at-large Greensboro City Council candidate Marikay Abuzuaiter and Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen.

Thigpen's crusade against mortgage fraud and improper documentation by major national banks in Guilford County has gotten national media coverage.

"The people who started this aren't the protesters," Thigpen said. "They're on Wall Street and they ran our economy into the ground. I believe in an America where there isn't one standard for banks and another standard for the rest of us." Contact Joe Killian at 373-7023 or joe.killian@news-record.com ___ (c)2011 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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