Shortly after noon today, a motley crew of Baltimoreans began showing up at McKeldin Fountain Park, at the corner of Pratt and Light Streets, with signs, placards, paint, and poles to begin the Occupy Baltimore protest, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been roiling lower Manhattan over the last couple weeks. They came with a wide variety of concerns but the most common was about the concentration of wealth and corporate influence over American politics. The common theme, shared with the protestors' New York compatriots, is "We are the 99%" referring to all Americans who are not among the top 1% of income-earners, which account for more than a third of American wealth.
Among those gathering was a social work student painting a Buddhist mantra "Om mani pedme hum." "They believe that if you even glance at it, you'll be ensured enlightenment and the end of your suffering," he said. "I figured with everything that's going on, it could help a lot of people." There were workers from nearby buildings, still wearing office lanyards, holding small signs that said "Revolt," and an older man with white hair neatly painting a sign that read "No CEO earns $5 mill. TAX the RICH."
Tyrone Jackson, an East Baltimore native who recently returned from several days at the Occupy Wall Street protests, was working on a sign that read "Cost of Living vs. Cost of Freedom."
"The majority of Americans live below their means and the government is not doing anything about it and they should," he said. "I would like to see some regime change and I believe that it starts one step at a time and this is the first step. We're going to keep protesting until things change."
Teyona Davis, a West Baltimore resident and student at Baltimore City Community College, was also at the New York protests and said it was "life-changing."
"I'm 24 and I feel like I've been waiting for this forever, to have a whole group of people come together for one voice, one cause," she says. "A lot of people don't even know that this affects them—a lot people don't even know that they're living in poverty. We need to get them to join us."
By mid-afternoon, the crowd had grown to over 50 people, including several toting sleeping bags and blankets. Stay tuned.