Chanting “we are the 99 percent,” union workers, college students, schoolteachers and other concerned citizens swarmed Zeidler Park Saturday morning to protest big banks and Wall Street.
The Occupy Milwaukee rally was one of about 1,500 protests around the world inspired by the Wall Street demonstration in New York that began in September.
Organizers estimated that close to 3,000 demonstrators gathered at Zeidler Park, 301 W. Michigan St. They then marched down Michigan and Water streets, stopping in front of JP Morgan Chase, 111 E. Wisconsin Ave., and M&I Bank, 770 N. Water St. At each stop, speakers amped up the crowd by addressing what they called “the injustices of unemployment and student loan debt.” Some also called for eliminating corporate-funded political campaigns.
Although police were present, the rally and march were nonviolent and there were no arrests, according to Anne Schwartz, Milwaukee Police Department public relations manager.
The phrase “we are the 99 percent” alludes to the protesters’ belief that only 1 percent of Americans hold wealth and power while the other 99 percent suffer from a “trickle-down” economy, according to Peter Rickman, 29, a law student and one of the Occupy Milwaukee organizers. The trickle-down theory posits that tax breaks for the wealthy result in economic benefits for the working class.
Although the event focused on protesting economic injustice, signs in the crowd expressed additional concerns. “America needs immigration reform now,” “Keep corporate money out of campaigns,” “Recall Scott Walker,” “Tax the rich” and “Jail the banksters” were among the messages displayed by marchers.
Rickman and organizer Rachael Matteson, 25, said that the Oct. 15 rally is only the beginning of Occupy Milwaukee’s activities. The group plans to continue to meet, march and rally against injustice and for what they believe is the right thing, according to Matteson.
“We’re calling for democracy, equality and an end to this economic crisis,” she said.
Protesters from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and different walks of life marched through downtown Milwaukee on Oct. 15. They agreed on at least one point: 1 percent of Americans are getting far more than their fair share of the country’s wealth.
UW-Milwaukee student Alicia Skeeter, who was inspired by meeting the Freedom Riders of the 1960s, joined the Occupy Milwaukee rally to focus attention on economic disparities.