Taking inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, about 15 people showed up at Penn Valley Park at 9 a.m. Friday for Phase One of Occupy Kansas City. The cars and bicycles collected in a parking lot near the shipping containers that comprise sculptor John Salvest’s IOU/USA temporary installation. Val Baul, who hosts a show on KKFI 90.1, pulled up in the KC Strip trolley car that she drives and left the group with a megaphone. “I think the movement is about movement,” she explained, standing near her trolley. “I think people are tired of the status quo.”
On its website, Occupy Wall Street describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent.”
Tyler Crane, a ponytailed glassworker, was handing out “We are the 99 percent” buttons as Phase One of the Kansas City occupation began. Over his shoulder stood what he believes to be a symbol of the greed and corruption of the 1 percent: the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Crane subscribes to a theory that our modern economic turmoils can be traced back to the decision 100 years ago to establish a central bank. “People are mad because they played with the money system,” he said.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is diffuse. The Federal Reserve Act that vexes Crane is a non-issue for other demonstrators. What’s shared is a frustration that our economic and political systems seem rigged.
Meghan Whelan, a 30-year-old single mother who lives in the Northeast, said she got involved with Occupy KC because of inequality.
“I think that’s the main reason that all of us are here, is because we don’t really feel like there is any equality with how the people are being represented in Washington,” she said. “Because we don’t have the money to pay lobbyists. We don’t have the money to contribute to campaigns in the way that corporations do.”
The financial crisis put Whelan’s career on indefinite hold. She’s upset that it has been treated like a natural disaster. “There’s nobody who’s being held accountable for it,” she said.
The Occupy movement is an opportunity for the young and young at heart to air their grievances in something resembling a festival atmosphere. (One middle-aged Kansas City occupier broke out a fiddle.) Baul’s issues include the influence of lobbyists on policymaking, military spending, capital punishment, genetically modified foods and media consolidation. “There are seven corporations that control all of our media,” she complained.
Stephen Grube, 29, was balancing on a bike as Baul spoke. Identifying himself as a libertarian conservative, he said he felt more like an observer than a participant. As he saw it, the litany that Baul presented would make it difficult for the Occupy movement to turn grievances into outcomes. “I think that’s part of the problem, is that a lot of people see so many problems, and they don’t know where to start,” he said.
Whelan said the demonstrators just wanted to be heard.
“We’re not going to come out of here tonight and say, ‘OK, guys, we figured it out. This is the one thing why we’re here.’ Because there isn’t one reason. That’s just the truth. People who can’t swallow that and handle that, I’m sorry. There isn’t one reason. There just isn’t,” she said.
Before Phase One began, Whelan and other organizers had talked with city officials about their plans to occupy the area around Memorial Drive. As Whelan spoke to a reporter, a police cruiser pulled into the parking lot. The officer in the car called out to her. “Did you want my phone number in case you have a question?” he asked.
A day later, more than 700 demonstrators were arrested in New York. But in Kansas City, the movement was still in Phase One. Phase Two begins October 9.