Part-time participants help fill 'Occupy' ranks

November 4, 2011 - 2:30 PM
Occupy Part Time

FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2011 file photo, protesters take part in an Occupy Hartford protest in Hartford, Conn. In Connecticut, many of the part-time occupiers are students and instructors at several of the area's colleges, including scores of college students who staged a walkout in the rain from their classes on a recent afternoon. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — As their counterparts hunker down in tents or cook over gas grills, another contingent is swelling the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street protests: those squeezing in their activism around work, parenting and other daily duties.

The part-timers, often stopping by with food and encouragement, join the full-timers on their lunch breaks, after work, on weekends and during the gatherings that the groups call general assemblies. And while they may be less visible than their tent-dwelling, sign-toting compatriots, they say their concerns are strong enough to make the participation a priority.

"Part of it for me, and I think for a lot of people I've talked to, is that it's not just another time commitment. Compared to so many other things we do, these activities have been energizing and inspiring," said Eve Weinbaum, a 47-year-old college professor and mother of three young children. "I think a lot of people feel really excited about it, and it gives you new energy and a new way of thinking about things."

One of the movement's most high-profile participants is a part-timer: Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Marine who suffered a skull fracture during clashes between police and Occupy Oakland participants in California on Oct. 25. Olsen, of San Francisco, worked his day job as a security software engineer and joined participants at night at Occupy San Francisco, and had traveled with them across the bay to the Oakland site when he was injured.

Olsen's friends and other part-time "occupiers" say their concerns about economic inequality in the U.S. are so potent that juggling their schedules is well worth the effort to get to the sites. Others who live far from "Occupy" spots have been active online, helping run social media sites or sending encouraging messages to friends and strangers.

Weinbaum, of Amherst, said she has considered staying overnight at the first Occupy Wall Street site in lower Manhattan or at the Boston encampment, but can't find a way to justify it, with three children 12 or younger and "more than a full-time job" as a University of Massachusetts sociology professor.

Nonetheless, she has squeezed in day trips to those sites when possible and participated in regional daytime events in Amherst and at UMass, where she is director of the school's Labor Center.

Just as there are no solid figures on how many people are participating in round-the-clock "occupations" nationwide, estimates on the number of part-timers are not easy to come by. Weinbaum and others say many are helping with logistics, organizing forums and other events.

"That part of it has become kind of invisible to the media, but that's where so much of the activity is going on now, in these working groups," she said.

Lara Shepherd-Blue, 40, a Springfield resident, has participated in that city's events, though there's no permanent overnight encampment there; has visited the Wall Street site and has taken black bean soup and cornbread to participants who've set up shop in Hartford, Conn., on a piece of city-owned land they have dubbed Turning Point Park.

"The Occupy movement is giving a lot of us a forum to talk about the issues that have concerned us for a long time," said Shepherd-Blue, a community activist and union organizer whose major concerns include her city's high foreclosure rate and evictions, along with the lack of affordable housing there since a tornado in June.

In Connecticut, many of the part-time occupiers are students and instructors at several of the area's colleges, including scores of college students who staged a walkout from their classes on a recent afternoon to trek in the rain to Turning Point Park.

Many other part-timers have also expressed their support by stopping by with food and posting messages to the group's Facebook page, and dozens of Connecticut professors recently signed and circulated a letter on their campuses to express support for the movement.

"We applaud and stand with Occupy Hartford and Occupy Wall Street for highlighting the injustice and unfairness that is weakening America and undermining our economy and democracy," the letter reads. "We actively support this movement and will do everything we can to make it a success. We are in this together."

About four hours north of Hartford, Anna Krutak is a familiar face most afternoons at the Occupy Vermont encampment in Burlington's City Hall Park.

The 25-year-old Burlington native studied global economics and sustainable business practices in college and said she thinks the U.S. economic system is "grossly unjust," prompting her desire to be part of the Occupy movement to the extent she can while balancing other obligations.

Krutak has been unemployed since quitting a job in July at a nonprofit, timing she called fortuitous in light of the Occupy movement. Now, she spends about three or four hours a day at the Burlington site, helping organize the main tent and ensuring the group has supplies. From home, she helps manage its social media presence.

By late afternoon, though, she starts packing up.

"By then, my husband is thinking of me coming home," she said.

Krutak said her husband is supportive but wishes she could spend more time on household chores. "I've fallen quite a bit behind," she said — though she believes it's worth it.

"To me, it feels that people are finally, finally beginning to realize these flaws and stand up and observe them," she said. "The next step is trying to figure out what to do about it. The occupation is a unique forum to do that."

___

Associated Press writer Wilson Ring in Burlington, Vt., contributed to this report.