Occupy Spokane demonstrators look for more support

FRIDAY, OCT. 14, 2011

Local demonstrators look to turn up the volume of their outrage

Carroll McInroe, a 62-year-old retired Department of Veterans affairs worker, Army veteran, and “Texas-Irish” no-guff guy, went down to say hi to the Occupy Spokane protesters the other day.

A friend called him to ask about it.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m down here talking to both of them,’” McInroe said. “There were two people down there with signs. … Two people is not enough.”

And so – with respect to those two people, and to the five or eight or 12 who’ve made it out on recent afternoons – McInroe and others started working on a way to drag Occupy Spokane into the mainstream. Today, there’s a rally, including speeches from a lawmaker, pastor and others; Saturday there’s a march planned. Organizers say they’re hoping for a turnout of hundreds.

We’ll see about that. Spokane is not, by nature, a demonstrative place, at least in the hell-no, sign-carrying sense. But I’ve been out there at the “Free-Speech Triangle” a bit this week, and judging by the honks and waves of support, Occupy Spokane cannot be summed up by the number of people holding signs.

That’s because the core movement – swimming around in an admittedly vague and wide-ranging sea of complaints – is based on an appealingly mainstream premise: A tiny portion of Americans are in the midst of a 30-year economic boom, aided by friendlies in government, and everyone else is living through a depression that looks like it might last the rest of our lives.

I can’t put it any better than McInroe: “Rather than the American Dream, hell, we’re beginning to look like the American aristocracy. I don’t like the aristocracy any more than the Founding Fathers did.”

Recent years have made this absolutely clear. Financial chicanery – not reckless borrowers – crashed the economy; no one responsible got anything more than an enormous bag of thank-you cash and a strike team of politicians battling to keep their taxes low; and the strategy for fixing the problem is to dig through the pockets of the poor and bust unions.

So, as the Occupy Wall Street movement gained momentum, it’s become clear that, with all respect to my dirty hippie friends, a lot of non-dirty-hippies are behind this thing. Which is important, because of the desperate rush to characterize this as a movement of moochers.

Pippie – a 28-year-old woman with dreadlocks, piercings and 13 days of Occupy Spokane to her credit – said that lots of drivers show support as they pass the protest at Riverside Avenue and Monroe Street, centered between several symbolically apt local institutions: The Spokane Club, The Spokesman-Review and the federal building. But they also hear the occasional belligerent dissent.

One driver yelled at her recently, “I pay your taxes!”

“For somebody to just drive by and see my dreadlocks and shout ‘I pay your taxes’ at me, when I don’t get food stamps or anything, is ignorant,” she said. “A lot of people are real close-minded when they see someone like me standing out here.”

So how about a clean-cut state representative? Timm Ormsby will be speaking at today’s rally, along with the Rev. Happy Watkins and others.

I’ve seen the forces of Occupy Spokane virtually every day for the past couple of weeks, and my thoughts have been similar to McInroe’s. As the crowds grew and grew in other cities, things here stayed pretty tiny. A handful of people have been very dedicated – they say someone is out there 24-7 – but in terms of a public presence, they’re smaller than the occasional medical marijuana protests outside the federal building.

On Tuesday afternoon, I visited with two protesters who were almost the whole show. The rush-hour crowd later that day was a little bigger. Wednesday, I talked to two retirees from Bonners Ferry who came here to protest.

“This is the first time I ever held a protest sign in my hand,” said Don Easley, 64.

They were part of an afternoon contingent of about five. This, on the day when Occupy Seattle protesters were clogging up the bus routes.

Still, the honks and waves came in a steady stream. A gravel-truck driver gave a long blast. A woman in a Subaru Outback gave three sharp ones. The driver of a BMW SUV – one of the 53 percent! – sounded one solid honk. A Nissan truck. A Ford sedan. An STA bus. A Honda Civic.

“We just had a policeman wave!” shouted Dave Mossing, a 65-year-old retiree who came from Bonners Ferry. “That’s the first one. … There’s more people involved in this than people realize.”

That is unquestionably true across the nation. Is it true here? Maybe we’ll find out today. McInroe and others say they’re hoping for 500 people.

“It’s possible,” McInroe said. “If we get 300, well, that’ll be fine, too.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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