Wall Street protest draws hundreds in Salt Lake City
Dissent • Peaceful Capitol rally, march give voice to disaffected as movement comes to Beehive State.
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The loosely organized Occupy SLC — an offshoot of New York City's Occupy Wall Street protest movement — rallied at the State Capitol, marched through downtown and began setting up a base camp Thursday in Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park.

And so far, the diverse and growing group has the blessing of the Salt Lake City Police Department.

"From the very onset when we found out this group was organizing, they have been very good to work with and very forthcoming with all their information," said Lt. Lamar Ewell, who oversees special operations.

Despite the cold, wet weather that moved into the state on Wednesday, about 200 people gathered at the Capitol Thursday morning to give birth to the Utah movement. Throughout the nation, similar groups are sprouting to protest corporate greed and the government's lack of response to the economy, among other issues.

By the time Occupy SLC's boisterous participants marched past the Federal Reserve Building and through the downtown banking district to Pioneer Park, their numbers had swelled to about 1,000, said William Rutledge, a spokesman for the group.

By midafternoon, much of the crowd had dispersed, but those who remained were busy setting up tents and mapping out key areas of the park for specific purposes.

Oharon Ben Or, 37, staked out a sacred space where campers could pray and meditate. A stage, kitchen and "free school" — where people can share their skills in workshops — also are expected to materialize over time.

"Everything is in the process of building and evolution, so for the next day or two there probably won't be too much structure set up," said Ben Or, who has lived on both coasts but moved to Salt Lake City a few months ago.

Salt Lake City's popular Farmers Market uses the same park space on Saturday. Occupy SLC plans to remove its camp during that time and then set up again.

"We're traveling light," said Salt Lake native Gregory Lucero, 26. "We'll tear down and help the farmers build up."

Lucero said they're also encouraging everyone to bring funds to restock the group's kitchen with food grown by local growers. "We don't want to cause any problems for the local farmers because they are part of the 99 percent that we're out here fighting for."

Thursday afternoon, Ewell surveyed the beginnings of Pioneer Park's tent city. "I don't see any potential problems," he said, noting that Occupy SLC was in the process of obtaining waivers that will allow individuals to camp there.

Walden Morris,a Salt Lake transplant from Missouri, said he's been waiting for years for this moment to be heard.

"I believe in our country, and I am ready for the people to wake up and see what's going on and not be so influenced by (corporate) media," Morris said. "The people need a voice."

Some in the demonstration carried mass-produced "Vendetta" signs (from the movie), while others had handmade posters saying, "Endless war makes us poor," "The middle class is too big to eat" and "Wall Street = Unemployment."

Salt Lake resident Calvin Tribby, 27, said he hopes the nascent movement will gain strength. "It's important to show that our democracy is still semi-functional or [that] it's trying to be revived after years of neglect."

Kevin Steinbrink, 58, who lives just outside Park City, came to protest corporate greed and "poorly regulated financial institutions that have stolen most of my retirement."

As the Capitol rally wound down Thursday morning, the well-behaved group marched south, confining its soggy numbers to the sidewalks and making several planned stops in front of government and financial institutions.

In front of the Federal Reserve building at 120 S. State St., the crowd chanted, "What do we want? Democracy! When do we want it? Now!" Participants flashed homemade signs, one reading, "True capitalism would really be a love story — if we really had it."

Ike Murphy, who works as a computer database administrator, held a small cardboard sign bearing the acronym "OMGWTFGOP."

"I'm glad there's this many people here for such a crappy day," Murphy said as cold rain continued to drizzle.

Passing by the downtown banking district, they shouted, "Shame on US Bank," "Shame on Wells Fargo," and "Shame on Goldman Sachs." Motorists honked to show support, and some bystanders pulled out cameras. A strong police presence hovered nearby in case trouble broke out, but peace prevailed.

Matt Delporto, 23, held an American flag made by Adbusters bearing names of corporate giants in place of the stars.

"Rather than being the states or the provinces of the people, it's all about corporations," Delporto said, "because they're the ones that are controlling most of the wealth in this country."

Occupy Wall Street began about 20 days ago in New York City with a small group of protesters that has grown into a throng of thousands. Concerns over Wall Street practices and economic inequality have led to sit-ins and rallies across the nation and reverberated up to the White House on Thursday, with President Barack Obama saying the protesters are expressing the frustrations of the American public.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

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