Amid sharp criticism from right-wing politicians and pundits, the Occupy Wall Street protests continue to grow in size and number in Utah and nationwide.
In day five, Utah's Occupy SLC has established its working camp in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City as it readies for a big event it plans to stage Friday.
Elected officials in the Salt Lake area will be invited to tour the group's tent city from 3 to 3:30 p.m. that day, then listen to speeches and presentations from Occupy SLC participants.
At 5 p.m., the Tony Wonder & Jordan Little Blues Revival band will perform, followed by Occupy SLC's 6 p.m. march on Main Street. Each day the group marches twice at noon and 6 p.m. followed by its 7:30 p.m. general assembly meeting in the park.
By early Monday, the Occupy Salt Lake City Facebook page grew to 8,164 members. According to spokesman William Rutledge, the camp had expanded from 20 tents Friday to 67, with 120 to 150 occupants total. The daytime population often triples depending on the hour, he added.
"Most of us still have school, work and families to juggle," accounting for the fluctuations, Rutledge said.
Rutledge, a 30-year-old Iraq War veteran, helps run the outreach tent at the park's southwest corner and noted that it now has full power and Internet access. A camper parked nearby with a solar panel on top helps fuel those necessities.
Although some elected officials have voiced support for the group's right to free assembly and free speech, others said they anticipate violence and voice fears about its message which remains fluid but decries corporate greed and the government's seeming disregard for "the 99 percent" of the population that is not the richest 1 percent.
Conservative radio personality Glenn Beck derided the movement as he spoke to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., this past weekend.
"We are under assault, not just from Muslim extremists outside our own country," Beck said, "but anti-capitalist extremists who want to tear us down. And many of them just want the free stuff."
Beck coined the term "fun-employed" to denote those who "have no intention of ever getting a job."
Rutledge said that Occupy SLC would welcome Beck's supporters into the movement.
"We need to set aside our differences and regain our voice as the people," Rutledge said, adding that "Beck doesn't want to lose his audience to a nonpartisan group."
Last week, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch predicted that the Occupy movement would turn violent, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor referred to protesters as mobs who pit Americans against each other.
In a Facebook post Sunday, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff discounted the local effort, saying "Drove by @OccupySaltLake. They claim 'we are the 99%' LOL! They don't occupy even 1% of Pioneer Park. Want to make a difference? VOTE!
In Pioneer Park, occupiers decamped before sunrise Saturday to give way to the city's farmers market, an event that draws several thousand people to the area.
"About 150 people went home to take showers, rest up and get some home cooking," Rutledge said, before tents were set back up.
In addition to nurturing their own, the camp's kitchen also has been feeding the homeless who frequent the park.
"We're asking for donations of sleeping bags and warm clothes for the homeless community that were residents of the park before us," Rutledge said.
"We're trying to do the best we can to make their lives better with us there."
Donations to the homeless or Occupy SLC can be dropped at the group's outreach tent near the corner of 400 West and 400 South.
Nationally, the protests entered their fourth week, with demonstrations in dozens of cities, including New York and Boston.
The protest group Occupy SLC is extending an invitation to all mayors, council members and other elected officeholders in the Salt Lake Valley for several gatherings this Friday:
3 p.m. • Base camp tour at Pioneer Park
3:30 p.m. • Keynote addresses from Occupy SLC representatives
4 p.m. • Occupy SLC committee representatives describe their roles and plans
5 p.m. • Tony Wonder & Jordan Little Blues Revival band perform on the camp's event stage
6 p.m. • March on Main Street (Two marches are staged each day one at noon, the other at 6 p.m.)
7:30 p.m. • Occupy SLC conducts nightly general assembly meeting
For more information • www.occupyslc.org and Occupy Salt Lake City on Facebook