Occupy Sonoma takes over the Plaza

Posted on October 19, 2011 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The Sun sat down with Mike Smith – one of the organizer’s of the Occupy Sonoma movement as well as a long term labor organizer and Peace and Justice member – to discuss his views on Friday’s protest:  what is was about, how it turned out and what it means for Valley residents.
 The Sun:  How big was the crowd at Friday’s Occupy Sonoma protest?
Mike Smith:  I’d estimate that we had somewhere between 350 and 400 people show up on Friday evening.  It was all done by word of mouth and emails lists and fliers that we put up around town.  I think it’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen yet for a Friday evening rally which shows the intensity of people’s feelings.
The Sun:  Did you go into the bank/s; and if so, what was the reaction?
Mike Smith:  We had our rally and then marched around the Plaza, ending up in the parking lot of Bank of America.  People sat down and some began singing songs from the civil rights movement, which intensified some of what people were feeling.  It was important to have that symbolic gesture.  We didn’t have any reaction from the banks.  We declared our victory. 

 The Sun:  What three things an individual can do to make a difference right now?
Mike Smith:  One, put people who caused this on trial. Two, tax their excess profits to help fund what we need to rebuild. Three, regulate them.
Personally, I believe one of the most important things is for people to think about where they put their money.  For instance, put it into credit unions and smaller, more locally owned banking establishments like Exchange Bank  – which is an organization that has been supporting students at Santa Rosa Junior College for years and years.
Bottom line, when you have a rally like this it gives our elected officials some spine to stand up to change.
The Sun:  Sonoma is relatively passive, and affluent. Is there a genuine anger building?
Mike Smith:  Rather than anger, I think people were mostly feeling a level of collective energy and support at the rally.  But people are angry over this situation and it was not a passive crowd.  And while it does seem like Sonoma is an affluent place, there are in fact a lot of people hurting in this town. They’ve been watching this movement sweep across the country and they wanted to help get the story back on track to what it was in 2008 – that people are suffering foreclosures and losing jobs because of the actions of Wall Street.  Basically, people turned out because it was an opportunity to get out of their solitude.
The Sun:  There was one ‘anti-protester.’ What do you say to someone holding a sign that says, “Grow up and take care of yourself?”
Mike Smith:  Oh that’s Mary (Morrongiello).  What would life be like without Mary?  But I have to hand it to her.  She’s the Tea Party and she came out to speak her mind.  Initially, the Tea Party kind of overwhelmed everyone and made the Democrats a bit timid.  But now, the middle classes are beginning to find their voice and stand up for themselves.
 The Sun:  What’s next for this movement?
Mike Smith: I’m not sure where this is all going.  But the most important thing is that 400 people showed up to take on corporate America and the banks.  And it’s not just older people.  We were joined by large numbers of young people who are fighting against the fact that they don’t have a future.  The American Dream has vanished and the final question is – is this going to be a country for all of us or just some of us?  That’s what needs to be answered.

The Sun:  Any last comments?

Mike Smith:  I want to thank everyone who turned out.  This was a really good cooperative effort on the part of a lot of individuals, the Sonoma Democratic Club and Sonoma  And I think this will be a ground-swell – that we’ll see more people out on Friday nights in the future. People want to be heard.  They want to share their stories.  There’s solidarity in that, which is a good thing.

Contact Mike Smith at [email protected]  or 299.0866.

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