October 11, 2011
Anti-Wall St. clamor hits Cortland
Small group has gathered downtown since Wednesday
Scott Conroe/contributing photographer
Alex Aloi, left, and Greg Bisha hold up signs to motorists Monday at the corner of Main and Port Watson streets as part of a protest by Occupy Cortland. The offshoot of Occupy Wall Street has been protesting for changes to improve America’s economy.
Alex Aloi and Greg Bisha stood on a downtown street corner and held up homemade signs to oncoming traffic Monday, expressing their frustration with corporate America and the nation’s faltering economy.
The pair said they want change from the banks that foreclose on people’s homes, the Wall Street corporations that brought down New York’s economy when they failed in 2008, and the federal government that seems unable to help ameliorate unemployment.
Six more people joined them and stood with signs on the corner of Main and Port Watson streets until dusk, in a local version of Occupy Wall Street, the ongoing protests in Manhattan.
Occupy Cortland, as the protesters called themselves, has been holding up signs on the corner every evening since last Wednesday. As many as 12 or 13 have stood there on some evenings, Aloi said.
“People Not Profits,” said one sign. Others said to honk “if you can’t afford a lobbyist,” that graduating college students are saddled with too much debt and that motorists should honk their horns if they want change.
Plenty of drivers honked their horns. One man in a pickup truck called out, “Right on the head” to Bisha’s sign reading, “Robin Hood Was Right.”
Centered at Zuccotti Park — formerly called Liberty Plaza Park — Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17 and has since spread across the country. The protesters are demanding that wealth be distributed more evenly, saying 99 percent of Americans fund the lavish lifestyles of the other 1 percent.
Aloi, a Cortland native, and Bisha, a Homer native, said that as people in their 20s, they feel the pinch of student loan debt and a lack of jobs.
“Being former college students in debt, it (Occupy Wall Street) has galvanized a lot of us to get out and make things better in our hometowns,” said Aloi, who graduated last December from College of St. Rose in Albany with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science.
“People are wondering how much abuse Americans will take, what’s the breaking point, before we’ve had enough,” Aloi said.
Bisha, who works at Applebee’s and takes courses at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said he’s frustrated by the economy.
“It can be hard to get by, when you have to choose between paying rent or eating that month,” Bisha said. “I don’t think it has to be that way.”
Aloi said Occupy Cortland will have a “general assembly” at 3 p.m. Thursday in front of Blue Frog Coffeehouse to discuss how to coordinate its efforts more or “where to go with all this.” He said the group might also discuss its message.
A similar meeting is planned for 7 p.m. that day and at 2 p.m. Sunday, both at Ithaca’s DeWitt Park.
Protesters gathered last week in front of Bank of America in downtown Ithaca in their own version of Occupy Wall Street. The movement has targeted Bank of America for what it says is a ruthless foreclosure of homes.
State University of New York students staged protests last week at some campuses.
Aloi said he has been interested in how the movement’s members use social media to spread their message and rally each other. He said the effort has taken some “unprecedented” directions, as its leaders ask for advice from the leaders of the rebellion that overthrew Egypt’s government last January.
Kat Stevens, another protester, said Occupy Wall Street members think they have been marginalized by some national media coverage. She said the movement will only grow and wants to embrace all Americans.
Stevens, a Cortland resident who owns a promotion and booking business called Hit or Miss, said she spent the weekend in Manhattan, joining the Occupy Wall Street crowd. She said the movement really has no leaders but utilizes the expertise of different members.
Aloi had a list of people that he was calling by cell phone, to join the rally. He said Ithaca protesters would be helping with future picket efforts.
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