By Sean Barron
Seventeen-year- old Alyssa Gage expressed a combination of uncertainty, concern and anger while trying to face away from a stiff wind.
More specifically, the Struthers High School junior is uncertain of her future, concerned about whether she will be able to afford to attend college and find a job and angry by what she sees as the country’s wealthiest people failing to create jobs and pay their fair share in taxes.
“The middle class is working harder than [the top 1 percent] and making nothing. The rich want to take their benefits away,” she said.
Rather than stewing in her anger, however, Alyssa became one of an estimated 300 people of all ages and walks of life to take part in Saturday’s Occupy Youngstown rally on Central Square.
The peaceful outdoor gathering was an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have galvanized people worldwide who are angry by what they see as unchecked corporate greed by the richest 1 percent who control a disproportionate amount of wealth; fraudulent home-foreclosure practices by many large banks; too much corporate money in and influence on elections; a variety of social and economic inequalities; and a lack of good-paying jobs and health care for many poor and middle-class families.
Many also called for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also under fire was state Issue 2, which is a referendum to Senate Bill 5 that will appear on the Nov. 8 general-election ballot. The measure would limit collective-bargaining rights for most state public employees.
Eleni Gage, Alyssa’s mother and a counselor with Turning Point Counseling in Youngstown, said she knows many people who have lost jobs, can’t get affordable health-care coverage and are losing their homes.
Another participant worried about her future was 25-year-old Erin Auld of Hubbard, who carried a bright-orange sign that read, “Capitalism = Organized Crime.”
The system no longer provides the likelihood of a livable wage and prosperity for many college graduates, said Auld, a student at Penn State University’s Shenango Campus in Sharon, Pa. Instead, many grads have to work up to 80 hours a week to make ends meet, Auld continued, adding that she attended the rally to protest corporate greed and be with like-minded people.
Many other participants made their feelings known by holding signs with messages such as “Stop fraudclosure,” “Bankers — too big to jail?” and “They get bailed out, we get sold out. We are the 99 percent,” referring to what many participants feel is 99 percent of the population being exploited by the top 1 percent.
One such participant was Howard Markert of Youngstown, who moved to the area more than two years ago from Berkeley, Calif., and owns several rental properties in the city.
Markert said that despite an excellent credit rating and being able to get a car loan, he’s been unable to obtain a loan for a home mortgage.
Markert, who owns a business that makes renovations to rental properties using green technologies, said a bank representative told him that the lending institution makes loans for those in surrounding suburbs but not in Youngstown.
“The representative told me that a car has a shorter loan period and is lower risk than a house,” Markert said, adding that such discriminatory practices also take place in Detroit, Cleveland and other so-called Rust Belt cities that suffer from blight and many homes in foreclosure.
“The banks are turning their backs on the communities that built America and built those banks,” he added.
Several speakers addressed the crowd, including Atty. Staughton Lynd, a longtime historian and peace activist who was a major participant in the effort in the late 1970s to keep area steel mills open.
Lynd urged participants to work with one another, remain strong and maintain solidarity among themselves and with other similar movements.
“Occupy Wall Street chose a fixed target and you have no end date to your presence,” he told the enthusiastic attendees. “Only when you stay can you put down roots.”
Lynd called for an end to debt that makes it difficult for many college students to pursue their dreams. He also urged his audience to vote no on Issue 2, demanded an end to Ohio’s death penalty, and supported efforts to grow produce locally that offers full-time employment to inner-city youngsters.
Lynd’s wife, Alice, predicted that Occupy Youngstown and similar movements will experience conflicts and disagreements, but urged people to be nonviolent and respect their adversaries.
“Be what you think society should be,” she said, echoing Mohandas Gandhi, India’s political and ideological leader during the Indian Independence Movement, who advocated for nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience.
SB 5 is positive because it served as a means to arouse people to organize, noted Jacob Harver, owner of The Lemon Grove Caf restaurant on West Federal Street. Harver also spoke against corporations’ corrosive effects on many elections.
“We’re not going to take it anymore! Enough is enough!” shouted state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th.
Hagan was referring to what he called “the blame game,” in which banks and corporations create economic problems, then blame teachers, safety-force members the poor and others who are struggling for their plight.
Also denouncing Issue 2 was Tracey Wright, a 19-year Youngstown firefighter who worried that limiting bargaining rights also would impede her ability to protect residents and co-workers.
“The process [that led to SB 5] is very unfair, unacceptable and unreasonable,” she said.
Other speakers included Dr. Raymond E. Beiersdorfer, a professor of geological and environmental sciences at Youngstown State University, and his wife, Susie; Brandon Smith and Chuck Kettering, both of whom helped organize the event; Thomas Sabatini a history instructor at YSU and Kent State University’s Trumbull Campus; and Ray Nakely, director of the Arab American Community Center of Greater Youngstown.