By Nancy Fowler, Beacon staff, Photos by Nancy Fowler and Cindy Betz
At least 300 people turned out Thursday afternoon for a rally at Kiener Plaza, followed by a march to the Martin Luther King Bridge, as part of a national call to action by labor and progressive groups, as well as beleaguered Occupy activists.
“We are here to let Wall Street and Market Street and Main Street and every other street know that we are not going away until justice comes,” said the Rev. Mary Albert (left), one of several speakers at the Kiener event in downtown St. Louis.
Labor members joined with Occupy StL protesters.
Albert said that Occupy activists embrace three common demands: “We want a jobs bill. We want accountability from Wall Street. … We want fair and equitable tax reform.”
The rally comes less than a week after police and city authorities removed the Occupy St. Louis encampment, and amid confrontations in other cities. The tent removal in St. Louis was peaceful, although Occupy activists tried unsuccessfully in court this week to get their encampment restored, and to prevent the city from re-enforcing its 10 p.m. curfew for Kiener.
But many speakers were focusing on the present and future, not the past. Their emphasis was on jobs, and the proposed public construction programs that could bring some about.
The audience cheered when Gary Elliot (left), with Laborers local 110, took the mic.
“We want to ‘occupy’ good jobs, to build infrastructure, bridges and highways,” he declared. “Allow us 99 percent to do what we do best. Rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of our nation.”
Speaker Jonathon McFarland (right) told the crowd that the stakes were high for all middle-class and working-class Americans, and for their children. He noted that he has young twins.
“I want my children to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” McFarland said. “All that is under attack now.”
BLOCKED FROM BRIDGE
As the crowd left the rally to march to the Martin Luther King Bridge, its numbers swelled, perhaps tripling to 1,000, according to published reports. Occupy organizers chose the bridge as a destination because they said it’s an example of infrastructure needing investment and repair.
Dozens of volunteers sporting florescent yellow vests emblazoned with the initials “JWJ,” standing for “Jobs With Justice” worked to keep the march contained. The volunteers, many of whom are union members, were trained as marshals prior to today’s event.
Fourteen people were arrested, charged with “demonstrating” and have since been released.
Numerous downtown office workers watched the march from above, some waving in support. The demonstrators below were a diverse group of Occupy regulars, unemployed persons, labor union members and other citizens of all ages and races.
The great majority marched in tennis shoes but others had on walking shoes or work boots, and at least one woman paraded in a pair of stylish high-heeled boots. A handful rode bikes.
When marchers arrived at the Martin Luther King Bridge, they saw that St. Louis police had formed a human chain to block pedestrian access. Amid chants of “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like,” several marchers were arrested at the police line. Officers filled one police van with arrestees before escorting at least one additional person into a second van.
Around 4:30, marchers did an about-face back to Kiener Plaza. The return trip coincided with rush hour and blocked several streets around the area of Market and Broadway.
Later Thursday, even though overnight camping is no longer allowed, Albert was making plans to resume a daytime vigil at Kiener Plaza, as were many others in the Occupy movement. In the weeks to come, Albert predicted that dropping temperatures will not thin the crowd.
“This is the building momentum stage,” she said. “I’m hopeful it will continue building over the winter, and that next spring, it will really blossom.”