Thursday October 20, 2011

As Occupy the Berkshires moves into its third week, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver said Wednesday that he sympathizes with frustrated protesters -- at least insofar as he understands the mish-mash of ideas and platforms under which hundreds of disaffected residents have banded together.

"I get the impression that the occupation movement is mostly concerned that nothing is happening in Washington of an effective nature at this point -- that it’s so hard to see any progress," said the Democratic congressman, who represents Berkshire County. "I’m very sympathetic to it."

Over the past several weeks, protesters in the Berkshires have held a handful of events in north, central and south Berkshire County to show solidarity with protesters in New York City, who are camped out in the financial district.

At the latest gathering on Sunday, participants said a group of more than 100 In Great Barrington resolved to continue meeting and protesting weekly at Town Hall.

Olver said that, given the current economic situation, it was easy to understand why people are speaking out.

"They see that there are 12 million people out of work, and that sometimes Washington is not functioning well," he said. "I’m certainly sympathetic."

Sympathy aside, however, the congressman declined to say whether he might physically stand in unity with the protesters as he did when Verizon workers went on strike in August.

"We’ll see," he said. "Frankly I hadn’t realized that the Occupy movement had come to Berkshire County, and I’m pretty well scheduled at the moment."

Some participants said they’ve been waiting for their elected representatives to acknowledge their presence.

"Ultimately, we’d like to know that the concerns that we’re raising are going to be heard," said Paul Schack, a
55-year-old Pittsfield lawyer who’s been participating in the various Berkshire occupations.

Schack organized a rally at Park Square in Pittsfield, scheduled to take place between 5 and 7 p.m. today.

He said he was drawn to the movement because he’s been frustrated by the Democratic Party’s inability to move forward with a progressive agenda.

"This thing just sprung up and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to advocate for that," he said.

Other participants cited other reasons for joining in.

Ritchie Wilson, a 25-year-old Great Barrington resident, said he’s disturbed by the growing gap between the rich and poor. He said he is sick of watching as large corporations reap profits while average Americans get laid off.

But first and foremost, Wilson said he and other protesters are upset by the extent to which corporations can participate in elections through unlimited donations to candidates and campaigns.

"I think the general idea that we’re all in agreement with is we want to undo corporate influence in our political process and our lives," said Wilson, a student at Berkshire Community College. "Anything beyond that, we’re still struggling with and trying to figure out."

But the occupiers are working on it. They say that by meeting regularly at weekly demonstrations, they’ve already been able to break into groups to hash out ideas and plan future events.

"These demonstrations give people who feel passionately about these things a place to meet," said Alford resident Bill Shein. "It gives people a chance to come together and talk about these."

Shein is hopeful that the Occupy movement will have an impact on the country.

"I think it will affect electoral politics," he said.

If you go ...

What: Occupy the Berkshires

Where: Park Square in Pittsfield

When: 5 to 7 p.m. today

Information: www.facebook.com/
occupyberkshires