‘Occupy’ movement comes to York, led by ‘spirit fingers’

Originally published on Page A1 of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Thursday, October 13, 2011.

***Here’s what Sunday editor Scott Blanchard said about this article in his blog, YDR Storytelling: “This piece could have been dry; it’s anything but”

By LAUREN BOYER 
Daily Record/Sunday News

They raised their arms, and wiggled their fingers — their “spirit fingers,” if

Those present at Occupy York's first meeting used jazz hands to show their agreement with decisions being made.© 2011 York Daily Record/Sunday News -- Lauren Boyer

you will.

That’s protester hand-speak for “I agree.”

And with that gesture — coveted by cheerleading squads — the national Occupy Wall Street movement arrived in York Wednesday night, welcomed by more than 50 people gathered in the United Auto Workers hall in West Manchester Township.

In solidarity, they had done it. But they didn’t know what, exactly, “it” was.

They didn’t know what to call themselves. They didn’t know what they were mad about, or what they were willing to do about it.

So, for the next two hours, they hashed it out in a leaderless forum, shouting out proposals to the tune of an unwritten agenda.

First, a name. Would it be “Occupy York” or “The 99ers,” representative of the poorest 99 percent of Americans?

With a show of jazz hands, Occupy York it was.

But it wouldn’t be York they’d choose to occupy — not yet, at least.

This time, they’d occupy Harrisburg.

Why? Because groups of more than 25 need permits to protest in York, which can take 30 days to acquire, said Maria Payan, a Peach Bottom Township activist and de facto leader of the group’s Facebook page, which has led the charge to organize.

Instead, some members of the group planned to convene with others in Harrisburg this weekend for a 24-hour protest starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday on the State Capitol steps.

Some will attend the York County commissioners meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday at 28 E. Market St., York.

Some might go to an upcoming York City Council meeting.

The place, for others, didn’t matter. It was about raising awareness, “stirring things up a little bit,” said Scott Brenner, 38, of North York, a freelance philosopher and lifestyle consultant.

“As a result of the stagnant economy, everybody protects what’s theirs,” he said. “It’s made things harder for people who are destitute.”

It took willpower for Mark Gillespie, 45, of Spring Garden Township, to show up at the meeting Wednesday to support his vision of “decentralized power” in the country.

“I’m staunchly anti-union,” he said. “The fact that this is in a union building really irks me . . . Unions are Democrat. Democrats are Bill Clinton, and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).”

Putting the differences aside, he supported an eclectic group of attendees, including Debbie Vandover, 28, of York. She graduated last year from Catholic University of America with skyrocketing debt, initially paired with nine months of unemployment. She now works for a nonprofit coordinating volunteers programs.

“I’m fed up with corporations dictating where this country is going,” she said. “I’m sick of that fact that Americans don’t have a say in their government anymore.”

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