DENVER (AP) – As the national Occupy Wall Street protests enter a third month, Denver’s version is shaping up as a fluctuating movement with numbers and goals that shift with the day of the week.
In the middle of last week, Occupy Denver was a laid-back but earnest group of about 15 people who were asking for a kinder world without pollution or poverty.
Last weekend, those teens and 20-somethings were engulfed in a crowd of perhaps 300 that included working parents, retirees and more practiced activists. They articulated a multitude of harder-edged goals, from a crackdown on executive pay to repeal of the Patriot Act.
What they had in common was a belief that politics, the economy and society are seriously off course, and a feeling that it is their responsibility to change that.
It’s “this sinking feeling that something is wrong with our democracy,” said Patricia Williams, 41, a Denver schoolteacher who marched through downtown on Saturday. “We have to shake off this feeling that we’re helpless, that there’s nothing we can do.”
Julian Emerys, 19, of Denver is one of a handful of protesters who spend nearly all their time at the encampment in Civic Center Park, just across the street from the state Capitol.
“I have an occupation,” Emerys said. “Occupy Civic Center Park.”
He said he has spent five weeks at the encampment but has trouble explaining his reasons.
“That’s a hefty question, something I’m struggling with,” he said one morning as the encampment stirred to life. “What I want to see changed is, I want people to treat people like people again.”
Josh Shotwell of Aurora, also 19, said he was living almost full-time at the encampment to protest corporations that he said are poisoning Americans’ food and water and shipping their jobs overseas.
Asked what he hopes to accomplish, he replied, “To fix all these problems.”
Thursday brought a larger, more diverse crowd to Civic Center Park for a rally and march, one of several across the country marking the day two months earlier that the protests began on Wall Street.
Police treatment of Occupy protesters in Denver and elsewhere seemed to be on everyone’s mind. A day earlier, New York police had cleared protesters out of Zuccotti Park. The previous weekend, Denver police forced protesters to leave Civic Center Park and arrested four people for interfering with officers who removed illegally pitched tents.
Outside the Denver City and County Building on Thursday, protesters denounced police and city government beneath a still-unlighted sign for a Christmas display that read, “Peace on Earth.”
At the edge of the crowd, Britte Notzold of Denver carried her baby Ida in a sling and held a sign that read, “Teaching my daughter about free speech and standing up for what she believes in … please do not arrest us.”
“It’s a pretty sad thing when I’m scared to be in the park when police are present,” said Notzold, a registered nurse who works part-time at the University of Colorado Hospital.
The protesters then streamed through downtown streets, stopping occasionally to block intersections and chant. Police on horseback, motorcycles and bicycles escorted the marchers but didn’t interfere. Squad cars raced ahead to stop traffic on cross streets in the marchers’ path.
On Saturday — usually the biggest day of the protest in Denver — demonstrators again marched through downtown, chanting “We are the 99 percent” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
“I’m a retired RN and I’m appalled the way the United States runs its health care,” said Mickail Farrin, 73, neatly dressed in slacks, turtleneck and jacket.
Chris Stork, 51, joined the march with his dog Kira. Stork said he is a research scientist who had worked his way into the upper ranks of the nation in wealth.
“And I’m shocked at how low my taxes are,” he said. “The big problem, I think, is the people aren’t being educated properly. Education is the big equalizer, and it’s not happening.”
The marchers looped back to the state Capitol for a rally. About two dozen police and state troopers watched, but once again made no move to disperse the crowd or arrest anyone.
Speakers took turns with an amplified megaphone, and at least one read his speech from a smartphone. Many hit familiar themes: Too much corporate influence in government, too little money for education and public services.
One speaker, however, asked the protesters to give a friendly smile to the officers spread out across the Capitol steps. Another, 23-year-old Katie Grauel of Denver, thanked police for showing restraint.
Grauel said she had been in Portland the week before and witnessed a massive show of police force.
“It felt very much like they were trying to hurt us,” she said. “I’m happy to see the Denver police haven’t overreacted.”
– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)