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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Occupy movement meets in Nashua to map out future

NASHUA – Now that the occupying is over, the Occupy protest movement wants to harness that energy and find new outlets to raise awareness about economic and societal inequalities.

On Saturday, several dozen members of Occupy New Hampshire attempted to move down that new path, discussing ways they can spread their message and grow membership.

It was the outfit’s monthly statewide assembly. Held in the meeting rooms of Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, Occupy members worked as a horizontal organization: a collective group with no leadership.

Adhering to Occupy protocol, members proposed initiatives, allowed lengthy discussion and used hand gestures to represent whether they agreed, disagreed, were unsure or blocked the vote.

The members came to consensus on many measures, despite or perhaps because there was no imposing hierarchal structure. They agreed on ideas, big and small, that they hope will push the movement forward.

For instance, they have plans to take action in Manchester on May 1, a date long recognized as a day to recognize workers’ rights. They almost agreed on participating in a state Constitutional Convention, but tabled the proposal to instead first hear ideas from an expert.

But no decision was too small for a group vote. Members agreed to install a drop-down tab on the Occupy New Hampshire website.

“I thought I was all by myself,” Franklin resident Wendy Rogers said.

Prior to Occupy’s formation, Rogers thought that unlike her, most people didn’t care “that money was destroying the planet.”

But Occupy’s success has changed the conversation about economic disparities and corporate greed – the 99 percent and the 1 percent – so much so that the Senate held a hearing on income gaps, she said. “That never would have been done before.”

Last year, protesters of economic imbalance famously camped out in a New York City park, inspiring similar encampments throughout the world. The occupations eventually dispersed, either voluntarily or through police action, but the loose, large grouping of people has stayed motivated.

Now it’s a matter of deciding what to do next. With smaller Occupy movements in several New Hampshire municipalities, these state members have been gathering monthly to determine how to grow.

Marianne O’Connor belongs to Occupy Nashua. The local chapter started in December and has been raising awareness by holding events and helping with other causes, including Super Coop, a fundraising effort for the paralyzed Nashua High School North football player Cooper Doucette.

“We want people to know we’re not an encampment. We’re not peeing on cop cars,” O’Connor said of troubles with the larger movement.

O’Connor said people empathize with Occupy but are reluctant to get engaged. For instance, she is a guidance counselor at Pennichuck Middle School. She wears a “99 percent” button at school, but fellow employees who are sympathetic to the movement tend to whisper questions about how Occupy is faring, she said.

“Few people understand we’re not dirty, hippie people,” O’Connor said. “We’re looking for change, an end to inequality.”

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.