DARIEN, Conn. – If you walked past the Occupy Darien protesters at Tilley Pond Park on Wednesday or Thursday, you probably would have thought it was a small group of friends gathered for coffee and conversation. The demonstration drew very small numbers, especially given the buildup it received in the local media and the online discussions it sparked.
One of the most prevalent criticisms across the country of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been that it lacks a clear goal and set of ideals. The fiercest debate of the two-day demonstration in Darien took place between protesters themselves.
Tommy Fox, an unemployed contractor who has taken part in more than 30 Occupy Wall Street protests, argued that the movement is an effort to return to traditional American values. He cited ideas from Thomas Jefferson. “Every generation has an obligation to turn over to their children a world that is unspoiled,” Fox said, referring to the state of the economy. “Don’t ruin what you inherit.”
Fellow protesters Bennett Weiss and Richard Duffee fired back that the movement was not about returning to traditional values but about moving beyond them. They argued that there was a large socialist movement among the protesters and said many articles of the Constitution were created by the wealthy to protect their interests.
The Darien demonstration lacked a centralized message. Protest signs around the site rallied against the war in Iraq and the economy and for the environment. Conversations spanned from Wall Street investors to tax issues to gay marriage to global warming.
Darien resident Margaret Rague organized the movement to be a dialogue between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. She wanted the people who work on Wall Street and live in one of the wealthiest towns in the state to see and hear the struggles of people who can’t find work and feel betrayed by a system that to them seems skewed toward the privileged.
That dialogue did not happen. The protest never consisted of more than 10 participants at any given time. At one point Wednesday, a Darien jogger stopped to argue against a protester who said corporations do not invest in American businesses. The jogger, who did not want to give his name, spent a few minutes saying that he personally invested in plenty of American businesses and that many companies do. Failing to change the protesters’ minds, he continued jogging on his way.
Rague created a controversy of her own leading up to the event. After being arrested for allegedly being drunk in public, she accused the Darien police of lying and of brutality. Several online commentators attacked her motives, her ideals and her character.
Rague also accused the police of keeping protesters from the event, both by stopping a train to search for a murder suspect and by intimidating potential protesters with their presence. Darien police deployed 10 officers for security reasons, but police outnumbered the protesters most of the time. And most officers just stood around curiously watching the demonstrators.
As the sun went down Thursday evening, the protesters packed up their belongings and left the park. Meanwhile, the people of Darien finished up their Christmas shopping, sat sipping coffee at Starbucks and headed home to have dinner with their families, seemingly unaware that their town had been occupied.
Why do you think the Occupy Darien event did not take off? Tell us in the comments below.