Occupy Tri-Cities group gathering support

There's an intentional irony in Occupy Tri-Cities participants having scrawled their protest slogans on the backs of cardboard boxes they found at Walmart.

The retail giant is part of what the nascent offshoot of the weekslong Occupy Wall Street protest would finger as part of the problem -- selling cheap goods made in China to people who are forced to buy cheap goods because their jobs were shipped overseas.

The group is small -- only eight people gathered for a planning meeting at Richland's John Dam Plaza on Thursday -- but they are hoping the message will spread.

They are trying to reach what they call "the 99 percent" -- people across the political spectrum whom they think will agree that something has to give, and that the 1 percent holding much of the nation's wealth should loosen its grip on the economy and let some of that wealth flow back to the middle and lower classes.

Despite criticism about lack of national media coverage, the Occupy Wall Street protests have captured the attention of people not just in the U.S. but also around the globe.

Similar groups are popping up in American towns and cities, and even in such far-flung places as Denmark. The website occupytogether.org is showing that people in 786 cities have used social media website meetup.com to organize events in their towns.

The movement also is spreading on Facebook and Twitter, where the #occupy hash tag is being used as a tool for organizing.

Jason Caryl of Pasco started the Occupy Tri-Cities Facebook page because something clicked with him when he saw what was happening in New York, and the movement seemed to be voicing some of the same frustrations he felt as someone who has been unemployed for a year.

The page had 136 followers Thursday evening, just a few days after the page went live.

Caryl said he was laid off from his job as a sheet metal worker and left struggling to make ends meet and provide for his three teenage children.

"(Having kids) really makes it difficult," he said.

And when he sees corporate CEOs earning multimillion-dollar salaries while millions of people remain unemployed, he can only think something is wrong that needs to be fixed.

"I know how much I paid in taxes last year," Caryl said. "When I see someone -- a corporation -- turning profits in the billions and then getting a refund, it turns my stomach. Then we have Bank of America who wants to charge a $5 fee to everyone who uses a debit card ... that is meant to hurt the people who are already struggling."

The people who attended the planning meeting Thursday voiced similar frustrations -- they see a system in which wealth's only purpose is to create more wealth, but without making products or creating jobs.

And they see "the 99 percent" in a race to the bottom in which unionized workers -- particularly those in the public sector -- are vilified for the wages and benefits they earn. Instead of raising everyone else up, there's a movement to bring those workers down, they said.

"The financial situation in this country definitely is one of the biggest issues," said Jade Fenton of Walla Walla, who is trying to spread the word to her friends and neighbors about the Tri-City group.

"If we start there and fix those issues, some other ones will become moot," she said. "I think starting with the greed and disparity in income and inequality is where we have to start."

But the conversation won't be limited to corporate protests. Anyone who wants to voice any issue is welcome join.

The group plans to occupy John Dam Plaza at noon on Oct. 15, and hopes that conservatives and liberals alike will join them in saying something must change.

"This is not a left movement. This is not a right movement. This is a forward movement," Caryl said.

-- Online: Facebook, www.facebook.com/#!/ occupytricitieswa; Twitter, @occupytricities

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com