By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
More than 2,500 people marched through downtown Santa Rosa Saturday, protesting the concentration of wealth in America.
The Occupy Santa Rosa event, modeled on Wall Street protests that began last month, was twice as large as organizers expected, suggesting it is gaining mainstream momentum.
From the steps of City Hall, labor activist Ben Boyce fired up a mostly middle-age crowd, urging a moratorium on foreclosures, an end to Bush-era tax cuts and a national jobs program.
“Today is the tipping point,” Boyce said to a sea of signs and people shouting their support. “It’s now time to re-take our democracy.”
Sounding a central theme to the national movement, other speakers railed against financial institutions as the cause of the recession that has led to high unemployment and economic ruin for millions.
“We’re all clear who tanked our economy,” said Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council. “It wasn’t the public worker. It wasn’t the public safety worker. It was Wall Street.”
An enthusiastic crowd yelled back, “That’s right!”
Demonstrators then marched through downtown, filing past the transit mall, businesses and banks, chanting slogans and banging drums. Passing cars honked in support.
Wells Fargo employees watched the noisy procession from behind locked doors at the B Street branch.
“I’m pretty moved by what’s happening here,” said Healdsburg retiree Richard Burg as a band played “When the Saints Go Marching In” outside Citibank.
As of late afternoon, there were no arrests, police said.
One police officer put the turnout at between 2,500 and 3,000. A event volunteer said it was 2,700.
Marchers returned to City Hall where people sprawled on the lawn, danced or played with children. Two young men climbed on the City Hall roof and unfurled banners.
One protestor, Paula Wright of Sebastopol, said it was time for the wealthiest 1 percent of the country to give something back to the rest.
Her daughter, 7-year-old daughter Temple, carried a sign that said: “Share a Piece” with a peace sign on it.
“I don’t want my kids to grow up and not be able to go to college,” she said.
A Santa Rosa woman who identified herself only as Darcy stood on the corner of First Street to protest the pending foreclosure of her house of 20 years. She and her husband both lost jobs and have been unable to negotiate lower payments, she said.
“I’m fed up. I’m totally fed up,” said the woman, who described herself as an independent voter. “It’s time to stand our ground.”
A retired Santa Rosa teacher, Mauri Wilber, criticized the government for spending money on wars and Wall Street bailouts while ignoring schools.
It got so bad last year at Rincon Valley Middle School that they ran out of toilet paper and had to solicit donations from parents.
“Education is being ignored while dollars are being pumped into wars and large corporations,” she said as she marched with other teachers.
City Councilman Gary Wysocky was among a handful of elected officials on hand, including Councilwoman Susan Gorin and Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa. Wysocky said he supported the message of the day.
“There are a lot of people hurting out there,” he said.
Watch a video of the speakers at the Occupy Santa Rosa rally outside City Hall on Oct. 15, 2011. Speakers include Karyl Averill, Lisa Maldonado, Ben Boyce, Cynthia Boaz, Davin Cardenas, Carl Patrick, and Alicia Sanchez. Video posted to YouTube by independent videographer Jon Stiffler.