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Local workers join nationwide movement with Occupy Sacramento

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Protesters took to Cesar Chavez Plaza Thursday to fight what they say is the richest 1 percent of Americans controlling 50 percent of the country’s wealth – and they plan to “occupy” Sacramento for at least a week.

“I’m out here to fight for the people so we can get power back from the corporations,” said Neph Garcia, a diesel mechanic from Woodland.

“The 1 percent is making the decisions, and the 99 percent suffers from those,” he added. “We have to be free from corporate decisions. The politicians are pretty much their puppets.”

About 300 protesters with Occupy Sacramento assembled at Cesar Chavez Plaza downtown on Thursday morning before setting off on a march around the Capitol, chanting slogans such as “banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

Police on horseback and bicycle kept watch over the marchers, occasionally blocking traffic as they crossed streets. Protesters stayed on the sidewalks, as they did not have a permit to demonstrate on the streets.

Christopher MacDonald, a spokesman for Occupy Sacramento, said there is no set time for the occupation to end, and the idea is to raise awareness of the issue as well as stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street group and others like it across the country.

Occupy Sacramento is not directly affiliated with other groups around the country, he added.

Sacramento Police Department spokesman Sgt. Andrew Pettit characterized the protests as peaceful, estimating that on Thursday afternoon the number of people demonstrating at the plaza was around 150 or 200.

“They’re obeying the traffic signs and rules, they’re not disturbing businesses and they’re even staying in the crosswalks,” he said.

Earlier in the day, some demonstrators tried to enter a couple of banks, but the doors were locked, and no demonstrators got in, Pettit said.

By Thursday afternoon, no arrests had been made, and no additional police patrols were called in.

“We’re using our existing patrols and diverting some of them downtown,” Pettit said.

Sacramentan Pedro Leon, who operates a printing press for the California Department of Justice, said he came out to show his support for the movement.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We thought we sent the message when we elected Obama and others, but that message is not being heard.”

Leon said the ultimate goal, as he sees it, is to allow Americans to once again embrace the American Dream.

“It’s no longer what my parents had,” he said. “Then, a father could work and support his family comfortably. Now, you can’t even do that with two incomes.”

Other protesters said they shared the frustration of their compatriots in other cities, with Sacramentan Jacob Mendez, a student assistant, saying the U.S. economy is “one-sided” and characterizing big business as “corporate fascists.”

Sacramento stay-at-home mom and activist Krystin Leonhardt said she is upset that oil companies, banks and big agriculture businesses are “posting record profits” while schools can’t afford supplies.

“I’d like to see our government recognize that they represent us, not corporations with big money,” she said. “People are starting to take power, and they’re realizing there’s power in numbers.”

According to the Associated Press, labor unions joined the fray Wednesday when they gave their support to the activists.

The Local 1000 chapter of the Service Employees International Union supported the Occupy Sacramento movement.

"I encourage everyone to support these demonstrators in Occupy Sacramento and Occupy Wall Street because we need an economy that supports middle class families," Local 1000 President Yvonne R. Walker said in a press release.

"The Occupy Wall Street movement has done a great job of drawing attention to income disparity in this country and the need to create middle class jobs,” she added. “We need to do what we can to support them here in California."

The union represents about 45,000 Sacramento-area workers, and SEIU spokesman Jim Zamora said between 12 and 20 union members were staffing a tent and first aid station throughout the day, handing out water and other items to the protesters.

“It’s not a Democrat or a Republican issue,” said Diana Bennett, a protester from Roseville who works as a bookkeeper. “People are really standing up to the corporate money running this country. We’re fighting to get it back.”

Cesar Chavez Plaza closes at 11 p.m. and reopens at 5 a.m., according to Pettit. Demonstrators may be cited or arrested if they stay in the park while it is closed.

MacDonald said protesters planned to stay in the park and were talking with police on Thursday afternoon.

“We want to work things out,” he said, “but this is a full occupation, so we want to stay.”

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.

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