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Tents are gone, but Occupy Claremont spirit is strong

Though the tents and sleeping bags have vanished, Occupy Claremont vows it is just getting started.  

Occupiers and supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall Saturday afternoon to celebrate the spirit Occupy and kick-start the next chapter in fighting for the rights of the 99 percent.

“This is not an end to the movement or a matter of us giving up,” said Occupier Emma French, one of several Pitzer College students that first set up camp at Claremont City Hall in November. “It is maturing and moving into the next phase.”

The weekend sunshine and light breeze provided welcome relief as the partygoers shared in their resolve to continue providing a voice to the city’s voiceless.

Occupy Claremont will continue to dedicate itself to fighting social and economical inequalities both locally and across the country, according to Ms. French and other Occupy members. Among up-and-coming city events is a march this Sunday to memorialize the homeless who have died on the streets of Claremont. Ms. French is also helping to spearhead an Occupy Claremont committee looking for ways to help locals struggling with foreclosure.

“This is a serious concern and is one of the first things that needs to be addressed,” Ms. French said.

The physical presence of the movement at City Hall will also remain. Time slots on a sign-up sheet passed around at Saturday’s Occuparty were nearly filled to capacity with the names of those volunteering to stand by City Hall with posters from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday, rain or shine.

Amid socializing, music and food, the crowd gathered to share encouraging words for the future of Occupy Claremont, even despite the lack of the symbolic tent. The crowd ranged from college students to families and those of Pilgrim Place and the Claremont Elders who have also lent their voice to the cause. Pilgrim Place resident Charles Bayer says he has been a proud supporter and member of Occupy Claremont since the beginning.

“Movements like [Occupy] have helped change the national conversation,” said Mr. Bayer, who claims that in Claremont alone $400,000 has been taken out of big banks and transferred to local credit unions. “These things could never have happened without Occupy.”

In between songs from the Pilgrim Place Pickers and other local bands, party guests took turns participating in an open mic session, sharing personal stories and sentiments about desiring to see Occupy continue to thrive.

“The end of tents will not be the end of intentions to call Claremont to do what is right,” Pat Patterson of Claremont Elders with the 99% said in addressing the crowd at Saturday’s Occuparty. “We Elders with the 99% salute our local Occupiers and declare our desire to continue working with them on the issues that matter to all of us...long live the Occupy spirit!”

Inspired by the movement, activist Gustavo Ramirez recited, “The Revolution has Just Begun,” a poem and rap that shares in the same messages of equality he feels Occupy resonates. Mr. Ramirez, a resident of Pomona and Claremont neighborhoods all his life, says he has seen first hand the inequalities among different neighborhoods in both cities.

“At times it’s almost like first world and third world,” he said, though he feels Occupy is helping to bridge the gap.

“We can change the world. We are already. Even Republicans are using our [Occupy’s] language. So we can see that we are making a difference.”

Claremont City Council Members Joe Lyons and Opanyi Nasiali along with Mayor Sam Pedroza added their voice to Saturday’s display.

“The effort here was to get the message out. Mission accomplished,” Mr. Pedroza said to the crowd. “Now we have to ask, what's happening here? What's happening in this country that a few individuals are holding everything? And what can we, as a city, do about it? Claremont is a model for what the goal was. Our [city] meetings are open; our residents are engaged in the city. We hope you will continue to remind us of what we can do better.”

Mr. Bayer, who has been working as a liaison between the city and Occupy, said he is already working with Pedroza and staff to address the possibility of transferring some of the city’s money out of big banks, along with other ways for the city to continue to get involved.

While some argue that Occupy has yet to accomplish what it has set out to do, Mr. Bayer retorts it has changed many things.

“This is a start,” Mr. Bayer said. “Tents haven’t stopped Occupy. We will find ways to continue. The 99 percent has to keep pressing on.”

In addition to its daily demonstrations at Claremont City Hall, Occupy Claremont invites the public to its weekly general assemblies held on Thursdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more on the local movement visit www.occupyclaremont.org.

—Beth Hartnett

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