Irving, a manager at the Walmart store on Flatbush Avenue in Hartford, pronounced some of the customers and Walmart associates “very uncomfortable” when a group of occupiers from Hartford and New Haven occupied the store just over a week ago.
Still, with the number of views on a YouTube video of that event now exceeding 1500, Hamden resident Jennifer Drury, who completed her “mic check” before a security officer told the group to leave, has become one of Occupy New Haven's rising stars.
“I don’t feel like a rising star,” Drury said at midweek, “so much as someone who’s active at” — she paused, choosing her words carefully — “overt protesting.”
Drury says she could sell ice to the Eskimos. She has stood on street corners handing out real change but fake bills with what she terms ‘fun’ facts, such as the number of children in this country now living in poverty. She said she began her play on the meaning of change during the last presidential election, when the words “hope” and “change” became central to the campaign currency.
And the highly personable Drury, who once worked for a mortgage company, traces her comfort in public places to her profession as a teacher, which she terms at once theater and performance.
“Finally, someone is standing up to Wall Street — finally!” she recalls thinking, when Occupy Wall Street erupted in New York. Drury, whose very modest house is now underwater and who closed a credit card after a bank doubled her interest rate, visited the occupiers there.
Then, the Occupy movement came to her through the efforts of Norwalk resident Josh Smith, who founded ONH.
“The reason I help out in the Occupy movement is because I just see the American Dream slipping away so fast. For a lot of people, it's extinct already,” Smith said by email late last week. “I see the bankers and large corporations siphoning money off the American public at every turn — every time you turn a corner, it seems like you're having money extracted from you in some way.”
“Whether it's a new bank fee, something buried in the fine print of a contract, or more taxes while the richest people get tax cuts, it just never seems to end.”
Smith said that his mother owns a house in Milford, but that she can barely afford to pay the mortgage every month.
“She winds up eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly to make ends meet — not that that's bad in and of itself, because those are pretty healthy for you — but it just makes me angry that the big bankers and corporate CEOs just work to increase profits at all costs, and there are real human costs involved here, because the greed is just so widespread.”
After Smith visited OWS, he determined to start an Occupy group in Connecticut. Trained in information technology and also problem solving, he said he based the movement in New Haven because he viewed the city as a hotbed of activism and also as very progressive.
Savvy in new media, he relayed the formation of ONH exclusively through a page on Facebook. Drury saw its link at reddit.com/r/politics and came to the New Haven green to participate in the formation of ONH.
The two continue among ONH’s vastly disparate personalities, with Drury frequently at work on the ONH site — she serves on the pallet committee, among others — and Smith, citing the onslaught of the cold weather, not getting to New Haven as often as he would like.
Both term the Occupier movement nationwide wildly successful in changing
the discussion within American culture. And unlike many who are reluctant to come forward because they fear for their jobs, both, at present, feels reasonably secure in their employment.
“I’m lucky. I have union protection,” said Drury, who acknowledged she is waiting for school administrators to take her aside and ask, 'What’s going on?'
Smith said he had told his boss of his occupier activity. “She’s O.K. with it,” he said.