In solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests across the country, a couple dozen activists gathered at Sculpture Park in Lompoc to draw attention to what they see as crony capitalism.

Occupy Lompoc popped up Oct. 22 to join hundreds of similar protests that started in New York’s financial district to protest Wall Street corruption and compel lawmakers to pay attention to the 99% of Americans, instead of the 1% that they say wield a grossly disproportionate amount of influence in Washington D.C.

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“It’s a unique phenomenon where so many people have come together in a short amount of time,” said 55-year-old Robert Cuthbert, who handles media outreach for the group. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen since the late 1960s, and whether this lasts a few months or goes into years, it’s already of historical proportions that I have not seen in my life.”

From noon to 3 p.m. every Saturday, Occupy Lompoc members congregate at the intersection of H Street and Ocean Avenue, where they set up a collapsible tent for informal meetings and tables with appetizers. For more than an hour, they hoist signs, talk among themselves and answer questions from passersby. Later they gather into a circle in a patch of shade or break out into various committees (logistics, media, community outreach, education, graphics and web) to decide by consensus how to organize and grow the local movement. At the last meeting, members agreed to march at 1 p.m. Saturday, starting north on H Street from the park.

Members emphasize the inclusiveness of the grass-roots effort that has no leaders and no hierarchy, and counts among its members people of all backgrounds and political stripes. What unites them is frustration with what they see as collusion, or even corruption, between the government and Wall Street – a problem brought into high relief with the 2008 financial meltdown.

Critics of Occupy Wall Street say that there is a lack of a clear message, agenda and strong leadership. Occupy Lompoc members say this assessment underlines the fundamental misunderstanding of the movement’s nature.

“The movement appears messy from the outside because we all operate through a democratic process,” explained Media member Martin Schaefer.

“Occupy groups borrow from each other and tailor make the messages for their communities but we have central themes,” he added. “We are non-partisan and we believe our government and our financial sector have colluded together in a way that has disenfranchised and disempowered the majority of voters and taxpayers. Meanwhile, they take our money through bailouts but provide us with a narrative that says if we keep sacrificing our prosperity, it will eventually return to us.”

He also dismissed the claim that the movement is anti-capitalist. “There are some in the movement, just as there are libertarians. But we are a pro-free enterprise, pro America, and pro-democracy movement. We’ve seen that capitalism has been hijacked.” Like other Occupy Wall Street endeavors, Occupy Lompoc is attempting to develop a cohesive message for the public, Cuthbert said. But, he added, it’s a labor of love that takes a consensus of all the members through a show of hands.

“We’re similar to the Tea Party which is not favorable to Wall Street either, but we have a different emphasis,” Cuthbert said. Although the Tea Party has galvanized around candidates who will purportedly carry their message to Congress, Occupy Lompoc members by and large do not formally back candidates for political office.

“There’s not going to be any formal platform, there’s not going to be a convention, and we’re not going to choose presidential candidates,” he continued. “We’re going to keep on pushing and talking about the issues that are important to us.”

Although Occupy Lompoc is forging a unified and cohesive message through what members call “hyper-democratic” consensus decision-making, the local group are reluctant to back concrete solutions to remedy the problems posed by Wall Street.

The Occupy movement in Albany, for instance, recently rallied in front of the New York state Capitol to oppose the governor’s insistence on letting the “millionaire tax” expire.

“You’re not going to see anything that comes out of the occupy movement that says we support a specific piece of legislation or a specific Constitutional amendment,” Cuthbert stated.

Logistics coordinator Steve Stormoen, 25, said movement is too fluid and inclusive to herald a list of demands.

“Everyone has their own solutions, so I don’t know if demands are what we need right now,” he said.

When you find out you tell me,” he said, when asked how reform is possible without legislation.

“I think the best we can do is keep our power local. Work with the city, local businesses, our neighbors and community members, not get entangled in politics and try to keep Lompoc’s decisions local,” he said. “That’s the only way I can really see accountability – from the ground up.”

Sheryl Reimers said she would like to see real campaign finance reform and repeal of an early 2010 Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations the right, as persons, to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. She was also adamant that Wall Street investment bankers who deal in toxic investments should not be allowed to award themselves generous bonuses. “I’d like to see our politicians embarrassed by the obscene amount of money they’re taking and who they’re taking it from,” she said. “And these bank leaders who left with golden parachutes should have been prosecuted.”

Asked how the movement can achieve that, she said: “I don’t know what I want Occupy Wall Street to do. But I know what I want for the future of my community. I don’t know what my personal actions can do to change things, but releasing the stronghold of corporate money on our politics has to occur so that the people that we vote for represent us.”

Schaefer doesn’t believe the movement will fizzle until Wall Street and government show accountability.

“It can’t fade like throwing off a light switch. It might take twists and turns as it incorporates different voices,” he said. “The Occupy movement is not simply a local or American phenomenon. It’s a worldwide one. This movement is going to be here as long as there are people who believe in democracy.”

jfoster@syvjournal.com