Occupy Darien organizer paying for protesters
Occupy Wall Street: Few attend Darien event; organizer pays to draw more Thursday
DARIEN -- More than an hour into the Occupy Darien protest Wednesday at Tilley Pond Park, there were as many police officers as protesters. Once 2:30 p.m. rolled around, people began clearing out of the park more than two hours ahead of schedule.
The event's coordinator, 61-year-old town resident Margaret Rague, is hoping for a better turnout Thursday. And she's vowed to pay $1,000 to bring in protesters from New York City.
"It wasn't originally my idea, but the $1,000 will buy train tickets and a meal for the demonstrators. I will lay out more than $1,000 happily if I need to," she said.
She said she offered to give up to $3,000, but fellow protesters said it would be a waste of money.
Rague, who said the rain factored into Wednesday's low turnout, said she believes people from New York City want to attend the event, but do not have the resources to travel to Connecticut. She gave one of the demonstrators the amount in cash, and he is supposed to go to Grand Central Terminal tomorrow in hopes of recruiting some of those people.
With a light rain falling, a smattering of protesters and spectators began dribbling in when the event, billed to be an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, started sometime after 10 a.m. By noon there were fewer than 10 protesters and spectators.
The event is expected to cost the Darien Police Department more than $10,000 in overtime pay -- a factor that left commuters at the Darien train station Wednesday morning less than amused.
Asset manager and Darien commuter David Freelove said he was not impressed by the Occupy movement.
"I don't like it, but it is a free country," said Freelove, who commutes from Darien to Manhattan. "I don't think they know what they are protesting for. Their message isn't clear."
Kevin, who would not give his last name, said he employs 2,000 people at his apparel manufacturing factory in New York. He said he was hoping any protesters would stay home.
"I don't like it. We don't do anything to bother them. Why are they bothering us?" he said with his voice rising.
Another commuter, who said his name was John, said he respected what the protesters were doing.
"I don't have a problem," the finance worker said before boarding the 7:54 a.m. train to Grand Central Terminal. "It is an important viewpoint to get out there. They have reasonable arguments and questions."
Darien patrol Capt. Fred Komm said the department was increasing its staffing levels "considerably" to handle a possible influx of protesters involved in the movement, which took over a lower Manhattan park for more than two months before police enforced an order preventing them from camping overnight.
Lakeside Avenue, which runs directly along the west side of Tilley Pond, was closed to traffic in the morning.
Rague said Wednesday morning that she only hoped to raise people's consciousness. She billed the event as a peaceful demonstration to highlight the serious economic challenge and huge wealth and opportunity gaps that exist in the United States and the world.
Just after 10 a.m., Rague said she heard rumors that Occupy Wall Street would be busing people into the event.
Even before she agreed to put up the $1,000, Rague said she hoped a sunny day would bring up to 500 demonstrators on Thursday.
During the day a few speakers addressed those in attendance.
Stamford family attorney and Rague friend Julia vonSchilling spoke about how the downturn in the economy limited the poor's access to the justice system in Connecticut.
Trudy Goldberg, co-founder of the National Jobs For All Coalition based in Lynbrook, N.Y., said the economic divide between rich and poor is growing, and the government is not doing enough to create jobs.
New York resident Tommy Fox, who called himself the Occupy Wall Street march leader, showed up with a banner and drum just in case the thousands he promoted the event to earlier in the week by email showed up. On Tuesday, after looking at the rainy weather report for Wednesday, he sent out another email message saying the event was canceled.
Fox looked around and readily acknowledged that the Occupy Darien event was not well coordinated.
"Fuggetabout it. There are more police than protesters," he said. "There's not much to do. There's no critical mass here."
The event wrapped up at 5 p.m. as the few remaining demonstrators left peacefully for the night. Rague said she hopes to see more people Thursday but acknowledged it was difficult to coordinate people's schedules to make sure they could attend.
Staff Writer Ben Holbrook contributed to this report.