DOWNTOWN — Holding signs that read “Tax the rich,” and “Jobs, not cuts,” roughly 200 people gathered outside the Bank of America on Fourth Street Thursday to call attention to the ever widening gap between the wealthy and the poor and to call on Congress to approve President Obama’s latest jobs bill.
The protest, organized by MoveOn.org, a progressive political action organization, was loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement currently sweeping the nation. The protesters have referred to themselves as the “99 percent,” or the vast majority of Americans who do not fall into the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.
Bank of America was the target because of the company’s recent decision to start charging customers $5 a month to use their debit cards, a decision BofA says was prompted by revenue losses from a new federal limit on what banks can charge retailers to process debit card transactions.
As cars honked to show support, Priscilla Buthalon chanted, “we are the 99 percent.” The 29-year-old Santa Monica resident lost her job as jeweler and has not been able to find a position in her field since. She currently works at the front desk for a barber shop and is worried about what lies ahead.
“I feel like I am another one of the 99 percent,” Buthalon said. “I am living from paycheck to paycheck and if I were to lose my job, I have no idea where I would be.”
Buthalon hopes to bring more awareness to the issue of economic inequality and high unemployment and believes more of the “99 percent” need to get involved.
“This movement has been stifled and it’s finally gaining some ground, but at the end of the day, more people need to stand up and have a voice and in addition, there are things that are showing that the country is facing unrest,” said Buthalon.
Some got creative to get their message across. One Santa Monican protester dressed up as a slave and carried a large sign reading, “Don’t be slaves to banks.” Another dressed up as a mime, holding up a sign that said, “The 99 percent, we refuse to be silent any longer,” and he was not silent.
Filmmaker Julie Thompson has not been affected by economic downturn, but those close to her have.
“We have shipped jobs out of the country and we’ve made it more difficult to live a middle class life, so much of the wealth is concentrated in a small percentage of the people,” the 64-year-old said, who financially supports her family members.
Like Thompson, Santa Monica College student Harrison Wills, also said that the gap between the rich and poor has increased and the middle class is being destroyed, especially with the cost of living going up and wages at a standstill.
The public policy student, whose tuition has risen while class offerings have been cut, voiced his doubts about his future.
“I am worried about my future, because job wages have not gone up and the cost of living and not being able to find work after graduation,” he said. “We need publicly-financed elections and need to abolish corporate personhood.”