About 250 people gathered at Ashland's Plaza Thursday afternoon for the opening of a planned two-day Occupy Ashland protest.
In conjunction with similar protests happening in cities around the nation and the weeks-long Occupy Wall Street protest in New York's financial district, organizers scheduled speeches, presentations and a general assembly to run until 9 tonight.
After that, the peaceful occupation is scheduled to end, although some protesters said they planned to camp out on the Plaza tonight.
"The occupation of Wall Street is the first notice being given by the American people that we do not accept this; we will not allow this to be the future for our country, our communities and our families," said State Rep. Pete Buckley, D-Ashland, who delivered the opening address at the occupation.
Buckley was applauded by the crowd throughout the roughly 15-minute speech.
"I support the occupation of Wall Street, for the simple fact that I share the anger and frustration of millions of Americans over what has been done to our country, our economy, our communities and our families by our major financial institutions," he said.
Although protesters in New York have been criticized for not having a clear-cut goal, Heidi Reeder, 43, of Medford, who joined protesters in Ashland Thursday, said she doesn't see why.
"It's an entire mixing pot of issues," she said. "We're here not only for our health care, not only because of the banks, lack of jobs, and the economy. We're here because the entire middle class is being squeezed down to the bottom."
"We keep working and working our asses off, and we're not getting anywhere. We are just fed up with it," she said.
Retired Air Force and Vietnam veteran Larry Slessler, 71, of Medford said he joined the Occupy Ashland protest primarily to call for ending the war in Afghanistan and U.S. presence in Iraq.
"I remember when the Vietnam protests started up and they were mostly discounted," he said. "The same thing happened with the Wall Street protests, but I think it's gaining a bit momentum now."
The Occupy Wall Street protests started on Sept. 17, when a few dozen protesters camped out in front of the New York Stock Exchange before being arrested. Since then it has snowballed into a national movement, with smaller scale protests taking place all over the nation Thursday and today.
The Occupy Wall Street protest has also swelled in New York. National news outlets reported as many as 15,000 demonstrators during its latest march on Wednesday from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park, where protesters have been camping.
"We're trying to say we need a new way of doing things," said Emery Way, 24, an organizer of the Occupy Ashland protest, and member of the student-led activist group Phronesis, of Ashland. "A part of doing that is getting out in the streets and standing up beside our brothers and sisters in solidarity; that's something that hasn't happened in a long time here."
Way said he, and a handful of other protesters plan to camp out on the Ashland Plaza tonight, regardless of the city's camping ordinance, which makes it illegal.
That plan came after Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said organizers had assured him they would not violate the city's camping ordinance.
"We know what we're are doing is still illegal," Way said, "and anybody who chooses to camp is prepared to face being cited or even arrested; that's just a part of civil disobedience."
The Occupy Ashland protest will continue through today in the Plaza, with more speeches and presentations on a wide range of issues. Also, there will be a display of artwork inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest.
"We're still gaining momentum with this thing, and I think that will continue," said Way. "There are a broad range of issues we are standing up against. & what we do know is there are certain things that need to change."
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.