COLUMBIA — Nicholas Huddleston considers himself an exception. A self-professed socialist, he doesn’t see many like himself in the Occupy COMO movement, and some of his goals differ from the focus of most protesters. But on Saturday afternoon, he and more than 100 others stood united.
Or rather, they marched.
After a brief rally outside City Hall, protesters took to the streets, marching down Broadway from City Hall and circling back to the Bank of America branch on Cherry Street to deliver a message. In an open letter, they enumerated a list of grievances, among them accusations of immoral treatment of customers, abuse of the federal tax system and violations of antitrust laws. They also urged Bank of America customers to transfer their money to nonprofit credit unions.
The march coincided with Bank Transfer Day, a consumer activism initiative asking Americans to transfer money from national commercial banks to local alternatives.
“We have problems with the banks, with the bailouts, all of that,” Huddleston said. “It goes back to the principle of speak with your wallet. If I’m opposed to Bank of America, I shouldn’t have money in that bank. That’s why I use a local bank. It’s all part of the movement.”
Although Occupy COMO is made up of individuals who want to see change in a variety of national issues, the Columbia group recently officially defined its movement: a united front against what it feels is a national system dominated by the wealthy few.
It’s a part of the movement other protesters hope people see.
Protester Ariel Ceara thinks growth is the final step left for the group and said the event gave people who had been sitting on the fence an opportunity to see how things really are.
“People are so confused because the media paints us as a violent, anarchist group of people,” Ceara said. “We saw today that that is not us. Violence is not our message.”
The Occupy COMO message has drawn no shortage of online support, but the online attention hasn’t always translated to in-person activism.
Jahmekya Hanson attended her first rally Saturday and said she will probably attend more when she can.
“I 100 percent support it,” Hanson said. “I’d been kind of following, but I found out about it kind of late — I’ve pretty much been keeping my eye on things ever since I found out about it."
She said she first heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement from "The Daily Show," and now she keeps track of the movement daily through a "99 percent" Tumblr blog. A friend informed her about Saturday's rally on Friday night, and they decided to go.
Ceara said many, such as Hanson, are experiencing the occupy movement for the first time and identifying with the movement. She said the message to Bank of America is just the beginning.
“People are coming together all over the world saying we’re not alone, and we never were, and it’s time for us to reclaim not just our countries but our world,” Ceara said. “It’s time for us to reclaim the people’s voice. It’s a beautiful thing.”