Occupiers Settle in Providence Park

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Video by JOANNA DETZ and FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff 

Saturday marked the first day of the occupation at Burnside Park in Providence. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News staff photos)

Saturday marked the first day of the occupation at Burnside Park in Providence. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News staff photos)

PROVIDENCE — Occupy Providence protesters joined a global day of activism Saturday while settling in for a downtown encampment at Burnside Park.

Activists arrived with sleeping bags and backpacks and stowed them in large tents before joining the 5 p.m. rally and march through downtown. The energized, and at times jovial, crowd singled out many of the city's big banks and corporations, such as Bank of America and Textron, for its chants.

Like many of the protests held across Europe, Asia and the United States on Saturday, local participants represented disparate causes, such as strengthening unions, ending military conflicts and education reform. Nevertheless, the marchers seemed to coalesce around the issue of corporate greed.

"Welcome to Occupy Providence, our big indefinite occupation — however long it takes to build a society by, for and of the people," chanted Will Lembeck, one of the speakers leading the crowd of about 1,000 gathered by the park's iconic statue of the Civil War general.

A beefed-up police presence helped maintain the spirited march, which was mixed with music and fiery oration. Police also allowed occupiers to defy a city ordinance against overnight stays in public spaces.

For two weeks, Occupy Providence participants held daily meetings and called general assemblies to plan Saturday's rally and occupation. City officials also met with acitivists and waived permits to accommodate the event.

The camp includes a medical tent, makeshift kitchen and plenty of assistance from the community. Cartons of burritos and pizza donated from nearby restaurants arrived as the march neared its finish. Hot food was also prepared during the day by volunteers, thanks to donations from community gardens.

Environmental needs also were being addressed, with recycling bins and food waste collection organized by a local composting program. Planners also hoped to follow methods used in the New York protest, such as a gray-water system and sinks for cleaning reusable dishes.

Environmental issues were certainly a defining motivation for some protesters. Local resident Hannah Morini marched with the sign "No More Tax Breaks For Corporate Polluters."

"I'm personally sick of my tax dollars going to big oil," said Morini, who works for a renewable energy company.

Abel Collins of Sierra Club's Rhode Island chapter marched with his twin toddler sons. Corporate influence in politics, he said, allows big corporations to flout environmental laws. But Occupy Providence, he believes, won't be a brief event. "I think the occupiers are in for the long haul. And I think they're up for it."