Occupy Wall Street protesters picket GE CEO in New Canaan
The 99 percent showed up in two busloads Saturday morning and set up a short-lived camp in front of the gated driveway of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to picket his global conglomerates' overseas jobs and billion-dollar profit margins.
Nearly 80 protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement -- which since last month spread from a tent city at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to dozens of other U.S. cities -- gathered in front of Immelt's West Road home, chanting slogans against corporate greed and yelling stories of unemployment and economic injustices into a megaphone.
The protest lasted about 90 minutes.
New Canaan police officers allowed the protesters to congregate on both sides of the residential road and directed car traffic through the group. The protest went on without incident. Two police officers and a cruiser stood guard in front of a large gate closing Immelt's driveway from the road.
The small action drew a diverse group, from local labor unions to protesters living in Zuccotti Park or splinter sites in New Haven and Hartford.
The Connecticut Working Families Party, an independent political party, helped organize the protest and arranged for buses to take protesters from Manhattan, New Haven, and Hartford to Immelt's home, said Jon Green, the director of the state Working Families Party.
Michael Lynn, a 42-year-old from New Haven, came by bus to New Canaan.
Lynn recently lost his job at a paint and powder coating plant when another company underbid a contractor for their services, Lynn said. He set up a campsite at a New Haven park seven days ago.
"I lost my job because of corporate greed," Lynn said.
Else Obuchowski, 58, a freelance editor from New Canaan, came to speak out against the increasing wealth and influence of corporate executives such as Immelt.
"My health care costs go through the roof," she said. "It's harder and harder for responsible people to survive financially. Meanwhile, the people at the top are sitting prettier than ever."
Before the protesters packed into two buses and personal cars, they presented a poster-board letter addressed to Immelt in his gated driveway after ringing the bell on his intercom system.
The letter chastised Immelt, also the head of President Obama's job creation council, for eliminating 19,000 jobs and not paying income taxes.
"Hopefully he will take us up on our offer to come see how the 99 percent live," one of the protest leaders yelled into the megaphone.
Gary Sheffer, a GE spokesman who works in the company's Fairfield headquarters, refuted claims circulating among the protesters that GE eliminated 19,000 jobs in 2008 and did not pay taxes in 2009 or 2010.
"They have a right to their opinion," Sheffer said. "They don't have a right to the facts. What they've said today, unfortunately, is untrue."
Sheffer said GE has added more than 10,000 new jobs in the United States during the past 18 months. GE employs 133,000 people in the U.S., and 6,000 in Connecticut. The global company announced the creation of 12 new manufacturing plants in the U.S. as well. GE also paid more than a billion dollars in federal, state and local taxes last year, he said.
"We are proud of the investments we are making in this country," Sheffer said.
The protest did little to disrupt traffic on the wooded residential road.
Several groups of bikers rode by, and a handful of drivers showed their support by blaring their horns. One cyclist, Bruce Johnson, a 53-year-old unemployed Norwalk resident, stopped at the protest and spoke with picketers about half an hour into the action. He ended up staying with the group throughout.
"The protests are going to grow more and more," he said. "It just has to. It hits a moral nerve."
The protesters varied as much in age as they did in appearance and ethnicity. Some of the early chants were in Spanish.
Kate Tepper, a 75-year-old Norwalk woman who still has her British accent after immigrating to the U.S. in 1969, compared the strong corporate influence on American politics and society to fascism.
"It's an underhand attack," she said. "Money and politics will change people."