Occupy Berkeley protesters march through downtown

Shirin Ghaffary/Staff
Occupy Berkeley protesters march along streets in Downtown Berkeley Saturday.

As many as 300 people took to the sidewalks in Downtown Berkeley Saturday as part of a demonstration sparked by the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest social and economic inequality and corporate greed.

Joining what Occupy Wall Street declared the worldwide “International Day of Action,” over 100 protesters gathered at around noon in front of Bank of America — at the corner of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue — to begin a march that grew to include hundreds more and filled the sidewalks of the Downtown area.

“All walks of life, all religions, people with no religions — everyone is welcome to join us,” said UC Berkeley junior Bo-Peter Laanen, one of the facilitators of the group’s daily general assembly meetings.

A man waving a large American flag, a woman carrying a sign that said “Grandmas against greed,” a few people burning dollar bills and parents with young children were just few among the many that participated in the march that began a little after noon. The group walked down Center toward the Saturday Farmer’s Market, located between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way and eventually made its way back to the Bank of America.

Along the way, protesters stopped outside of Chase Bank, Citibank and Wells Fargo and chanted slogans such as, “Banks got bailed out; we got sold out” and “The people united will never be divided.”

The Occupy Berkeley protest was originally scheduled to begin Saturday, but the group decided to begin occupying the Bank of America area a week early and has had at least 10 people sleeping there each night since.

As the march grew Saturday, people remained on the sidewalks and — for the most part — followed traffic lights. Berkeley Police Department officers trailed along on bicycles and on foot and directed traffic as people crossed the street.

“The police have been very conscious, but we have told them that we are a peaceful group not here to start violence,” Laanen said. “To be honest, violence on the part of the police only makes our movement grow, and they don’t want that to happen.”

Around 1 p.m., as a man played the drums and people danced, the crowd stopped at the edge of Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and chanted, “All day, all week, occupy Berkeley.”

After protesters returned to Bank of America at 1:15 p.m., several people from the crowd went up to speak using what protesters call “the people’s mic.”

“I come from Occupy L.A.,” said Ashe Guzman, a life coach from Los Angeles. “The movement over there is really big, and I think it’s because it’s centralized. I encourage everyone to go to Occupy San Francisco.”

The general assembly, which met around 3 p.m. Saturday, decided that, in addition to occupying Bank of America, some people would also occupy the park on Saturday night. About 10 to 15 people volunteered to start sleeping in the park.

The “International Day of Action” was supposed to take place in over 950 cities in 82 countries, according to the Occupy Wall Street website.

“We want to see 5,000 people surround Berkeley’s Bank of America, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy the space for a few months,” according to the Occupy Berkeley website. “Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices. It’s time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we’re doomed without it.”