Occupy Protester Danielle Digirolamo

Occupy Protester Danielle Digirolamo (Staff photo)

If you think Connecticut's Occupy movement is going to wither away in the winter cold, or get co-opted by unions or lefty groups, or get sucked into Obama's re-election push, you'd better listen to what Danielle Digirolamo and other “occupiers” have to say.

Digirolamo, 23, was huddled under a blanket at the Occupy campsite on the New Haven Green one chilly day last week, working on a laptop with her dog Bishop at her feet.

“I wouldn't trade this for anything,” she says. “I always wanted to get involved, but I'd never figured out what was the best thing for me. This is like all my dreams are coming true.”

Digirolamo, who was born in Bridgeport, has been part of Occupy New Haven since it began almost two months ago. She is dead certain this movement isn't going away until people like her see real change in a nation they believe has been distorted by corporate greed and political sellouts.

“We're not terrorists. We love our country and we want to make sure we still have one,” Digirolamo says. “I want to have a real workable form of government, where people really have a voice.”

And she doesn't give a damn about Obama — an attitude fairly common among the most committed young occupiers in this state, and one that scares the hell out of some Obama supporters. “The Democrats and the Republicans have become the same thing,” she shrugs.

Wes Strong, one of the key dudes in the Occupy Hartford effort, feels the same. “I don't care if any Democrat or Republican gets elected,” he says, “because they're not going to represent the working people.”

“People didn't end the Vietnam war by electing anyone to office,” Strong adds. “They ended it by forcing the people in office to do what they wanted them to do.”

The Rev. Scott Marks of New Haven, a veteran African-American community organizer and a strong Obama supporter, is real nervous about the disregard many occupiers have for the need to re-elect this Democratic president.

He worries that, if disenchanted young activists like Digirolamo and Strong sit out the 2012 campaign, it could cost Obama the election. “I think it would cause a shortfall from where we need to get [to vote Obama back into office],” Marks says.

Marks sees a tremendous need for the Occupy movement to survive, if only to continue to focus public attention on the growing distance between the wealthiest Americans and those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

“I think it's vitally important for them to bring attention to the disparity in wages,” Marks says.

According to figures from the Economic Policy Institute, family incomes for most Americans have risen in the past 30 years, but far slower than for the richest segment of society. Publicity about crackdowns on Occupy camps across the nation have triggered those kinds of income statistics to be splashed across the mainstream media like never before, Marks says.

He also doesn't believe the Occupy movement in Connecticut or elsewhere is going to die out, despite the weather or police action to eradicate the camps. “I think they're going to be here,” Marks says. “I've seen them hunker down.”

Police shut down the Occupy Hartford site at Turning Point Park one rainy day last week after reports came in that a woman had been sexually molested at the camp and that a man had been seen with a handgun.

The Hartford action was peaceful, unlike similar crackdowns in places like Oakland, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia. There were no arrests in Hartford, no pepper spraying, no use of batons.

“We're not here as thugs or any of that,” Hartford Police Capt. Joe Buyak told one of the occupiers. But the massive police presence that day, with dozens of cops and white cruisers surrounding the small campsite, came as a shock to Occupy Hartford folks, who insisted they'd always been nonviolent and had been assured by Mayor Pedro Segarra's aides that there would always be talks and negotiations before any major decisions were made.

When occupiers questioned the heavy police presence that day, Buyak responded, “We're not going to let police get injured. … If you pay attention to news reports about what has happened across the country, we're not taking any chances.”

In fact, Connecticut has seen almost none of the police-related violence that's occurred around the rest of the nation. Hartford occupiers did briefly shut down a busy highway on-ramp last month, with several demonstrators volunteering for arrest.