About six dozen people gathered in Downtown Richmond late this afternoon to take part in a peaceful, Occupy Wall Street-inspired demonstration, holding signs, chanting and sharing personal stories about the effect corporate America has had on their lives.
Occupy Richmond organizer Bryan Drayton, owner of nonprofit bicycle organization Richmond Spokes, said today's rally in downtown Richmond -- which could last through Saturday if attendees decide to camp out -- is meant to give Richmond residents a platform to vent their frustrations and discuss constructive plans for the community.
From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. today, about a dozen local residents, including self-described activists and one city council member, took turns at the microphone to voice their grievances against corporate America and the effect it has had on their lives -- from facing foreclosure and mountains of student loan debt to unemployment.
"Sallie Mae is a gold digger...she's taking all our money, she's keeping us enslaved...and I'm fed up with that," said Jessica Tovar, a Richmond resident who works with a local nonprofit, Communities for a Better Environment.
Many of those who spoke at today's event targeted Chevron, whose corporate offices are located in Richmond.
"That money doesn't go to the city of Richmond...it's not going to our schools," Tovar said.
Several people in the crowd, including Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, nodded their heads in agreement as Tovar spoke. Beckles also addressed the crowd of demonstrators this afternoon, and said she was proud of the local event and hopes for an even larger turnout at any future Occupy Richmond rallies.
"In a community like this that is predominantly black and Latino, we should have more people here," she said.
Drayton said that he and several other local residents decided to plan the event at the last minute while attending an Occupy Oakland event earlier this week.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also voiced her support for the rally today and for the entire Occupy Wall Street movement.
"It's something we have been promoting in Richmond for a long time," she said. "We've been working to stand against corporate domination, which is why myself and a couple other council members won our elections without taking one penny of corporate donations."
Richmond police officers were also supportive of the rally, and escorted the group of about three dozen attendees who marched about 15 blocks from 11th Street to Richmond's Civic Center.
Capt. Mark Gagan said officers monitored the rally to "make sure (attendees) have the ability to assemble peacefully," and would allow participants to camp on city property during the event.