From his desk near the front window of the new storefront rented by the "Occupy" movement, Jay Ugenti reads the declaration first drafted at Zucotti park in lower Manhattan back in September of 2011. The document, entitled "The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City," is a laundry list of grievances, mostly aimed at corporations and the politicians they influence.
"They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay or safer working conditions," Ugenti reads from the document. "They have consistenly outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers' healthcare and pay..."
The Occupy movement has spread to cities and suburbs across the country including Long Island. Now, Occupy protesters have launched "Occupy Storefront," a brick and mortar meeting place for direct action protests, job fairs, veteran services and fund-raising art shows. The storefront, located on Railroad Avenue diagonal from the Ronkonkoma LIRR station, opened in June. The office is run by volunteers, like Ugenti, an electrician by trade, and Jason Sullivan, a union roofer and journalism student who acts as Occupy Storefront's communications liason. The rent is paid through donations. The leaseholder is "Occupy Storefront," a registered nonprofit organization.
Though married philosophically to the Occupy Wall Street protests, both Ugenti and Sullivan say the Ronkonkoma storefront will operate on a number of platforms centered on helping the community and its members.
"It’s very important to us that we promote community business as well as community outreach," Sullivan says. "We’re also very passionate about jobs for veterans. Because the unemployment rate as well as the homelessness of veterans is astronomical."
"People can wrap their heads around a storefront," Ugenti says, "It’s a community center; the door is open for people to come in at any time. It’s a more structured approach because we do have a phone number, there’s an actual physical address that people can contact."
Politically, the Occupy movement in general has been labeled liberal, or left-wing, however, according to Ugenti, the issues they support attracts both sides of the political spectrum.
"Our main mantra was ‘we are the ninety-nine percent.’ So as far as I’m concerned, if you’re not one of them [the 1%] you’re one of us." Ugenti says his focus in the political arena is to get the Citizens United Supreme Court Ruling that allowed corporations to supply unlimited funds to stump for specific candidates overturned.
As far as direct action, Occupy Storefront intends to provide a rendevous point and bus launch site for protesters planning to camp out in front of the Southampton home of Julia and David Koch this coming Sunday, July 8. The Kochs are wealthy supporters of Republican policies and will be holding a $50,000 per plate fundraiser for likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on that day. Southampton Patch will be on the site to cover that protest.
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
Sullivan says the often-heard criticism he hears from people about the Occupy movement is caused by complacency.
"People are so comfortable in this system and this institution that we have, even though it’s wrong and it’s not for them, that they’ll fight to keep it because they think in their minds that it’s good for them," Sullivan says. "The mentality I get from the union guys that are opposed to [the movement] is ‘go to work and shut up.’ How do I go to work and shut up? When I see so much going on? I can't shut up."