Outraged over job losses and corporate and bank bailouts, more than 200 protesters lined El Camino Real in Palo Alto in front of the Bank of America on Wednesday evening.
Seniors, middle-aged, laid-off Silicon Valley employees and some younger folks gathered in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has been staging an ongoing protest in Manhattan and other large cities against the bailouts, job losses and tax benefits for the wealthy.
Drivers in rush-hour traffic honked loudly and gave thumbs-up as they passed by, as the demonstrators cheered. The protests began at 5 p.m. and lasted for two hours.
Bank of America was chosen as the symbolic location for the Palo Alto protest because it is the nation's largest bank and the recipient of more than $45 billion in federal bail-out money, said Paul George, director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center in Palo Alto, which organized the protest.
Demonstrators said they are tired of gridlock in the U.S. Congress, and rewarding of banks and mortgage lenders, which they blame for the erosion of jobs and disenfranchisement of the poor and middle class.
Gerry Gras, a laid-off Palo Alto software engineer, said he lost his job two years ago because of the economy. But "if I had a job I'd want to be here," he said, noting he would probably be working long hours that would prevent him from protesting.
Cheryl Petrovich, a former paralegal who is now disabled, said she had joined the demonstration because she is tired of Republican stonewalling in the U.S. Congress.
"There's too much of an inequity right now. With the Republican Congress, there's no progress at all," she said.
Gras waved an American flag. It's stars were replaced with corporate logos: General Electric, Coca Cola and major news networks.
"I think things are not going to be the same afterwards," he said of the growing movement. "I don't know where they are going, but they're not going to be the same."
While protesters said they support different causes, from global warming policy to health care reform, the main theme of concern was what many called the "99 percenters" -- those Americans who are not in the top 1 percent of wealth they say controls the country.
"I really think that people, if they don't know all the numbers, they do know the economic inequality in this country," George said.
"One percent of the population owns 40 percent of the wealth. No other country in the industrialized world comes close to that. That doesn't happen by circumstance. People know they aren't getting fair treatment. Americans are fair-minded people and people don't like it," he said.
Car horns blared, one after the other, as they passed by.
"We've been getting a lot of beeping. Even the police driving by have been giving us the thumbs up," George said.
Barbara Weinstein and Vikki Velkoff said the protest was a way to connect with other people and to give voice to the difficulties people are facing.
"It's really important for people who felt isolated in the face of all the miserable stuff going on to come together," Weinstein said.
Velkoff, an early-phase drug-development researcher, was laid off in December along with hundreds of others when Roche in Palo Alto closed its facility. She will start a new job next week, she said.
"It's good to know there are others thinking along the same lines," she said.
Inside the Bank of America a security guard peered through the glass and scowled. Workers glanced nervously toward the protesters. A bank spokesperson could not be immediately reached.
George said the protests will continue in Palo Alto, and he knows of others who are organizing through the Internet and through groups such as MoveOn.org.
"The Occupy Wall Street movement is a truly grass-roots, a truly spontaneous movement. I have no doubt this will keep going in every little town and burg. It goes back to the sense that wealthy corporations and Wall Street are being treated differently from the rest of us," he said.