NEW CANAAN, Conn. – Daisy Franklin of Norwalk was among the nearly 100 protesters who went to the New Canaan home of General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt on Saturday to take part in the first known Occupy Wall Street rally in Fairfield County.
"I worked in a small Norwalk manufacturing company for 15 years until it was forced to shut down a year ago," Franklin, 55, told the crowd, using a bullhorn.
"Now, I get by on less than $200 a week of unemployment for me and my daughter. When you run out of money, you run out of options. So, if you're hungry, you just try and wait until the next check shows up.
"I want to work, but when companies like GE eliminate jobs and send them overseas, it hurts us all. It's disgusting that they don't even pay as much taxes as we do! We must end corporate welfare!"
The crowd, which included a busload of about 30 protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, roared its approval.
"In this economy I'm too old to work and too young to die," said Mary VanDoren of New Milford, who worked as a reporter and marketing writer for 25 years before being laid off six months ago. "I can't even get an interview."
Then, the chants started.
"We are the 99 percent, we are the 99 percent!" the protesters shouted, led by June Benjamin, of the UAW in Stamford and member of the Hartford-based Connecticut Working Families Party, which organized the rally.
"What do we want?" Benjamin asked.
"Jobs!" shouted the protesters.
"When do we want them," Benjamin screamed.
"Now, now!" shouted the protesters, most of whom carried placards, too. Slogans such as "Stop Exporting U.S. Jobs," "Fight the Attack on the Middle Class," and "We are Occupy Wall Street ... and We'll Be Back" were printed on signs.
Godfrey Ferguson, 48, of Hamden, a board member with AFSCME Local 2663 in Lebanon, urged the crowd to chant loudly so Immelt could hear them if he were home.
"Hey, ho, corporate greed has got to go!" Godfrey shouted to the crowd. "Corporate greed is killing the American dream. We must raise awareness about how corporate greed is destroying the middle class."
Tracy Horeis, 20, was among the Occupy Wall Street contingent who came up from New York City to take part in the rally.
"There is such a big gap between the rich and poor, and I felt it was important to be part of this here in Connecticut today," said Horeis, who said her family has been homeless in the past. "It's crazy that people like Jeff Immelt can live here like this, and people are starving and homeless. No child should have to go to bed at night hungry and without a bed to sleep in."
The independent political group held the protest at Immelt's home to draw attention to what it calls Fairfield-based GE's "corporate greed" and indifference to "ordinary working Americans" by eliminating 19,000 jobs during the past few years.
Andrew Williams, director, media relations for GE, emailed a statement to MSC late Saturday night in response to the protest.
“The protesters certainly have a right to share their opinion, but they don’t have a right to their own set of facts,” said Williams. “The fact is that GE is investing in America. Since 2009 alone, GE has announced more than 10,000 new U.S. manufacturing jobs and this week, GE announced that it will build its 16th new factory in the U.S. since 2009.”
Williams said GE “did pay federal income tax last year and we also paid over $1 billion in other federal, state and local taxes.”
Many drivers passing by, however, honked their horns in approval during the two-hour rally, and others gave the thumbs-up sign.
The protesters, surrounded by New Canaan police, tried ringing Immelt's doorbell outside his gated West Road mansion. There was no answer, but the protesters were ready.
"He won't answer, so we're leaving a little message for him," Jon Green, executive director of Connecticut Working Families, told the cheering crowd as he placed a large placard outside the gate with a letter. It asked, "Do you want to know what life is life for struggling families in Connecticut? Will you commit yourself to creating jobs, and not destroying them?
"We are the 99 percent. And no matter how hard you try to pretend we don't matter, we don't even exist, we will not be ignored," the letter concludes.
"While many Americans continue to struggle, Jeff Immelt exemplifies the growing divide between rich and powerful executives and everyone else," said Green. "Unemployment is stuck at over 9 percent, and GE has eliminated 19,000 U.S. jobs. As most Americans have seen their incomes decline, Jeff Immelt has seen his pay jump to over $21 million last year."