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Occupiers united by one thing: frustration

Brett Flashnick / AP

Protesters line the grounds of the Statehouse for the Occupy Columbia event at the capitol in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011.

By Ali Weinberg, NBC News campaign embed

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Like the masses who have gathered on Wall Street and elsewhere, the protesters at Occupy Columbia, S.C., on Saturday seemed loosely united through one feeling: frustration.

"There are over a hundred different attitudes," said Columbia resident Mel Jenkins, who was carrying a flag with a large image of Earth on it.

"But there's clearly an understanding that something is broken and it needs to be fixed."

Exactly what that something is depended on whom, among the roughly 200 gathered in front of the South Carolina statehouse here, you asked.


For some, like 55-year-old Karen Smoak, it was the high unemployment rate.

Smoak said she works "very, very part time" jobs after losing her job at the state's public broadcasting network in 2002 due to a budget shortfall that year. She said it had been hard for her, and many others who lose their jobs mid-career, to find new work.

"For far too long the majority has been oppressed in this country," Smoak said. "I myself expected to have my government job, which I worked hard to get, until I was ready to retire."

Travis Bland, 23, who helped organize the demonstration, said he believed people were gathering in order to combat a sense of helplessness.

""Amongst all the grievances, there's this one issue and that is that people feel powerless. People feel absolutely powerless in what's supposed to be a democratic society," said Bland, who said he holds several jobs including with a landscaping company, local newspaper and record store.

Sarah Parker, 18, said she was disappointed in President Barack Obama for not creating more jobs. Parker said she works as a nanny and is taking high school classes online in order to focus on looking for a job.

"I was one of those people that was like, 'Oh, President Obama, go, yeah.' And you promised us change, but yet you're still feeding money to corporations. Where's our money? Where [are] our jobs that you've been promising us?"

Others at the rally decried corporate involvement in politics, as well as banks' role in the financial meltdown. 

"The corporate state has taken a grip of our democracy and we have to get money out of politics," said Bradley Powell, 28, who works at a local independent movie theater.

"The CEOs of the big corporations and banks who got us into this financial mess are not asked to make any sacrifices and are instead rewarded with $25 million bonuses for the year," said Cammy Kennedy, who was holding a sign that said "I can't afford a lobbyist so I made this sign."

While most rally participants insisted the gathering was apolitical, at least one demonstrator expressed frustration over a particular Republican presidential candidate: Herman Cain, whose "9-9-9" plan is the new buzzword in economic policy proposals.

"We don't need 9-9-9. We need jobs, jobs jobs," said Lee Johnson of Columbia, who held up a sign that said, "Damn da 9-9-9."

 "We don't need to be misled by some fantasy slogan," he added.