Fed up with corporate greed and the unwillingness of his bosses to acknowledge the increasingly desperate plight of workers, Michael Ash has joined with anti-establishment protesters around the country by occupying a conference room at his office.
“I’m just tired of being exploited and abused by the powers-that-be,” the 32-year-old project manager for Hewlett-Packard told reporters in his San Jose, Calif., office. “It’s time for the people to take back what’s been stolen from them.”
“Also,” he added, “I’ve been out of ‘stickies’ for a week now and still they’re not stocked in the supply closet.”
Ash and others have watched as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has grown from its start in New York to its increasing popularity in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Thousands have shown up at events to voice their support for the unemployed, the poor, the young and the disenfranchised, and to state their opposition to the entrenched interests of the business community.
Ash joined the surging movement yesterday as his frustration with the way his chair was adjusted, and with the person who keeps linking the paper clips at his desk into a chain, boiled over into action.
“They obviously care very little about us,” Ash said of his superiors at HP. “If they did, they’d put a hidden camera at my work station and see who’s messing with my desk.”
Ash set up his protest in Conference Room B on the second floor of his office building shortly after 9 a.m. Monday. He brought in a sleeping bag from his car, and posted several signs he created in Word around the room. One read “Reform Corporate America” and another read “I Am the 99%.” A third sign was largely illegible because of black splotches all over the surface.
“I’ve complained about the toner in that printer for a week now, but all I get is the runaround,” Ash complained. “Typical behavior from the corporate fatcats who are more concerned about their tax breaks than they are about the toner.”
By 11 a.m., several coworkers had stopped by the rarely-used conference room to express their support for Ash, or to ask if he knew when he’d be finished, because sometimes people eat their lunch in there.
“Most meetings are in Room A, down the hall and around the corner,” Ash told reporters. “I picked Room B because I didn’t think anybody would care.”
Ash continued his demonstration until 1 p.m., greeting well-wishers, debating the value of increased taxes for high-income earners, and occasionally marching through the halls to get a drink of water. Shortly after 1, he was asked to leave the conference room to make way for a safety committee meeting.
“Sorry about that,” Ash told committee members as they streamed into the room. “Just give me a sec to clean up this mess. Here, let me put those chairs back. Sorry. Sorry.”
Dislodged from his protest site, Ash relocated to the men’s room next door, and re-dubbed his rally “Occupy Second Stall From The Sink”.
“In a way, this is better,” Ash said at mid-afternoon Monday. “It’s symbolic of how our future is being flushed down the commode by Big Business, and of how we have a really crappy system for reserving conference rooms.”
By the end of the day, Ash had added to his list of demands. In addition to his desire to get last Tuesday counted as a sick day rather than a vacation day, he called on his corporate superiors to unblock YouTube from office computers, to crack down on lunch thefts from the refrigerator, and to say something to the guy in accounts payable who always sneezes so loud.
“Also, after spending the day in the toilet, I want to demand a new box of toilet seat covers,” Ash said. “The box claims ‘provided by the management for your protection’ but that’s a lie. Management doesn’t care about our protection at all, at least unless it affects their bottom line.”
Ash said he had received a lot of support from co-workers during his protest.
“Guys have been coming in here all afternoon, and I believe they’re behind me,” Ash said. “I think they know I’m in here. They should at least be able to see my legs.”
Ash said he was unsure if he’d continue the protest for the rest of the week. The sales presentation he’s working on for the vice presidents’ meeting next Monday still needs a thorough re-do, and he’s also looking for a bit of clip art to break up the monotony of his PowerPoint.
“It’s time for the rest of America to ask, ‘where’s my bailout?’” Ash said. “I just have to make sure I can squeeze it into my schedule.”