ASHLAND, Ore. — While thousands join the Occupy Wall Street movement in big cities by camping out in parks and marching on the homes of rich CEOs, Robbie Lindauer has been spending afternoons in his hometown handing out leaflets to people walking into the local branch of Chase bank and asking them to take out their money as a protest against big banks.
Lindauer and the few friends who join him have been having a small, but noticeable impact. It can be seen in the growing number of videos he collects on his smartphone — "I'm coming in to close my account," says one man — as well as the numbers of people opening new accounts at a local credit union.
Rogue Federal Credit Union reports double the typical number of new accounts so far for October at its Ashland branch.
"Small towns are good for everybody because you have an opportunity for direct action," said Lindauer, 42, a father of three who pays a mortgage and owns his own online marketing business. He was taking a break on a bench in The Plaza, the downtown hub where Occupy Ashland holds General Assembly meetings that draw about 40 people to discuss issues and plan the future of their micro-movement.
"I don't like the way that large industry, banks and finance companies are controlling our democracy and as a result causing it to fail," said Lindauer, who describes himself as a libertarian. "By fail, I mean our vote has become effectively worthless. We need a way to make it so people are the primary focus of our government."
Rogue Federal Credit Union President and CEO Gene Pelham said the thrift's branches were seeing a spike in new members, which he attributed to the Occupy campaign. The Ashland branch alone has seen more than 170 new members since Oct. 1, a period they normally expect 82.
Chase headquarters did not immediately return calls for comment.
Ashland is a liberal outpost in conservative rural Oregon. The town of 20,000 just a few miles north of the California border is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University. Many of the tourists drawn to the festival end up moving here to retire, accounting for census data showing Ashland with higher percentages than the state average of people over 65, as well as those who are white and college educated. But Ashland also has a lower median household income than the state average and more people living below the poverty line.
All that makes Ashland ripe for Occupy Wall Street, said school teacher Rebecca Holt, as she held one end of an "Occupy Wall Street" banner.
"We're preaching to the choir," she said as she waved at passing cars on a corner of The Plaza, drawing honks of approval.
Occupy movements are putting up Facebook pages, and organizing marches and meetings in small towns across Oregon. Strict no-camping laws make it tough to follow the lead of big city movements establishing encampments.
"Small movements are extremely vital because it's the whole country that's feeling this," said Oscar Nelson, 30, owner of an indoor gardening supply and a spokesman for Occupy Astoria, which plans a march Friday.
Astoria, a town of 9,500, is struggling to overcome downturns in timber and commercial fishing.
In Roseburg, a timber town of 21,000 where the county unemployment rate is 13.6 percent, more than 100 people have turned out for a march, and a half dozen showed up for an overnight occupation.
The challenge for Occupy Wall Street protests in small towns is to keep up the initial fever that brought out hundreds of early supporters, said Emery Way, 24, of Ashland, a recent Southern Oregon University graduate in history scraping by on the custodian job he had while a student.
"You end up with a core group of people who are willing to spend the time to fight these battles, which might take a year to see ground made on them," he said.