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Friday, April 18, 2014

Protesters target Koch Industries in Wichita

BY FRED MANN
The Wichita Eagle

About 100 protesters marched on Koch Industries' headquarters near 37th North and Oliver Saturday afternoon.

They chanted "Main Street, not Wall Street" and "Pay your share" as they marched.

They also carried signs that explained why they were marching:

"I Can't Afford to Buy My Own Politician. I'm part of the 99 percent," one sign said.

"Let the Voice of the People Be Heard," said another.

The marchers were met at Koch headquarters by about 20 Koch defenders, who carried signs of their own:

"Blame Politicians, Not Corporations" said one.

"I Stand for Charles and David Koch, Who Stand for Principled Entrepreneurship and Freedom, and Against Crony Capitalism," said another.

A few members of the two groups exchanged words briefly after they came together, but there was no violence. Wichita police cars patrolled the area.

The protest was sponsored by Kansans United in Voice & Spirit.

"I'm tired of 80 percent of the people only having 7 percent of the wealth of this county," said Ramona Becker, a protester from Wichita. "We used to all have a fair chance in this country, and that's not true anymore. The American Dream has gone away. No matter how hard people work, they can't make it, because there's only so much money to go around and only a few people have it."

Bob Weeks, who organized the counter-protest, said his group came out to support the company.

"Many of us admire Charles Koch for supporting economic freedom and capitalism throughout the years," Weeks said.

Koch Industries responded with a written statement from company spokesperson Melissa Cohlmia.

It said the company respected the protesters' rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.

It also said: "Rather than protest an American company that employs 50,000 Americans, including more than 2,600 Kansans, we encourage citizens to turn their attention to the burden of excessive government spending, uncontrolled debt and onerous regulations that are crippling our nation.

"As we have for decades, Koch's efforts will continue to be focused on producing products that people want and need, while promoting policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs. We believe these goals are supported by most Americans and are critical to our nation's future."

The protesters marched away from Koch headquarters after about 15 minutes.

Koch had blocked entrances to company property.

They also videotaped and photographed protesters, who waved at the cameras.

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