Thursday, October 20, 2011

Macalester engages in Occupy Minnesota movement

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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This specific march, "Don't Foreclose on the American Dream," on October 14th targeted large banks that foreclosed on people's homes while simultaneously receiving public bailout funds. Taken by Danny Surman.
Hundreds marched down Marquette Avenue in downtown Minneapolis last Friday in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Brett Srader ’12, a member of the Macalester International Socialist Organization (ISO), yelled as loudly as he could, “They got bailed out!”

Hundreds of protestors thundered in reply.

“We got sold out!”

Protestors surround the entrance to US Bank last Friday. Taken by Danny Surman.
 The Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17th with a march through the streets of New York City protesting corporate influence on democracy and growing wealth inequality. The marchers spent the night in Zuccotti Park, setting up a continuously occupied camp.

The idea spread to cities across the country. In solidarity, activists in the Twin Cities declared the start of Occupy Minnesota and began their occupation of Government Plaza in Minneapolis on October 7th. Macalester students and faculty have been involved every step of the way.

“I took a carload with four Mac students,” said Srader, who participated in the first day of occupation in Minnesota. “Every time I turned around I was seeing someone else from Mac, at least 25 to 30 people. I saw a handful of Mac alums. Even the people who have left Mac and are still in the area, they are pretty engaged in this. ”

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MPIRG Co-Chair Tom Kosciuszko '12 declares his solidarity with the 99%. Occupy Wall Street protesters argue that the top 1% of income earners hold a disproportionate amount of wealth and influence in America today. Taken by Danny Surman.
 “There are a lot of misconceptions,” Analiese Sigelko ‘14 said after attending the protests. People have the impression that, “it’s a bunch of hoodlums that don’t have a message. There is a stigma against it.”

“There’s still a lot of misinformation or lack of information amongst students about this movement,” Srader said. “We [ISO] tabled today and over half the students who walked by had only a very vague understanding or absolutely had never even heard of Occupy Wall Street. Now it’s just about trying to inform and get the conversation started on campus.”

Macalester’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) had already been advertising a march on several large banks in the Twin Cities when the Occupy movement began. The coincidental overlap of the march and the occupation led to cooperation between organizers of both groups.

The ISO and MPIRG have led organizing efforts for the Occupy protests at Macalester. They teamed up to provide buses to Government Plaza twice last week for interested students. Both trips featured marches on US Bank, Wells Fargo, and other prominent banks.

Excited organizers claimed up to 1,000 marchers, while media reports pegged the number in the hundreds.

 However, not all Macalester students say they are enamored with the movement.

“The end goal is to collapse the system, to cause chaos and basically to ‘fundamentally transform the U.S.’ – stuff I just can’t find myself backing,” Drew Ojeda ‘14 said.

But supporters tout the diversity of the movement.

“One of the best parts about this movement is that there is such a broad cross-section of ideologies,” Srader said. “They had speakers about immigrants rights, people from the Muslim community, LGBTQ people, people from the Green Party, anarchists, Ron Paul supporters, libertarians.”

Yet not every member of those groups wants to be associated with Occupy Minnesota.

“The Occupy Wall Street movement is nothing more than an organized pool of collective frustration without real direction or cause,” said Anish Krishnan ‘14, a supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul. “Their demands range from being unrealistic to completely inane.”

Occupy New York released a statement on October 5th to counter the perceived lack of focus for the movement.

“We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments,” the statement read.

“Most of the movements have a clear understanding of what the problem is,” Srader said, referring to the widely distributed document adopted in several cities. “Things in that [statement] range from corporate personhood to the need for publicly financed campaigns… universal health care was in there, some things with labor. It is trying to show how all of these things are tied together. You can’t fight to end racism without fighting for campaign finance reform or to end corporate personhood, because all of these things are roadblocks along the way to ending social injustices.”

Frank Adler, a Political Science professor at Macalester who has attended Occupy Minnesota protests, is satisfied with the movement.

“Instead of bellyaching about the absence of clear goals and demands, one should appreciate what the new movement already has accomplished, giving expression to a large and growing sense of outrage over how all of us have been screwed by money interests and their political operatives,” he said. “This is a wonderful thing to behold: the sense of solidarity, generosity and creation. Too much attention has been given to frustration and anger, certainly justified, but not enough to a utopian impulse, one that anticipates and prefigures a better, freer, more joyful society.”

The Occupy movement faces difficulty in other cities. Police recently evicted hundreds of protestors in Seattle and Denver from the parks they occupied. Scores were arrested at Occupy Boston after marchers moved onto a bridge and blocked traffic. Protestors accused the police of brutality in the arrests, a charge denied by Boston authorities. In New York, protestors avoided an eviction scare after the private owners of Zuccotti Park attempted to clean their property (they later postponed the cleaning).

Occupy Minnesota now faces problems with the police after two weeks of uneasy calm. Protestors at Government Plaza erected tents last Saturday in defiance of orders from the county sheriff’s office. Later that night, sheriff’s deputies confiscated the tents. A relatively small crowd of 150 occupied the plaza the next day.

Still, the protestors remain determined. Last Thursday organizers hosted a tent building workshop to replace the ones seized by police.

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Macalester students Henry Slocum ‘12 and Erin Newton ‘14 were ready at Friday's protests with first aid services.
ISO and MPIRG continue to organize opportunities for students and professors on campus to engage with the movement. Students plan to present a resolution in support of Occupy Minnesota to MCSG next week.

“I love these things,” Josie Ahrens ’14 said after attending the protests. “Being in the street, yelling. It has power behind it.”

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