As the “Occupy Movement” born on Wall Street spreads to major cities across the nation, some Knox students have taken it upon themselves to participate in Chicago while the movement spreads to Galesburg.
Last Saturday, Oct. 8, about 40 students, either with the Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA) or independently, made a trip to Chicago to take part in its branch of the movement.
“I think it was an interesting experience because we had been watching the news reports and seeing how violent and engaging it can be, how many people in our generation, specifically college students, are really stepping forward and speaking their minds in a way it hasn’t been done in ages,” APA President junior Netsie Tjirongo said.
The movement, which started in New York City last month, has since gained momentum and heard much criticism from conservatives who see it as radical and those toward the left who see it as too disorganized.
Sophomores Marcus McGee and Elizabeth Lerum, who both attended the protest independent of the college, spoke to what they called some of the common misconceptions about the movement.
Lerum responded to the criticism that many of those who identify with the 99 percent have cell phones and are college-educated, but she said, “That’s a complete misunderstanding of the movement. The one percent is not a person; it’s a corporation, it’s a bank.”
“We’re not a threat to the structural integrity of the democratic system,” McGee said. “The biggest opposition you see to the movement, especially among students, is that they fail to understand that it’s a movement against a structural inefficiency and a structural problem, and it’s not personal material problems.”
According to Lerum, the Chicago branch was the first to make some material legislative demands, including the repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts. And, she said, the voting system in the General Assembly, which called for a nine-tenths majority for the passage of a demand, was a “painstaking” show of “radical democracy.”
“But it’s effective, and it can act as a catalyst for change elsewhere,” McGee said. “You already hear Obama quoting them and talking about them when he’s trying to get various bills passed.”
Sophomore Eli Mulhausen, who also attended the Chicago rally independently, said he is excited about the movement, as it addresses some pressing issues like the distribution of wealth and ensuring that “the voices of individuals [are] heard just as loudly as corporations.”
“I feel like there was a lot of push from Obama to change the system, and people haven’t really seen that change, so they took it upon themselves to let their voices be heard,” Mulhausen said.
A common thread among those who attended the demonstration was the feeling that there is a fundamental problem with how the United States functions.
“It’s not fair to look upon the world and judge, when America itself is punishing its own people and taking away money and giving it to the people who don’t need it,” Tjirongo said. “The U.S. government does not work, and as a foreigner, I cannot see a reason to stay in this country if it continues like this. I’m glad to see Americans taking up the fight to change that.”
“I don’t think that it’s sustainable to have this continued loss of sovereignty to multinational corporations,” McGee said. “Over further decades, I think this will cause some serious erosion to the ability of our politicians to make policy for us in an effective manner, and it could very well lead to a systemic collapse.”
Mike Nache, 25, of Galesburg, a student at Carl Sandburg College who is also working to support his family, started the Occupy Galesburg movement Monday, Oct. 16, with a demonstration in the Public Square. Nache said he has neither the time nor the money to travel to Chicago, so he decided to bring the movement to Galesburg.
“We’ve had capitalism run amok for too long,” Nache said during the demonstration. “We are letting it become business as usual with the bank bailouts and the housing bubble, and it’s all on the backs of the taxpayers.”
Nache talked about the growing income gap between rich and poor and that the lack of manufacturing jobs is putting a squeeze on the middle class, among other concerns.
The Galesburg protest, which was attended by two Knox students including Tjirongo, lasted just over an hour until a Galesburg police officer broke it up since they did not have a city permit.
Tjirongo said she was disappointed at the disorganized nature of the new Galesburg branch of the Occupy movement, but she is excited about it nonetheless, and she expects that it will get organized and on its feet. She referenced some of Galesburg’s problems, especially the local 205 school district lengthening its winter break because it could not afford to heat the school buildings.
“It’s important for the people of Galesburg to talk to Knox students, for us to be aware that we’re in this together, even if it’s for different reasons,” Tjirongo said. “Everyone still has the same issue at the end of the day.”
Lerum referenced a sign she saw at the Chicago demonstration as particularly telling of the movement. It read, “Realistic people for longer chains and bigger cages.”
“This isn’t radical, this isn’t ridiculous, this is just people asking for a little bit more liberty,” Lerum said.