Students across the country are occupying today for tomorrow
They are the future. The future is theirs. And right now, that future isn’t as inviting as they had hoped. So why not change the future?
When the Occupy Wall Street movement began in September, it was a blip on the nation’s radar. Now, Occupy has spread beyond Manhattan’s Financial District to locales across the country and the globe.
The voices behind the movement’s now-famous peoples’ microphone are college students, graduate students, 20-somethings who are fed up with the 1 percent controlling the country. They are ready to take back democracy and put the country into the hands of the 99 percent.
These students are taking to the streets they know best — their college campuses. Ericka Hoffman, 26, is an organizer and facilitator with Occupy College, an organization that acts as a resource for students interested in joining the Occupy movement. Hoffman said the Occupy College movement is simply a microcosm of the greater Occupy Wall Street.
“The issue with our economy is one that affects everything. And it has begun to affect our schools as well,” Hoffman said.
She explained the college or university’s administrators and the students are just a smaller version of the 1 percent versus the 99.
“On separate campuses they also have their own issues, with their Board of Trustees or their campus [administration] who are also basically participating in the same kind of behavior that our government and banks and [big business] have participated in,” she said.
A junior at California State University Bakersfield, Hoffman was a little more than an hour away from Los Angeles, which began its own occupation soon after that of Wall Street. Hoffman was inspired by the movement and thought that she and other people her age could make an impact.
She said it is college students that can truly make a difference.
“We’ve got educated masses who know what’s going on and who want to raise awareness, and the best way to do so is on college campuses,” Hoffman said.
As some politicians, banks and media have asked “What is Occupy accomplishing?” Hoffman said their measurement of success isn’t appropriate. The movement’s efforts are beyond making one concrete thing happen. It’s about spreading the movement.
“I think they’re successful in raising awareness,” she said of college Occupy movements. “If you just look at the statistics, the first time that we did the walkout we had 80 schools and 5,000 people. And then the second time that we did an event, which was a sit-in, we have over 100 schools and over 10,000 people.”
Students aren’t limited to raising awareness just on campus or in their college town, according to Hoffman.
“The UC Davis video footage, when that went viral everybody in the world [could] see that,” she said. “And so now you’re not just raising awareness on your campus or even in your outlying areas in the city — you’ve raised awareness to the entire globe.”
Guido Girgenti is not quite a 20-something but he works alongside Hoffman and others at Occupy College. Girgenti, 19, is a sophomore at Occidental College in LA and saw the young people’s frustrations with the state of the country before the Occupy movement began.
“Even before Occupy Wall Street started, there were a lot of people my age, middle-class students in college, who had a really deep sense that the economy was broken,” Girgenti said.
He noted the problems college students face: debt, employment and a general sense that they are not in control of their own lives.
“I think there was this hunger for a movement that expressed our desires to live in an economy that provided real opportunities for young people with college degrees, and people without college degrees, and to live in a democracy that served the interests of the majority of people who aren’t the head of a huge bank,” Girgenti said.
Girgenti described the Occupy movement as a college student’s “one true love.” So when Occupy LA began, he and a group of students joined the movement. Girgenti said as he became more involved, he spread it across campus.
“We started organizing students on our campus to go down to Occupy LA more often and go to the protests and start discussing it on campus,” he said. “It kind of just snowballed from there.”
Hoffman and Girgenti had the unique opportunity of attending a school so close to an Occupy hub. However, location does not necessarily facilitate the movement.
Lee Ann Hill, 20, is a junior at Ithaca College who discovered the Occupy movement online, finding videos and articles that inspired her to do more research.
“What I found when trying to understand the Occupy movement was an overarching theme of justice,” Hill said. “The more I researched, the more information I found exposing the broken framework of U.S. capitalism.”
The frustrations that arose from her research were overwhelming, and Hill said she decided to put it to productive use.
“So I started talking to my friends and family about what I had been learning and how the Occupy movement relates to all,” Hill said. “I came to find that many people, after learning the facts behind the Occupy movement, really could resonate with its message.”
Hill helped to establish Occupy IC, which is in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement. She said the main goal for Occupy IC is recruitment, education and outreach this semester.
David King, 21, is a senior at SUNY Fredonia who helped establish an occupation at his school. However, he wasn’t ready to jump on board right away.
“I was a bit skeptical of the idea at first,” he said. “Occupations were springing up in major cities across American, including nearby Buffalo, but why waste the time and effort in occupying a small town like Fredonia, population 11,000?”
He eventually decided to take on the project, and after creating a Facebook page, King had gained more than 75 members in just 24 hours. Students, professors, community members and even the local mayor were supportive of the occupation.
“The whole experience was definitely worth the time and effort,” King said. “However, Occupy Fredonia doesn’t stop there. We will be holding general assemblies and events throughout the winter to keep the cause going.”
He said sometime in the spring, when the weather is a bit more comfortable, there will hopefully be another occupation.
Girgenti said that students have been instrumental, and game-changing in the overall Occupy movement.
“When you had Harvard students walk out of Professor Gregory Mankiw’s class, protesting the fact that he had been the economics advisor to George Bush, that was a huge statement,” Girgenti said.
However, these actions and occupations are just the beginning of a much larger movement, Girgenti said. Young people, students, Americans in general, are demanding their democracy back, he said, and that won’t be accomplished right away.
“The movement is based on anger about really deep structural problems and injustices that have been decimating working-class communities and communities of color and young people for a long time now,” Girgenti said. “The movement isn’t going to go away anytime soon because the injustices aren’t going away anytime soon.”
Kacey Deamer is a junior journalism major who is currently occupying the moon. Email her at kdeamer1[@]ithaca[dot]edu.