Students Protest on Wall Street To Mark One-Year Anniversary of Occupy Movement

Juila Herbst, News Editor

Protesters returned to the streets of New York City this past week for the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement on Sept. 17. Among the participants were 19 Oberlin students, who participated in a series of protests, community activism trainings and art-making sessions held over the weekend and Monday.

Seven of these students stayed in New York for the culminating protest on Sept. 17, in which hundreds of protesters attempted to draw attention to a variety of economic, environmental, labor and educational issues by interrupting traffic and work-flow in the areas surrounding Wall Street.

“When you’re in that large of a crowd, it’s really energizing,” said College first-year Waylon Cunningham, who attended all three days of the protest. “You feel as though you’re part of a force that’s larger than yourself.”

During Monday’s protest, participants split up into four groups: “Eco Zone,” “Debt”, “Education” and a general “99 percent Zone.” Each of the factions focused on different areas of Manhattan around the Financial District. Within these groups, smaller clusters of approximately seven people formed affinity groups. In addition to highlighting different issues, splitting into smaller factions made the movements of the protesters more unpredictable for police.

“It ended up really working to our favor on Monday because then there were all these different separate groups where everyone knew each other really well,” said Alice Beecher, a College junior who helped organize the trip and marched in Monday’s “Eco Zone” group with six other Oberlin students. “It wasn’t as much one single march as it was on Sunday. [It was] a lot of people going to different areas of downtown and doing … performance art or acts of civil disobedience to raise awareness of Occupy’s continued existence and disrupt activity around the Financial District.”

College first-year Maxime Berclaz marches alongside other Oberlin students as part of the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement. Protesters wanted to draw attention to economic, environmental and political concerns.

This more organized approach marked a departure from past incarnations of the Occupy movement.

“It had been exactly one year since I went [to the Occupy protests] for the first time,” said College sophomore Jackson Kusiak, who returned to New York for the anniversary of Occupy. “The first day, the movement was trying to figure out what it was about. … This year there was a fair amount of organizing done for this specific event and the organizing that happened was mainly in place to empower individuals and affinity groups to act as they wanted. … That level of organization was not something we saw before.”

For some, the evolution of Occupy has somewhat changed the underlying nature of the movement.

“I didn’t go to last year’s [initial Occupy protest] but I actually think last year’s [protests were] much more effective because I think it not only took the entire public by surprise, but it also was more raw in its ambitions and spirit,” said Cunningham. “What I really think was most important about last year’s was the physical occupation — the creation of a library, a health center and … [an] alternative infrastructure that I think provided an example, one that’s very idealistic, of an alternative model of society and I think that was very inspiring to people. The general outrage and number of people created political space for politicians to move left. It allowed politicians like Barack Obama to use the word ‘class,’ whereas before, that was a dirty word. Even in this election cycle, Mitt Romney is being criticized for being too rich. When was the last time a Republican political candidate was charged with being too rich?”

Much of the protest was dedicated to environmental concerns, especially concerning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method of extracting natural gas using pressurized liquids. Sunday’s activities began with a march to protest Spectra Energy, a natural gas company planning construction of a gas pipeline through the West Village in New York.

“[The pipeline] will be extremely dangerous and contribute to fracking in Pennsylvania. Fracking is such a big issue on campus and we all went on that march,” said Beecher. “I would say that was a really successful and interesting part because a lot of New Yorkers don’t know about fracking and so it really raised awareness about the issue [because] a lot of people came up to me on the street to say, ‘Hey, what it this about?’ and so we talked to them.”

Students like Beecher hope the movement will continue to evolve and incorporate more types of voices.

“I think that it’s hard to say [what form the movement will take in the future] because no one person is controlling the movement, but my hope is that it continues to gain momentum in convincing America of a [need for a] greater class consciousness,” she said. “I think that it will go through ups and downs, like many other social movements do in terms of membership. I want it to become more accessible in ways that it really isn’t right now to people that do not identify as radicals necessarily, but have suffered.”