The Occupy Wall Street protests, a series of continuous peaceful protests which initiated in New York’s Financial District mid-September, have made their presence felt in The City with Occupy San Francisco. The mass of protestors has become an ongoing encampment at Justin Herman Plaza near the Embarcadero. Protests are largely leaderless and their principles are undefined, yet almost everyone in support of the Occupation movement agrees that the economic disparity in the United States, in which wealth and income are concentrated in 1% of the population, needs to come to an end.
The Occupy movement has triggered action by USF students with the recent formation of the group Occupy USF. As explained by Professor Justin Valone, longtime activist and supporter of the Occupy movement, “[The goal of Occupy USF is] to make Occupy more relevant to students… there’s a lot of student apathy here, but people are starting to realize they’re going to be in a struggling job market in a few years and Occupy is causing a lot of conversation and dialogue about what can be done”.
The cause has a more personal meaning for students like freshman Katie Hogan who said she is supporting the Occupy movement because her family is one of millions suffering from the economic crisis.
“I have seen my family, along with our friends, lose so much of what they had,” Hogan said.
Yet, there is some student opposition towards the movement.
Freshman Frances Ulrich said she was unwilling to get involved with the Occupy protests because “it’s like they don’t know what they really want, it’s so disorganized and the violence is really detracting from the movement.”
There have been numerous clashes between police and protestors across the globe, notably at Occupy Oakland.
On November 2, during a general strike spearheaded by the Occupy movement in East Bay city, the windows of several banks were smashed by individuals, although the majority of all protestors insist upon non-violent practices.
Senior Raffi Bezdikian said, “The 10,000 people in Oakland… will be represented by 10 or 15 people that undermine the whole movement. The spectacle will be covered, but not the massive public outpouring of non-violence and humanity.” He added, “Last week’s Oakland protest was covered by the Washington Post, where their leading picture was not gas and blood of innocents, but a policeman petting a cute kitty.”
However, the most notable incident of violence thus far was a joint San Francisco and Oakland police raid against Occupy Oakland protestors. Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was critically wounded when a gas canister struck him in the head and left him with brain trauma and a skull fracture.
Despite this, the movement continues to engage a number of students politically, including Senior Bobby Groves, who felt compelled to open dialogue about the Occupy movement. He helped organize Occupy USF by starting a Facebook page. He explained that after having followed the actions of Anonymous, the Arab Spring and Wikileaks over the summer, he was excited to see there was a movement in the United States.
He said, “I think it brings awareness to the most serious issues of our time, including environmental devastation, the loss of precious natural resources, unlimited undisclosed election spending, the exploitation of human resources, especially in developing countries and basically, the loss of democracy for the 99% of us who don’t have lobbyists.”
The interest in the Occupy movement has also taken up a unique place amongst the professors at USF and some, like Accounting Professor Todd Sayre, would like to see more interaction between Occupy USF and Occupy San Francisco.
“I’ve spoken to some of the regulars at Occupy SF and they would love to have some fresh help from USF students. My hope would be that faculty do service learning for Occupy SF. For example, media studies could help them with a camper page, where all the campers could be introduced and their stories told,” he said.
While many political pundits claim the Occupy Movement has no impact largely due to its disorganization and lack of ‘real’ demands, in October alone, over 650,000 bank customers transferred their money to a credit union, a trend attributed to the Occupy Movement. Yet, the movement is slower than the radical changes the world witnessed throughout Arab Spring because the problems in the U.S., as Professor Valone describes, “are complex but it comes down to corporations controlling the government and the media, it creates vast inequality in our lives and society”.
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