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Students stand united with concerned citizens

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: Features


Starting on Sept. 17 and continuing on even through today, American citizens from across the nation, have flooded into the financial district in Lower Manhattan to participate in a somewhat mysterious event titled Occupy Wall Street.

This protest—modeled after past demonstrations in global cities, such as Cairo, Barcelona and Athens—sought to unite the American public and transcend partisan lines, to promote the importance of a universal interest in the creation of a truly democratic and representative government in The United States. Event organizers explained that “we are not limiting ourselves by affiliating with a specific movement. We comprise elements of many ‘progressive’ social movements: the environmental movement, education reform, the food movement, the campaign finance reform movement, the fair-labor movement, and the anti-globalization movement. We believe these movements are all intricately connected, and we are now acting on that belief.”

The event has been facilitated by a group titled the “General Assembly,” an organization which serves as a forum to unite Americans physically based on common ideals and investment in the American public. The group is governed directly and democratically and is dedicated to open membership- and consensus-based organization.

Literature distributed by event organizers explained that they were motivated to organize the event, based upon a collective belief “that our government has been co-opted by moneyed interests.” They go on to explain that the organization denounces “the way big businesses and banks dominate the political and economic sphere.” Ultimately, they “demand” the creation of a “government by the people and for the people, not in the interests of corporate America and the richest 1%.”

Organizers of the protest explain the importance of the format of the “The protesters in Liberty Plaza are a heterogeneous, ambiguous group, as they were in the Cairo, Barcelona and Athens protests of 2011. Why? Because collectively we represent no political party or organization—we only share a common set of ideals.”

A group of Brandeis students organized an effort to make the trek to New York City—the site of Occupy Wall Street—to assist in efforts and to join the movement. One of these students—Shea Riester ’13—traveled to New York before the protest, to dumpster-dive for food to support protesters and prepare for the demonstration.

He described that as a participant in the protest, he was part of a “2,000 human-strong march down Wall Street, where we chanted ‘Show me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like!’” Riester explained, “It was the most democratic thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a myth that we have true democracy in the United States—we’ve never experienced it.”

Participants in Occupy Wall Street spanned all varieties, a General Assembly Facebook event for one of the day’s demonstrations announced: “We are calling for public artists of all varieties to join us—if you can make it or create it in a public space, then we want you there. We have many activities including spoken word, drum circles, performance pieces, and participatory art planned so far, but all are welcome.”

This involvement of all types of people was fostered due to the universality of the event’s message. Riester explained in an interview, “Democrat, republican, independent—it doesn’t matter what your party is, the truth is the same: The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the education and social welfare programs that benefit 99% of Americans are being cut in the name of austerity. We’re supposed to be ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ but we’re simply not anymore.”

Riester was inspired to participate in the rally by a belief that “the people who are supposed to represent the common interest are primarily elected by money, and secondarily elected by citizens. That means that they will primarily represent the moneyed, corporate interests, and secondarily represent the citizens of the United States.” Riester believes that “we have to wake up to the reality of this country!” and his participation in Occupy Wall Street was his way of doing, just that.

Occupy Wall Street is a demonstration that is still going strong, with demonstrations in solidarity cropping up all over the country—including in Boston. Event organizers have made it clear that the movement is nowhere near over. They have commented: “We’re still here. We are growing. We intend to stay until we see movements toward real change in our country and the world.”