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’Deis joins Wall Street protests

Published: October 7, 2011
Section: Featured, News


Nestled within Boston’s financial district is Dewey Square, a small plot of land now covered with tents—and, recently, with protesters.

“Occupy Boston” is a protest meant to call attention to the unmet needs of the “bottom 99 percent” of Americans. It is modeled as part of the nascent Occupy Wall Street, the protest movement that formed July 13, and has since swept through Liberty Square in New York, resulting in hundreds of arrests and the formation of many similar protests nation-wide. These protests are inspired by, among others, the Arab Spring and economic protests around Europe, which have taken issue with harsh austerity measures.

A handful of Brandeis students who have participated in Occupy Wall Street are now making their presence known at Occupy Boston. Monday night, 15 Brandeis students met in the peace room at Usdan to discuss their past experiences at Occupy Boston and to organize a plan to spend the night at Dewey Square Wednesday.

Among the students were Noam Lekach ’14, who had spent the summer camping at tent protests in Israel; Matt Gabrenya ’13 and Sari Ladin ’12, who expressed interest in forming a Brandeis student walkout next month to show solidarity with protests around the world.

“I have never experienced being part of a self-made government,” said Gabrenya. “It’s really nerve-wracking because this has the potential to become something America hasn’t seen in a long time.”

Occupy Boston and other protests around the country are organized in a General Assembly-style government. There is no leader and decisions are reached through a dialogue among participants. There is a tremendous amount of student participation in Occupy Boston, stemming from resentment due to high tuition and health care costs, and the difficulty students have finding employment following graduation.

Each day at Dewey Square, there is a General Assembly meeting at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. The campsite attracts curious strangers and stares from passing traffic. Students at colleges and universities around Boston spend time protesting before and after class, and professionals stop by before and after shifts of work.

In addition to the presence of protesters, police officers are stationed around the square at all hours of the day. There have been few incidents between police officers and protesters, however, on Oct. 1, 24 protesters were arrested outside of a Bank of America for trespassing in a sit-down protest. On Wednesday, Northeastern University led a student walkout to Dewey Square. The walkout resulted in a standoff with police, when students blocked traffic on Atlantic Avenue. After briefly negotiating, students finally pulled back to Dewey Square.

Unlike Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street has resulted in hundreds of arrests. Liza Behrendt ’11 was among 700 protesters arrested Oct. 3 for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. “I have been periodically attending the Wall Street demonstrations since they started on Sept. 17,” Behrendt said. “I started going because it seemed like a great way to show solidarity with protests across the Middle East and Europe, but now the Wall Street occupation is blooming into something all its own. It appeals to a broad range of people and has the potential to affect public discourse around global capitalism.”

Behrendt continued to explain how “corporations gain power through global and nation-wide exploitation without being held accountable by the government.”

The campsite at Occupy Boston appears disorganized from afar, but up close there are neat rows of tents separated by lanes of plywood, providing paths for protesters on rain-soaked grounds. There is an information table at the entrance to Dewey Square, providing passersby with contact information for local support groups and pamphlets encouraging young people to take up the fight for socialism.

Within the campsite there is a media relations tent, a legal tent and a medical tent. The protesters have access to WiFi and are provided with food, medical supplies and clean clothing daily by donations from neighboring businesses and friendly strangers.

Many of the young people protesting have dropped out of local colleges after running out of financial aid and scholarship money. They protest each day to challenge the status quo of the United States’ economic system.

“Occupy Boston is less about finding an immediate consensus, and more about facilitating dialogue. We are trying to turn anger into activism,” said Michael Flowers, a former Indiana University student who was forced to drop out due to high tuition costs.

While Occupy Boston has a tremendous amount of support, it lacks structure, principles and a solid agenda. Brandeis students planning to attend the protest realized at their meeting that they did not know exactly for which demands they were about to protest. In addition, protesters at Dewey Square spoke critically about what the skyscrapers and Federal Reserve building surrounding them represented, while simultaneously accepting donations of food and clothing from the same buildings. Flowers, who spoke of the importance of dialogue, recognized how challenging it is to synthesize ideas without a group leader. “It is a very long process,” he said. “Nobody knows what the occupy movements will achieve.”

The common theme among activists is dissatisfaction; however, there are so many causes for this feeling that it is proving difficult to organize a set of principles for and a proposed solution to these grievances.

Many protesters are finding an overwhelming sense of support from the local, national and international communities in their occupation efforts. Occupy Boston is currently supported by 130 Boston-based unions and there are 109 occupations being planned around the world.