If you passed by the Main Green yesterday around noon you probably noticed a large circle of people gathered on the grass. Over 75 students, faculty and local residents all came out in solidarity with College Student Walk Out Day, in which students across the country skipped class to gather in public places at 12 pm. The stated purpose of the gathering was to discuss future plans for a growing offshoot of Occupy Wall Street called Occupy Providence. The conversation started out with discussion on the Occupy Wall Street protests and later shifted to a debate on whether or not the Brown community should join forces with Occupy Providence. There was also the option of creating separate Occupy Brown or Occupy College Hill organizations. Another gathering was held at 2 pm on campus.
The Occupy Wall Street movement in New York has gained lots of media attention recently for the large quantities of people camping out in the Financial District and the arrests of 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday October 1. The simple mantra “I am the 99%” has become something of a meme in the Internet world. The cry emphasizes that bankers and other power brokers occupy the top 1% of the economic bracket, while the rest of “us” occupy the other 99%.
The goals and aspirations of the group are deliberately ambiguous, and having no clear message is part of what makes the movement so intriguing. The protest is certainly not limited to Wall Street greed—other underlying aspirations of the collective range from animal rights to healthcare, tax reform, human rights, civil rights, gay rights, anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism and education. The most prominent focus that has emerged, however, is the push for economic justice and equality.
At the gathering on the Main Green today, a Brown student spoke up and claimed that in America, we like to make the claim that “freedom” means free market, but that this was not true. Freedom, she argued, means democracy which means economic, social and political equality for all. Copies of the Occupy Wall Street Journal were passed around as well as a sign up list for e-mail alerts. Another student initiated a chant: “When I say Occupy, you say Providence – Occupy! Providence! Occupy! Providence! When I say Occupy, you say Brown – Occupy! Brown! Occupy! Brown!” Organizers from Occupy Providence invited everyone to attend their nightly meeting at 5 pm in Burnside Park, where they’ve been meeting for the past five nights.
At the meeting in Burnside Park tonight, organizers laid out the general rules of debate, including an elaborate democratic voting process. Speakers could stand up on the statue of General Burnside and voice their opinions on issues they felt were particularly important. Some people talked about Occupy movements in other cities; others talked about the significance of having the meeting in Burnside, a park known around Providence for its large homeless population. One man said he was waiting for his bus at Kennedy Plaza when the large group of people attracted his attention. He stood up and applauded the group’s calls for equality. Comparisons to the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King were made, and one woman led a moving call-and-response style spiritual. It also happened to be her birthday. “This is exactly what democracy looks like,” said Michael McCarthy, a local student and artist and a volunteer organizer with Occupy Providence. “My personal belief is the biggest problem right now is a problem with economic justice,” he continued. The official occupation of Burnside Park begins October 15. Organizers plan on camping out and having people protest in the park at all times.
The movement is undoubtedly alluring to the many left-minded thinkers on campus, but defining it in terms of political rightness or leftness does not encapsulate its true spirit. In light of the Arab Spring, protests in Spain and Greece and riots in London, the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Providence movements appear to embody a general dissatisfaction with the current world order. Like the organizers of Occupy Wall Street, organizers in Providence are extensively using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to spread their message, information, and recruit new people.
People across the nation are saying some crazy things about Occupy Wall Street, but the question that remains is whether or not we are witnessing the beginning of something much bigger than we realize. Are we witnessing the onset of a paradigm shift in the modern global community or just another bunch of pesky protesters? There will be another Occupy Providence/Brown on the Main Green today at 12 pm and Occupy Providence meets daily at 5 pm in Burnside Park.