Occupy EVERYTHING (Except My Lawn) Part 2

[Continued from PART 1]

Although I am not riddled with debt (yet), it would be ignorant to say that I had no right to be a part of the protest. That’s like saying a caucasian individual has no right advocating the rights of minorities. A right is a right is a right. I have not (yet) been personally affected by student loan debt from high tuition, but that does not mean I can’t think it’s rather deplorable.

That was part of why I joined the protest march. (The other part was because of my curiosity. As I had said in “Part 1, it’s one thing to see a protest on a TV screen; it’s another thing entirely to be in it.)

So we continue our story…

When the speakers had finished their speech-making (with the row of riot police intimidatingly behind us), we continued our noisy, unorganized march. You could already feel it falling apart. We came to an intersection, but everyone stopped. I was semi-close to the front, but I couldn’t see why we had stopped. Why couldn’t we just cross the street? The “walk” sign was on.

Police in all black uniforms are intimidating

People were then pointing to the left. “Go left! Go! Left!” They waved their arms like airplane runway guides to the left. Why to the left? Well, for the past two months, the park located a block “to the left” was occupied by Occupiers. The Occupy movement in this city had set up their camp in a park downtown. Only a few days ago, they were forced out by police. So this is where we (not I) wanted to go.

We turned left.

The police had to re-situate themselves to accommodate the route change. The bicycle police quickly crossed to the other side of us.

“Into the street! Into the street!” People chanted. They wanted march through the street. But the police was NOT going to have that and I agree with them. Marching into the street was dangerous for us and for people around us. It would be too unruly. The police already had to put up with street marching with the ex-Occupiers. It was just too dangerous. What was wrong with marching on the sidewalk anyway? I’m all for rebelling for a cause, but like yo mama and my mama say “safety first.”

When the head of the march tried to walk into the street, the bicycle police quickly lined up, creating a barricade with their bicycles. Chaos ensued. People pushed against the police, shouting “Let us into the street!” People whipped out their phones and cameras, trying to capture evidence of some potential police brutality.

I backed away quickly, not wanting to get swallowed up in the madness. I did not want to get caught in the crossfire.

“Shame on you! Shame on you!” They chanted at the police.

People with their heads screwed on relatively tight held up their hands in peace signs, crying “Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!” Why couldn’t the crowd just back off? The riot police were helping the bicycle police, pushing people back off the street.

After several minutes of this senselessness, some people re-started the march. “Keep going!”

So we resumed walking toward the previously Occupied park.

Then we stopped again. I couldn’t see exactly – I had to peek through gaps between peoples’ arms and torsos, over heads, under armpits, etc. Curse my vertically challenged body. Something – someone – was lying on the ground in the street. Police were picking him up.

“Shawn! Shawn! Shawn! Shawn!”

I’m guessing his name was Shawn. (A look at the news later revealed that the guy’s name was in fact Shawn and he was the only protester arrested. Not bad).

The march had come to a standstill yet again. This time, I couldn’t back up easily. I was against a wall. I wanted to see what was happening so badly, but I didn’t want to involve myself in an accident. Fortunately, an acquaintance tapped me on the shoulder and I followed him out through the crowd immediately. We walked the opposite direction of the protestors. We did not want to get tangled up in that mess.

The cause was important for us, but we didn’t want to end up in a jail cell – or worse, a hospital bed – because of it. So we took a circuitous route to the march’s destination. Several minutes later, the protesters arrived, still hundreds of people strong.

The first general assembly of students

They gathered in the campus plaza and the “first general assembly” began. It was quite a sight. I held a hot chai in my hands (it was friggin’ cold that day and none too dry) and watched the assembly unfold. A speaker came up.

“Mic check!… Mic check!… Mic check!…”

This speaker had graduated this past summer and he was still jobless. According to him, he was a victim of prejudice and his degree seemed worthless. He pulled out a copy of his diploma and held it up for all to see.

Meanwhile, a man walked around, carrying a white sign with teal letters: THIS POINTLESS PROTEST IS COSTING ME TAX DOLLARS. Needless to say, he was given many glares and insulting shout-outs.

Back to the speaker – he held up his diploma and continued shouting about his debt and the exorbitant amount of money he spent to get his degree and diploma. He then pulled out a lighter and burned it. This display was followed by rampant cheers and shouts. People lined up to take pictures of the sight, like paparazzi along the red carpet.

Gather around and listen to our voice

At this point, I left. Hey, it’s a good cause, but I still had to go to class afterward. I couldn’t stay for the whole assembly. According to news articles the next day, the assembly had dwindled from hundreds to dozens. Hopefully, something good will actually come from this. Student unity and solidarity is nice and all, but it doesn’t do jack by itself. Some productive action needs to be taken. The protest is a good start. The issues are now really out there for all to see. In the coming months, with the meeting of the state legislature set in February, let’s fight for change and make the legislature listen to us.

We have a voice and I’ll be damned if we don’t exercise it.

What do you think of student protests? How about tuition costs and high student loan interest rates? What’s your opinion of the Occupy Movement in general?

Have you taken part in Occupy? Or any protest in general? Share your story in the comments.

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Occupy EVERYTHING (Except My Lawn) Part 1

“Mic check!”

“Mic check!”

“Mic check!”

Holy crap. This Occupy movement is wild.

Occupy the University

Today, students  coordinated a mass walkout at noon on my campus. Walk out of class to protest exorbitant tuition rates and an uncooperative administration. “Students are part of the 99%!” For those who didn’t want to or couldn’t walk out of class, green (one of our school colors) sashes were distributed. Wearing them symbolizes your participation in the solidarity movement.

“Show me what democracy sounds like!” Someone shouts.

“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY SOUNDS LIKE!” Everyone shouts back.

The energy was enormous. I walked out of class (after class was over) – I had neither the gonads nor the desire to skip class. I walked to the park blocks where the student unit was assembled. Someone was yelling through a bull horn. I could barely make out the words from where I was. The weather had decided to finally rain down on us after days of abstaining. No one cared. It was going to take a lot more than a bit of precipitation to break this group up.

Students held up signs: “Fund $chools, not Prisons,” “Shame on U,” “We are the 99%,” “Stand Up for Your Right for Affordable Education.”

Every so often, the crowd cheered, whooped and shouted with vigor. It was a mob, but it was a peaceful – or at least they strove to be peaceful, but we’ll get to that in a second.

The leaders got off the podium and began the march through campus. The chanting started immediately, you could feel the vibration from their collective voices. You knew a lot of students wouldn’t be able to talk tomorrow; their throats would be so sore. 

Occupy the university It was unreal for the reason that it was so real. That probably makes little sense, but that’s what it felt like. It’s one thing to see people protesting from a distance or on the news or YouTube. It’s another thing entirely to actually be in it. I was part of the solidarity movement. I was chanting here and there, whenever I felt like joining in. We stopped traffic. People were getting out of their cars and honking and complaining to the police standing by.

Ah, the police.

Bicycle Police

Police look kind of cool on motorcycles

We should give them a hand, a round of applause for being as patient and cooperative as they were being. Bicycle police lined the sidewalks beside us, making sure we didn’t leak into the streets. Cops on motorcycles were lined up on one street and then followed us in intervals. Really, the police here get a lot more flack than they should get.

“Banks got bailed out!”

“We got sold out!”

It was absolutely crazy, but phenomenal. Walking down the sidewalks, watching the police and the passerby and the people looking down at us from their cubicles – it was crazy. Just crazy. Shouting, drum cadences, bongos, and “Viva la Revolucion” yells were everywhere.

We stopped in front of a bankruptcy court and crowded near.

“Mic check!” Started the first person.

“Mic check!” Echoed the first tier.

“Mic check!” Echoed the second tier.

Making a statement I had heard of this method of communication, consecutive shouting toward the back of the crowd so that everyone can hear. I had read about it, but this was the first time I had seen the process in action. To say the least, it was really neat. The riot police standing behind us across the street made me uneasy.

Was this going to get violent? The students claimed it was a peaceful protest and held up their fingers in “V” shapes for peace. The riot police in their black get-ups and helmets with their hands crossed one over the other in front of them was an intimidating sight. I glanced nervously between them and the action up front.

People stood at the front of the crowd one by one, stating their name, their field of study, and how much money that owed in student loans. They then decried the injustices of corporate bail outs, the ridiculousness of sky high tuition, and the lack of financial aid available.

“My name’s Tracy!”

Echo. Echo.

“I’m a student of [university]!”

Echo. Echo.

“I’m studying political science!”

Echo. Echo.

“And I am $30,000 in debt!”

Echo. Echo.

Fund Schools, Not Prisons

The average student graduates with $27,000 in debt. Did you know that? I hadn’t previously known that. I am only in my first year of college and this value scares me. However, I am fortunate. My grandfather started a 529 account for me when I was 4 years old. Over the years, the account has grown to an amount that, if I use it wisely, should help me pay for my 4-year degree with little to no debt. I am fortunate and I am grateful. Although I am not in debt, I support my fellow students. I support their cause, if not all their tactics. The economy sucks. That’s not a national secret. The economy is the worst it’s been in years. Unemployment in my state fluctuates between 9% and 11%.

Something has to be done.

 

[END OF PART 1]

Transportation Tuesday: It’s Not Like It’s Illegal

Scene: Morning bus. Stopped at a transit station.

Players: NOVEMBER, SECURITY OFFICER, METH HEAD

Ready… and action.

SECURITY OFFICER: Bus fare! Everyone, get out your bus fare!

[Everyone scrambles for their wallets and lanyards.]

SECURITY OFFICER: Show me your bus fare please. Show me your bus fare please. Bus fare please. Bus fare… [People fumble around]

ME: [Of course, my wallet decides to magically envelope itself in my pocket.]

SECURITY OFFICER: Bus fare please.

ME: [Fumble. Twist. Pull. Push. Pull again. There we go- oh, no, pull to the left. Ok, there we go.]

[Note: When under pressure, time seems to stretch like Joan River’s botoxed face.]

SECURITY OFFICER: Bus fare, sir?

NOVEMBER: [Pulls out bus pass]

SECURITY OFFICER: [Squinting] That’s expired.

NOVEMBER: [“Duh” expression] No, it expires the end of November. [Lifts pass higher, as if the officer were bat blind]

SECURITY OFFICER: No, that expired November of last year, sir.

NOVEMBER: Huh? [Pulls pass back, scrutinizes it incomprehensibly. He looks like he’s tasting gym sock hors d’oeuvres.]

SECURITY OFFICER: I’ll have to ask you to get off the bus please.

NOVEMBER: [Walk of shame]

METH HEAD: [Mutters as SECURITY OFFICER leaves] [bleep]ing Nazis. They’re all [bleep]ing Nazis. God damn. [bleep] [bleepity bleep] What [bleep] .

[Maybe we should add another “bleep” for good measure.]

[The bus is now in motion again.]

METH HEAD: [Picks up cell phone. Doesn’t bother keeping his voice down.] Yeah, hey, what is up, man? Yeah these bus cops are [bleep]ing Nazis, man. I swear. It’s [bleep]ing ridiculous. Yeah? Oh [bleep], man. How much meth you take?

[Everyone around him is visibly uncomfortable. Avoiding eye contact at all costs.]

METH HEAD: 120 mg? I take 80 and I still get [bleep]ing high. I’m high everyday. I got the good stuff. I built up an “ee-mew-nity,” I take so much. The meth gets me so [bleep]ing high.

ME: [Dum-de-dum-de-dum, reading a book and minding my own business]

METH HEAD: [bleep] We got to get together. I got the really good stuff, man. Yeah. [bleep] Ah, hell yeah. No [bleep]ing way! [bleep] No [bleep] . Yeah. Yeah. Uh-huh. A’ight. I’ll see you in like an hour, man.

Amy Winehouse, rest in peace

Do not insert joke of poor taste here

Moral of the story: Just say “no.”

Or if you say “yes,” be quiet about it.

And get your bus fare ready. People have places to go.