Holy crap. This Occupy movement is wild.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
“I’m a student of [university]!”
“I’m studying political science!”
“And I am $30,000 in debt!”
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]