[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.
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.
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.
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.