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Campus News

Warren Wilson College Students Participate in Occupy New York and D.C. Movements Over Fall Break

by Nathan Gower, staff writer

Photos by Morgan Steele

Over fall break, 14 students participated in a trip to New York City, with a brief stop in Washington D.C., to partake in Occupy Wall Street.

The trip was organized entirely by students through several organizational meetings in the weeks leading up to fall break.

First year Nina Montgomery said, “I didn’t know much about the movement in New York, but I knew I had to go to New York City to see how the heart of the movement was enacted. I wanted to learn more about what people are talking about.”

Many of the students who made the trip saw it as a learning experience.

“What’s concrete about this movement is that it’s very much about the occupation, whereas marches in the past got diluted with peoples’ political identities and ideologies. Occupy movements are very much about the numbers and being out in the street,” senior Wesley Hufstader said.

“It helps bring other kinds of movements together. It’s not one issue being discussed. It’s various issues,” first year Jolene Bouffier furthered.

The trip began when first-year students Dominic DeRose and Karlyn Hunt created a Facebook group titled ‘Warren Wilson Occupies Wall Street.’ Overnight, the group saw a tremendous amount of activity, and from there the first organizational meeting was called.

Approximately 20 students were in attendance at the first meeting. They discussed what they would like to see, and it was decided that several subgroups would be created to handle particular logistics, like transportation, finances, and backup housing.

On the first Saturday morning of fall break, Oct. 15, students left campus, arriving in Washington D.C. well into the evening, where they would sleep overnight. The next day, they stayed until mid-afternoon to see activist Cornel West speak before departing for New Jersey. The students’ vehicles were parked there, and they made their way to Occupy Wall Street’s main campsite, arriving around 1:00 AM Monday morning.

Though the majority of reactions to the students’ experiences were positive, some still expressed concerns about the movement.

“People are compacted. It’s chaotic. People are walking around in a free-for-all. They don’t do things in a group outside general assembly. They think that’s the only way,” said DeRose.

“There are people that are just there for free food and a place to sleep. There’s a lot of squatting. Lots of people aren’t marching. That’s what they should be there for,” a frustrated DeRose emphasized.

Hufstader gave a different perspective on squatters.

“Overall, they’re part of the movement because they need a place to stay. They’re part of the people who are suffering from our economic and social conditions, so it gets very sticky if Occupations want to kick them out because they’re very much a victim of what [Occupy is] fighting against,” she said.

Despite these few criticisms, the majority opinion expressed by students on the trip was that it served as a tremendous learning experience, and many of those involved are considering ways of implementing their knowledge locally at Occupy Asheville.

Students involved with Occupy Asheville seemed both exhausted by the lack of progress being made in the local movement and were frustrated with the constant flux of the group.

“People are going to Occupy to protest local issues. It works to strengthen the community,” DeRose stressed.

“In Asheville, the location [of the protest and camp site] is changing almost daily. There’s a lot of instability. A lot of people don’t want to move every night. They get tired,” Montgomery said.

“Occupy movements are very much about the numbers and being out in the street.” Wesley Hufstader, student, senior, context is that some criticize Occupy for not having a clear and focused agenda, this was her response.

“The biggest problem is not having a stable site, so we can’t have a comfort crew or a food tent. The people there are hardcore. I don’t blame other people for not coming out,” DeRose added.

Montgomery added that there are some concerns for women particularly that have gone unreported.

“Some recently released prisoners who don’t have a home come and sleep at the Occupy sites. We welcome them, but it can make some women feel unsafe,” Montgomery said.

Alcoholics have also been alleged to have inhibited the growth of Occupy Asheville to the point that volunteers acting as safety personnel are now to be on duty at all times.

But not everyone on the New York trip has been involved with Occupy Asheville.

Bouffier has not been, in her words, “terribly involved with Occupy Asheville. I went [on the trip] because I wanted to know more. New York is the center. Being there brought that to light.”

“Compared to Asheville, it’s night and day. It’s a zoo [in New York]. You wake up to a camera in your face. There are people moving around all the time. It’s the most extreme place I’ve been in,” said Bouffier.

To this, Hufstader added, “it’s mostly tourists and media in your face. The hard thing about organizing there was that it was hard to find people in daytime because you had to weave around so many media and tourists.”

Students were not the only ones in attendance, as several faculty also decided to scope out the protests, with some more involved than others.

Professor of peace and justice studies Steve Norris was very supportive of the group, despite not being able to attend the trip in person.

Norris, a lifelong activist, offered support throughout the week to any students who may have been overwhelmed by such a mass gathering. He also attended several of the organizational meetings and led nonviolence workshops for the students. He has been involved with the Occupy Asheville movement.

Though in the city for other reasons, professor of philosophy Matt Whitt stopped by the Occupy Wall Street site for a few hours. Influenced by a blog post, Whitt donated several books to the Occupy Wall Street library.

Whitt, though not explicitly involved in the movement, does not deny an interest in the cause.

“As a political theorist and as a citizen, its fascinating. It’s attractive to [college-age students], similar to my experience of protests and demonstrations around the Iraq War and 9/11 when I was at that age,” Whitt said.

“I imagine I have sympathy for what a lot of people are there for. Above all, I’m interested in it on a practical level. Questions like ‘Should I do it,’ ‘What am I attracted to,’ and ‘Why,’” Whitt added.

Whitt shared one major expression of students in attendance: Occupy Wall Street serves as an outlet for conversation.

“Even if it dies tomorrow, it has already done a huge part. Protests in general are for the inspiration. We’re communicating over the Internet and not face to face. To see people out on the street together in mass is powerful,” Hufstader said.

A source who would prefer to remain unnamed added that, “Occupy organized people like religion and politics does, but in a way that’s hard to label and throw away.”

Some see the intentional lack of a focused policy change as a strength of the Occupy movement.

“In the past, activist movements about one particular topic got deals with the government to make them go away. With Occupy Wall Street being so broad, it’s going to be harder to make it go away,” Bouffier said.

“People from all walks of life have come to these things and learned from others how to do direct action and civil disobedience and what their rights are, so they know for the future how to spark a movement and how to make it physical,” Hufstader remarked.

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