Wash. U. community joins the Occupy movement
The Occupy Wall Street movement has come to St. Louis and members of the Washington University community are getting involved.
The movement originated in New York City last month as a protest of corporate greed and the nation’s current economic policies.
St. Louis residents have claimed Kiener Plaza, in downtown St. Louis at 7th Street and Market Street, as the center of their own Occupy movement. Locals have stationed themselves in the plaza since Oct. 1, with some members staying overnight in tents.
Last Friday, more than 500 people, including students, union leaders and other citizens, marched from Kiener Plaza to the Bank of America headquarters downtown.
Some students at the University have been closely following the progress of both the national and local Occupy movements. Senior Molly Gott has followed the protests since this summer, when she worked in the financial district of Manhattan and heard people discussing the effort.
Gott, who saw the media ignore stirrings of discontent for weeks, saw the parade on Friday as a sign of how much progress the movement has made.
“The original organizers had essentially no organizing experience,” Gott said. “They met on Facebook and met in person for the first time only a couple of nights before the first day of Occupy St. Louis. It’s incredible to see how a lot of people who have been involved with Occupy St. Louis have really stepped up and found power in having their opinions heard.”
Senior Arielle Klagsbrun echoed Gott’s sentiments.
“This started in all cities as a slow, haphazard group, but people committed to it and brought in the media attention,” Klagsbrun said. “If you’re able to have staying power, the media will come around and cover it.”
Others more distantly related to the University have taken active roles in the protests.
Former Adjunct lecturer at the University, Jerome Bauer, who now works with the American Federation of Teachers, has been down at Kiener Plaza every day.
Bauer has been involved with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment after nearly losing his home to foreclosure a few years ago. While Bauer does not believe that an immediate revolution is feasible, he emphasized the importance of long-term reform.
“I hope to see more people from Wash. U. and from St. Louis turn up to show the world that we can do this right, because it is very important to set an example for the generations to come,” Bauer said. “This is about the future and I think that change does take time. That is why I think it is worthwhile for people to come out and support this.”
Bauer praised the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s response to the protests, which he believes has been much more receptive and less aggressive than the New York and Boston police departments.
“We have all realized that it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the protest civil and nonviolent,” he said.
Various on-campus supporters of Occupy St. Louis have different priorities in backing the movement. While Gott and Bauer are concerned about unfair foreclosures, Klagsbrun worries about corporate America’s influence on environmental issues.
Gott and Klagsbrun agree that media criticism over the movement’s lack of a unified message misses the point of Occupy Wall Street.
“The media seems to be treating it as if there should have been a unified message from day one, where part of the importance of this movement is a commitment to the process of coming up with messages together and hearing all people’s voices before deciding on demands,” Gott said.
Chris Singer, a graduate student in the engineering school, agreed that the movement makes an important statement.
“The economic system we live within is the reason why we constantly have to fight these battles around environmental issues,” Singer said. “It is the root cause and Wall Street is the place to make that message clear.”
He emphasized the importance of the movement for future generations, specifically the generation currently enrolled in college that will be competing for jobs in the future.
“Students have a large vested interest in coming to Occupy St. Louis,” Singer said. “This is about shaping what the future of the U.S. and the world is about. This is incredibly unique in that there has been widespread, open outrage against the most harmful economic system in the entire world.”