Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Blacksburg Edition

When I merely saw the headline, I got excited. Though the fervor is obviously not as strong here as it is in New York, Boston, Seattle, and various other places in the country/world, I honestly didn't think it would reach to my little corner of this planet. I'm glad I was wrong.

For the second time in less than a week, Blacksburg was occupied.

Occupy Blacksburg held a protest Saturday, Oct. 15, to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Waving signs and carrying banners, members of the community gathered in front of The Cellar Restaurant and listened to speakers before they marched through downtown Blacksburg.

The Occupy Virginia Tech group held a similar protest at the War Memorial Pylons last Thursday.

While that protest was populated predominately by students, Saturday’s saw a more diverse crowd.

“Occupy Virginia Tech was mainly students where people came out for job security and student debt,” said Kyle Gardiner, a senior political science major. “Occupy Blacksburg had a much larger age variety and reflected more general concerns about a government that is no longer serving the people.”

Gardiner spoke at Occupy Blacksburg but did not at the Tech protest. He said he didn’t feel comfortable protesting amid the memorials to American soldiers, since Occupy Virginia Tech was held near the War Memorial Chapel. 

Protestors at Occupy Blacksburg offered many different reasons for why they came out Saturday and gave their opinions about the movement’s purpose.

“It’s about the 99 percent that don’t control all the wealth in the country standing up and taking back what is theirs,” said Abby Hays, a junior political science major.

Others said they were dissatisfied with the state of the job market in the U.S.

“I know people here are concerned with the fact that there are no jobs for them after college, and they are burdened with a lot of debt,” said Robert Fentress, the senior instructional designer and developer for the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning at Tech. 

“(It’s a) similar thing for the staff, as their salaries haven’t increased, while some people at the top of the university are making a lot of money.”

Margaret Breslau, one of the organizers of Occupy Blacksburg, said Wall Street hasn’t felt the same economic woes that have afflicted the rest of the population.

“Wages have been falling in this country, and yet the top 1 percent had the highest profits ever even in this time of crisis and economic downturn,” Breslau said. “They’re still getting a profit while wages are falling, people can’t find jobs and student loans are spiraling out of control.”

A common stance among occupiers at the protest was that the government’s affiliation with corporations has resulted in political inequality.

Travis Merritt, a graduate student studying physics, said wealth often equates in large amounts of political leverage, and he wants to see the government work more for the 99 percent, rather than the rich 1 percent.

“People are saying that it is a socialist movement, but it is wholly democratic, trying to get back to the one person, one vote,” Merritt said. “People are going to Wall Street because that is where they are seeing most of the influence.”

With so many beliefs expressed in one place, some bystanders questioned the effectiveness of having a protest without much direction.

Will Stacy, a Tech alumnus, said despite a lack of direction, protesting is an effective measure in showing leaders people’s will.

“How do we begin to put pressure on our government to create policies that limit the effect of large corporations on our policy decisions?” Stacy said. “I don’t understand any other way, other than voting, which doesn’t seem to be working. We’re here mainly to start that pressure.”

Breslau said the Occupy movement is spreading as more people connect with what it stands for.

“The fact that it happened in New York was just one example of something that everyone across the country and the world has been really wanting,” Breslau said.

Saturday’s protest was held in conjunction with protests not only in cities across the country, but also across the globe. From Brussels to Berlin and Taipei to Tokyo, protesters came out Saturday to voice their concerns on wealth disparity and others.

Reaction to the protest was mixed. Cars driving by gave out honks of support, while at least one driver flipped off the protestors as he passed.

“This is just the first of many opportunities for people to speak out, to be heard and to continue the solidarity,” Breslau said.

Collegiate Times

No comments:

Post a Comment