In the spirit of the “Occupy” protest movements sweeping cities across the world, College of William and Mary students, professors and Williamsburg community members gathered at the Crim Dell Amphitheater Nov. 3 in a rally to represent “the 99 percent.”
“The purpose is to highlight the different issues that affect ‘the 99 percent’ or the majority of people everyday,” Maggie Russolello ’12 said in a press release. “Issues such as economic inequality, tuition increases, poverty wages, student loan debt, attacks on reproductive justice, homophobia, religious intolerance, anti-immigrant legislation and racism will be addressed.”
The Occupy movement began in New York Sept. 17 when demonstrators gathered in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district to protest social and economic inequality. Their slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” refers to the Federal Reserve statistic that 1 percent of the U.S. population controls nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. Similar protests have popped up in cities as nearby as Richmond and as far away as London and Los Angeles.
Approximately 50 students gathered on campus to hear speakers from local religious organizations, campus labor groups and other students speak at the rally. After an hour of speeches, those assembled marched from campus through Colonial Williamsburg.
“It was originally organized through the Living Wage Coalition,” Living Wage Coalition organizer and media representative Derin Dacey ’15 said. “As we got into the message of it we realized we wanted to get a lot of groups involved. We started inviting other organizations to come and we invited speakers.”
The rally drew a diverse group, including members of the College Republicans and Living Wage Coalition. Students walking by stopped to listen to the speakers discussing a range of issues.
“I think it went well. I think we had a good turnout of students and community members,” Dacey said. “I am always hoping that we will grow more and more. I think we had more support than some of us thought, which was cool to see.”
College Republican members Lisa Iverson ’12 and James Joseph ’14 came to the rally after visiting New York a few weeks ago to guest star on Glenn Beck’s radio show and to witness the Occupy Wall Street movement for themselves.
“New York was interesting,” Iverson said. “I am here because I am interested in knowing what’s going on. The anti-patriotism sort of statements from one of the guys I heard up there bothers me deeply. I believe in American exceptionalism and to say that patriotism is wrong or that there is something bad about it is deeply troubling.”
Joseph said he disliked what he called the leftist, militarist rhetoric of many of the speakers, and also found fault with movement’s lack of focus.
“It doesn’t end well ever to blame economic inequality on the people that have against the people that do not have,” Joseph said. “I think the thing that I take issue with is that they are arguing for economic inequality and they have not actually put down a solution for how to achieve that equality, but historically the only way to achieve that is through government redistribution.”
Matt Caterine ’12 visited New York two weeks ago to participate in a National Day of Action Against Police Brutality march Oct. 15.
“I got a chance to see the movement there, and that really inspired me,” Caterine said. “You knew that all of these people were with you and standing with you. You look at pictures of the 60s and the march on D.C., I felt like I kind of understood that.”
Bobby Kogan ’12, who has not been to an Occupy protest but has attended protests in the past, said that these kinds of events attract a diverse group of people.
“You have a lot of people coming at this from completely different angles, so you even hear this in the language that people are speaking,” Kogan said. “You have communists, you have modern progressive speakers, that is something that is so strong about this movement.”
The rally opened dialogue between students from different backgrounds.
“I was just having a discussion with a much more conservative person than myself and he was saying, ‘why aren’t people concerned with world poverty,’ but why does it have to be that we can’t say that these are both bad?” Caterine said. “We need to remember when we do stuff like this that it is not just about the United States.”
Iverson said he felt the movement was interesting.
“I have been kind of interested in the Wall Street movement since its beginning,” he said. “I am just trying to figure out what the heck they are even talking about.”
Occupy DoG Street protests will continue on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Richmond and Jamestown roads.