The sprawl of tents around Los Angeles’ City Hall is a tumultuous scene that emits an odd smell of body odor and pine cones. Walking through the protest, there is a lot that catches the eye: Airbrush artists peddling revolutionary art, Native Americans blessing a newly-wed couple, and a slew of hammocks perched in the strangest of places. The confusion of the campsite and the vast variety of slogans and messages led me to a couple of questions: Who are these people, and do they matter to me?
The mix of protestors at the scene ranges from wandering freeloaders to lawyers and professors who are sick of the status quo; all camping out under the banner of the “99%”, a label that throws protestors from very different walks of life together. After investigating the scene myself, I realized that the overshadowed rational thinkers of the Occupy movement deserve a great deal more attention than we’ve been giving them. While the campground at Occupy LA is an excitingly quirky one, it’s not hard to see that a number of people are either complaining, or taking advantage of free camping. I found that at the heart of the movement, however, are informed and hopeful people who really want to change the way the American Government operates, and those people need our help.
Slowly declining morals within our government and our economy affect every one of us, in some form or another. It is a problem that the “Occupy” movement aims to address, not through erratic complaints and shoddy cardboard signs, but instead through raising awareness. The people who make up the driving force behind the protests are trying to reach interested and politically active students and convince them that the wrongdoing that slips past the American public does not have to continue hurting our government and our economy. We all know that CMC’ers are very well-informed and have a certain penchant for political discussion, so why is it that students like us are missing from the movement? The fact is there are protestors with concrete and legitimate motives who need our help, and we should not be deterred by the crackpot image that some media sources purvey.
HyperVocal published an article on the Occupy protests investigating exactly who the protestors were. Regarding the media reaction to the protestors, it stated: “They’ve been labeled hippies, lefties, unpatriotic bums, STD spreaders, and angry, unemployed college grads. Those stereotypes are meant to brush off the seriousness of the protests.” A study conducted by business intelligence analyst Harrison Schultz and Professor Hector R. Cordero-Guzman from Baruch College, however, has shown that 70% of Occupy protestors identify themselves as Independents, 47% of them hold full time jobs, and 61% of them attended college. The movement then is not a strictly left-winged one, and while half of the protestors are unemployed, there are plenty of educated individuals supporting the cause. Students like us should not be deterred from participating because we think the movement is an extremist one, when in fact, it is not.
I spoke to one protestor who said, “People need to just see what we’re about. People need to put down their cell phones and open their eyes.” The man in question refused to disclose his name, but said he had been hitchhiking for 3 months before camping at Occupy LA for the past three weeks. According to this man, the movement does not need another diluted message or more people with cardboard signs – it needs numbers. That way, cynics and supporters alike, will realize that something needs to change. The movement needs more bodies to gain momentum, but where will they come from?
Emily, a student at the University of Southern California, was sitting in a drum circle wearing a red and gold Trojans sweater. She’d come to the protests with a friend, but said that it would be impractical for her to try and spend the night. According to Emily and a few protestors who served as staff at the University of Southern California, action is not being taken on behalf of the school as a whole to participate in the protests. While it is rumored that some buses of students had been organized to travel to the protests together, none of the occupants said they’d seen them or any other schools represented in great numbers. According to the same study by Professor Cordero-Guzman and Mr. Schultz, 45% of protestors are from the ages of 25 to 44, and 32% are over the age of 45. People under the age of 25, including college students, are the least represented demographic.
With the amalgam of messages of the Occupy movement and its negative portrayal by some major news sources, it is not hard to understand why intelligent people are shying away from camping out at City Hall. It takes a trip to the protests, however, to see that there are a number of people at the protests with defined goals and legitimate complaints, who simply lack the power to advance them. The problem is that college students – especially CMCers who have the potential to make a lot of noise – are not seeing that the Occupy movement is not only to placate people who want their tuition paid for or their homes returned, but also to encourage people who see a problem to go out and fix it. So my suggestion is, go. Even if you don’t have anything to say, go. Go with an open mind and try to understand what these people are all about, and even if you don’t agree, at least you will have learned something.