Occupy events spread to the Hill
More than 50 students and faculty members gathered in the Diamond Building Atrium on Tuesday, Oct. 25, to engage in open discussions about wealth and socio-economic status nationwide and on campus as part of the “Occupy Colby” event.
Participants set the agenda for the afternoon using an “Open Space” technique that draws on anarchist and grass-roots democracy methods and is being used to foster conversation within Occupy movements across the country. “It only took a couple of minutes to set up the ground rules,” Grant Patch ’12 said, “and then magic happened.”
Seven different topics were spontaneously proposed for small-group discussions including “socio-economic class at Colby” and “what makes Occupy Wall Street different?” One group had a conversation centered on “fear” and another debated “peaceful resistance versus collective physical action.” Participants chose which conversation they wanted to be a part of and, according to the “two feet” rule, were free to get up and move between groups at any time.
“I was surprised that the Occupy format of discussion—completely by consensus with no true leader—really worked,” Hannah DeAngelis ’12 said. “I had never attended an event at Colby where I felt like every person there was on the same level. There was no one in charge, no deciding voice, no hierarchies between professors and students. It was exciting to understand what it means to embody what you are fighting for—equal access to power.”
Students’ and faculty members’ interest in creating a democratized space in which anyone can meet to engage in open critical discussion of issues of socio-economic inequality drove the event. “At its core, the movement can be defined as a sudden outburst of candid conversation about current social issues. It is really all about discussion,” Gordon Fischer ’13 said.
“As a political economist, I don’t agree with everything that’s being said at Occupy Wall Street, but this effort to raise issues that have been off the table in national discourse for so long is very important,” Associate Professor of Government Walter Hatch said. “This event was as much an expression of curiosity as it was a protest. We’re voicing dissent about the quality of discussion and dialogue at Colby.” “It isn’t just about the economy,” Patch echoed. “It’s an umbrella for dissent. It’s an opportunity to step back and actually think critically about the things you believe in.”
While there are many politically-minded groups on campus, none seemed to have been engaging in the kinds of open, critical community-wide discussions that were happening nationally through the Occupy Wall Street movement. “I was surprised that, apart from the small individual conversations a select few were having with each other [at the College], it was as if the events unfolding in this country did not exist on campus,” Renzo Moyano ’14 said.
However, students responded with great spontaneity and a willingness to engage in conversation after just three posts on the Civil Discourse and two days notice before the gathering on Oct. 25. “People have been waiting to have these conversations for a long time,” Assistant Professor of German Cyrus Shahan said. They were just afraid that they were the only ones or they didn’t know how to start it.”
DeAngelis agreed, “I attended the event because I was struggling to articulate to my friends why this movement means so much to me.” The outpouring of positive feedback on the Civil Discourse following the event was a testament to students’ desire to increase visibility of these socio-economic issues in a variety of projects and forums on campus.
“It was refreshing to see students and professors talking about issues in an open and motivated discussion,” Susie Hufstader ’12 said. “I’m optimistic about a movement that will change the way Colby students talk and think about wealth. This is an opportunity for us to address issues of class.”
“It’s important to realize that even though Colby is a private institution, we’re still a part of this national economic structure and we’re entitled to talk about it,” Patch said.
“The issues raised in the Occupy Movement are global issues that everyone must be concerned with,” Fischer said. “Everyone is part of this movement whether they realize it or not, and it is your willingness to contribute to the collective effort toward social change that qualifies you as a spokesperson for the movement. Everyone has a voice.”
Shahan emphasized the power of the decentralized nature of the Occupy movement and the importance of the opportunities for open discussion that it encourages. “I don’t fully know what Occupy Wall Street is really about, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “Its strength lies in the fact that it lets oppositional voices speak and that it can’t be pigeonholed as one person’s interest or belief.”
Occupy Colby is leaderless and creative. Its aim is to foster dialogue and assert the College community’s claim over a space that could stand a little more human presence and healthy dissent. “We’re constantly being taught to interact with our environment within a structure; but once you get out of that structure, that’s when you really discover things,” Patch said. “The plan is just to keep making our voices heard. We don’t have a detailed plan or goal, but we have people rallying with us. If people have ideas, we want to hear them.”