Occupy Wall Street wave hits Tri-Cities, Walla Walla
October 20, 2011
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Whitman students stood alongside other Washington residents to express their dissatisfaction with the current political and economic climate in the United States at the Occupy Tri-Cities and Occupy Walla Walla general assemblies on Oct. 14 and 15. The movements, which have grown out of the leaderless Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City, aim to serve as a forum for free expression and democratic decision-making among citizens.
Occupy Tri-Cities’ general assembly took place in Richland’s John Dam Plaza and followed the model of public discussions taking place on Wall Street. Participants took turns expressing their frustrations and ideas aloud. Afterwards, the assembly participants spread out along the sidewalk, carrying signs adorned with slogans such as “We Are the 99 percent.”
“What brings us here is the lack of accountability in America, the growing inequality and the corporate domination of government,” said Mark Mansperger, clinical assistant professor of anthropology at Washington State University.
“There’s been a real awakening to what we’re asking for,” said Jason Caryl, the facilitator of the event. “We’re not a bunch of hippie leftist takers. We are people who are involved in our communities, people who are educated, people who have careers, and we are all affected by the same things.”
Caryl, a Richland resident, was laid off from his position as a sheet metal worker in December 2010. Others at the assembly reported their frustration in dealing with unemployment as well as concern about the larger economic picture.
“I think that there’s a collective frustration with the financial system . . . We’re not in charge of our destiny. I think people feel like they’re being told how it’s going to be,” said Richland resident David Willis.
Representatives from labor unions turned out in force, including members of the local teachers’ association and the Teamsters union.
“This is not a union gathering,” explained preschool teacher and Teamster member Tina Urban. “It’s not a left or a right [movement]. The middle class is deteriorating and going away.”
“It started on Wall Street [but] we’re seeing it everywhere. We can’t just let other workers and other unions take action without doing something locally to bring awareness to everybody,” said union representative Tony Flores.
Junior Robby Seager was one of the Whitman students present at the Tri-Cities general assembly and also the facilitator of Occupy Walla Walla.
“I really enjoyed [Occupy Tri-Cities]. I think I learned a few things from the general assembly in terms of how to facilitate the group and how important it is to reflect the goals of the movement within every meeting,” said Seager.
Walla Walla’s first general assembly occurred on Oct. 16, when community members gathered to meet other participants in the movement and share their own ideas for the movement’s future.
Utilizing the same democratic process as other Occupy gatherings nationwide, the assembly determined through a series of group discussions and votes to schedule its next meeting for Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. The assembly also voted to split into smaller working groups to discuss more specific plans for future courses of action.
Participants in the event seemed to have high hopes for the movement’s future, but only if it is able to attract more attention locally and remains unified.
“If we do a Walla Walla movement specifically, I want to be sure it’s thoughtful, it’s not just passionate fervor,” said senior politics major Alethea Buchal. “It’s important because it’s starting a dialogue between different students and members of the community about what needs to be changed in American politics and how we can make it better. There’s a huge sense of apathy right now in the American public about everything.”
Students and non-students alike expressed some disappointment in the relative political inactivity of the Whitman community, along with the hope that Occupy Walla Walla could change this. Students also expressed their hope for a more open dialogue about class and economic issues on campus.
“I’m excited to be getting together. Obviously Occupy Walla Walla isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Occupy movement, but it feels good just to be a part of it,” said senior Alice Minor. “I think Whitman is a quite politically apathetic place. It’s full of people who do care, they’re just not very informed.”
“It’s definitely good to have events where Whitman students are in the community, but also using the fact that we have a large campus and we have a lot of places to gather, I feel like administration could have done more to bring this issue to life on campus. It’s not just a political issue; it’s an educational issue and it’s related to so much of what we do,” said senior Jo French.
Although the general assembly marks the first step for a unified Occupy movement in Walla Walla, some locals have worked to draw attention to these issues long before the event.
“We’re really sick of what’s happening with the country and unbridled greed. It doesn’t mean as much to us, it means more to [young people]. You’re going to have to live with it. I would like more young people to come out. Apathy is a terrible thing,” said Norman Osterman, a Whitman alumnus and participant in the American Dream Movement, a liberal organization that has been holding regular protests in downtown Walla Walla.
“Over-the-hill liberals have been out on the corner of Main and Palouse [with signs including] ‘Save Medicare: Tax the Rich,'” he said via email. “We have have found week after week that passing cars and pedestrians’ positive reactions outnumber negative reactions at a ratio of about fifteen to one.”
Both the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla occupations are in their early stages, but new gatherings and ideas are still being discussed on their respective Facebook pages.
“I think the most important part of this is for people to come out into public spaces and meet one another. Everything else comes from that,” said Seager.
Video contributed by Ben Lerchin ’13.