Students march against Wall St.
MIDDLEBURY — Last Thursday, a crowd of 40 Middlebury College students and a few adults marched from the steps of the Davis Family Library to Hillcrest Environmental Center. They hoisted homemade signs and chanted phrases borrowed from the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in New York City.
“Our street!” they shouted.
The march was called “Occupy Middlebury,” inspired by a group of students who recently participated in the Wall Street demonstrations. In the spirit of “horizontal organization,” the demonstration was organized with signs in college dining halls and by word of mouth. This leaderless, democratic structure is a hallmark of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which rides on energy and tactics of the Arab Spring, allowing large groups to coalesce and unify using social media.
After pausing at a capoeria circle and gathering a few more followers, the march concluded at a presentation by Danilo Lopez, a migrant farm worker who was detained by a state trooper at a traffic stop last month and faces deportation. When Danilo and his co-worker Antonio were incarcerated on Sept. 13, it was an assembly of supporters that secured their freedom.
“Without the protest I have no doubt that Danilo and Antonio would still be lost in the system somewhere,” said Natalia Fajardo, of Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project. “Community action does make a difference.”
Though Occupy Wall Street is still a fringe political movement, it has received support from environmental and social figures, including 350.org and Van Jones.
“When Wall Street occupies the halls of Congress and the machinery of our democracy, the people must occupy Wall Street,” wrote Phil Aroneanu of 350.org, an environmental group formed by Middlebury College alumni.
But in the eyes of some who have been there, the movement isn’t yet fully formed.
“It’s more of a discussion than a movement at this point,” said student Jeremy Cline, who visited the Occupy Wall Street scene two weekends ago. “But it’s great to see people voicing their opinions and bringing to light some of the inconsistencies in the system.”
The rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street can seem vague — almost any liberal agenda has been rolled into the movement at some point — but at its heart it’s a gripe of inequality. The most persistent phrasing of the assembly is “we are the 99 percent, you’re the 1 percent,” referring to the financial and privilege disparity between the top earners in American society and the remaining populace.
On Middlebury College campus, though, that language falls a little flat. Every student and faculty member of the college is there by the grace of the 1 percent — endowments, donations and support from people who use their wealth to benefit higher education.
“This is a private college, funded by rich people, and that’s not going to change,” said Middlebury student Adina Marx-Arpadi, who visited Occupy Wall Street in September.
But, said Middlebury junior Hanna Mahon, who helped organize the local march, “Occupy Middlebury is more of an act of solidarity than a directed protest.”
Mahon is an independent peace and justice major at Middlebury College who participated in the Wall Street assembly recently.
“This is a chance to reach out to socially engaged students in Middlebury,” she said. “Marching shows our support for people oppressed by the system.”