The Ninety-nine Percent Occupy Amherst Imagination
Issue   |   Wed, 10/26/2011 - 01:46

On Oct. 5, students, professors and other members of the local community took part in the “Occupy Amherst” march. Chanting slogans such as “We are the 99 percent” and “Down with Wall Street,” demonstrators protested against what they saw as unfair political and economic inequality. The demonstration was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests in New York City, and came as part of thousands of other such “occupations” around the world.

Protesters marched from UMass to the Bank of America in downtown Amherst, before moving to the Town Common for a rally where participants took turns giving his or her own perspectives. Several Amherst students were present and called on protesters to march on the College, as well.

Other speakers decried war, imperialism and profit-based economies, calling for group unity and empowerment. To many, the OWS movement is a historic movement that is already changing the world. Professor of History Edward Melillo explained that, “The Occupy movement offers American society an experiment in radically inclusive forms of decision-making and participatory governance, which suggests a different model of how social interactions might be organized in the information age.”

Melillo’s model occurs in Zuccotti Park in New York City, where OWS protesters hold general assemblies where the rule is consensus rather than majority vote. OWS also coined the practice of “the people’s mic,” where the gathered crowd repeats and amplifies a speaker’s words so everyone can hear. Originally created as a work-around to New York City’s restrictions on sound-amplifier use in public, “the people’s mic” has been adopted in many other “occupations” as a symbol of unity.

“This approach has the drawback of delaying procedural activities, but such examples of attentiveness to democratic process and participatory method contrast starkly with political models that employ professional representatives, little direct involvement on the part of most citizens and highly bureaucratic organizations of power,” Melillo said.

Luis Feliz ’12, who participated in the Oct. 5 march and has been down to Zucotti Park to take part in OWS, said that the protest is a call for a shift in the social and political order.

“[A]s viable political alternatives, we reject both parties because they are dominated by swindlers who cash in their votes to lobbyist interest instead of fulfilling their mandate to serve the interest of their voters,” Feliz said. “Hence, the OWS movement has not issued demands because to do so would mean conferring legitimacy on a broken system. If elite economic interests have a stranglehold on the U.S. government, and all politicians serve as instruments of government, it follows that all politicians are pawns of elite economic interest. That’s the argument against the status quo that we are making and appeal to others to consider.”

The OWS movement has been defined by its “We are the 99 percent” slogan that seeks to put the interests of the majority of Americans before the interests of the rich. Commenting on the slogan, Professor of History and Black Studies Jose Castro Alves said, “Their message is clear for anyone willing to hear: ‘We are the 99 percent.’ This is not an empty slogan like ‘Yes we can.’ It should remind each and every person residing in this country that the American dream is a reality for the few people already privileged and that economic recovery through imperial expansion won’t create jobs and wealth domestically any longer.”

The OWS movement is the latest of the many popular uprisings of 2011, which began with both the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring. Alves said occupations and protests have their roots in these uprisings and more. He believes that the OWS is rooted in the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest in Seattle, Wash. which led to global activism against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That same spirit has survived today, leading to students’ activism “against sweatshops and slave labor and in support of divestment campaigns,” Alves Castro said. A recent campaign has been to convince educational institutions to divest from companies making arms for Israel.

“The young people occupying financial districts across the United States are also the orphans of President Obama’s campaign,” Alves Castro said. “Rather than begging for paternal attention, they opted to be independent and keep the utopia of creating a better world alive. They know that a better world won’t unfold with the implosion of whatever is left of the welfare state and an obscenely unequal distribution of wealth.”