Occupy Boston draws Emerson protesters

by Beacon Staff • October 6, 2011

strongErin Farley, Beacon Correspondent, /strongstrongHeidi Moeller, Beacon Staff/strong

When she walked into the makeshift encampment in New York’s Zuccotti Park, navigating between hordes of protesters — their signs emblazoned with anti-corporate slogans, their tents and blue tarp structures — sophomore Hannah Wallace was inspired.

“I had never seen that many people in one area that were so aware of every part of their life,” she said. “They understood the problems of the people around them. They were walking around with peace signs up; the people on the sidewalks were so confused.”

She had read the call to action — to occupy Wall Street in New York City on Sept. 17— in Adbusters, a Canadian magazine focused on social activism. The protests have now spread to several cities nationwide, including Chicago, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Demonstrators have been camped out in Boston’s Dewey Square for a week.

“I got one [of the magazines] for my birthday this past May,” Wallace said. “They write very controversial stories that have a lot of revolutionary issues. They came up with the idea to have basically a nonviolent protest against Wall Street. It just took off. They started posting things about it in the middle of the summer.”

Intrigued by the idea of reform on Wall Street, Wallace said she headed to New York to be a part of the event. She arrived at the Bowling Green Park, where the protest began, just as the protesters were marching away.

“There was just this massive outpour of interesting people, and I hopped in the middle of it with my camera and just absorbed it,” Wallace said.

But Wallace said she became skeptical of big business well before September. She said she entered Emerson as a marketing student, but after taking the “Communication, Media, and Society” class she realized the world of marketing and advertising is not the place for her. She said she is hoping to switch her major to communication studies so she can focus on social advocacy.

“I am a hippie, and I am an individual who is filled with love and has a distaste for advertising and the selling of things that people don’t need,” Wallace said. “Last spring I saw Inside Job, a documentary about Wall Street. It was very disturbing, but well made. They highlight things like the extreme greed of the men that work in Wall Street.”

Wallace said she helped organize Occupy Boston, which began Sept. 27. The first day of the movement was last Friday and it drew what Wallace described as thousands of people from all over the country, coming together to change democracy.

“Day one of the actual event had a much more similar feeling to New York. There was just a lot of excitement, the majority were optimistic and everyone’s really full of energy,” Wallace said.

Of the 100 people in the heart of the Financial District yesterday afternoon, about half were college students, and Emerson senior Ethan Silverstein was among them. Silverstein said he has been showing support for the movement on and off for the past few days.

“I think capitalism isn’t working,” the visual and media arts major said. “I’m not demanding reform on Wall Street. I want to express that I don’t think Wall Street should exist in the first place.”

But Silverstein said his opinion of Wall Street does not necessarily reflect that of the other protesters.

According to The Boston Globe, Occupy Boston is an extension of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City.

The movement has become a way for people to express their opinion about government focus on big corporations benefiting the wealthiest Americans while many languish in a weak economy. According to Wallace, the protesters break into small groups during the day and have general assembly meetings at night.

But participants in the movement say it is also a way to express frustration with the country’s economic struggle. More than 9 percent of Americans nationwide are unemployed, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I don’t agree with everyone that this will change corporations, but this will change the way that people are meeting each other and making connections,” Silverstein said. “Not alone will something change. We definitely need to step it up. Wall Street doesn’t care if we camp out.”

The demonstrators coined the phrase “We are the 99 percent,” a chant describing the estimated 99 percent of Americans that are being affected by the recession, with the remaining one percent representing Wall Street businessmen. However, the statistic has been criticized by columnists and news sources as being unreliable.

Protesters in Boston yesterday chanted, “All the 99% percent, all the students, all the homeless, all the evicted, all the hungry, all the oppressed, in our country.”

Junior marketing communication major, Amanda Grosso, said while her dad is part of the one percent, as he is a lawyer, she is in the 99 percent and is in full support of the movement.

Grosso said she has been to Dewey Square three times and attended two of the general assembly meetings.

“Ninety-nine percent of the country has been affected by the recession. One percent of the population are bankers, and they have all the control.” Grosso said. “99 percent is being loyal to the movement. We have to be able to make a change.”

A Facebook group called Emerson Occupies Boston has emerged in the last week. The page is advertising a march for Monday from the Boston Common gazebo to Dewey Square.

Wallace said she would encourage Emerson students to walk down to Dewey Square, absorb the atmosphere, and talk to protesters who have been camping out.

“The movement is a random group of young visionaries full of love who want to steer us away from where we’re headed,” she said. “They believe that there should be economic equality, and restore the American dream.”