Emerson students lead their first Occupy Boston general assembly

by Beacon Staff • November 10, 2011

strongMike Disman, Beacon Staff/strong

Emerson students continued their involvement at Occupy Boston Tuesday night, as they facilitated the Students Occupy Boston General Assembly.

Ten Emerson students engaged in various roles as the facilitators of the general assembly of about 80 students from 10 local colleges, including Northeastern University, Boston University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Harvard University, and Suffolk University.

Emerson students led the discussion, organized the order in which speakers presented to the group, and provided general aid and explanation to those who needed it. Tuesday marked the first instance in which Emerson students had facilitated the student general assembly, which takes place every six days.

“The general assembly is usually facilitated by schools with a larger presence. Emerson is stepping up this time,” said Emma MacDonald, Emerson’s primary vocal facilitator.

MacDonald, a sophomore marketing communication major, led the gathering by introducing speakers and propositions to the collection of students, who then voted or reacted by using hand signals.

The hand signals — which include a roll of hands to signify, “move it along” and a point upwards with the index finger to indicate, “speak louder” to the current presenter — ensure that the members of assemblies are involved in the conversation. Another hand signal, the wiggling of all fingers excluding the thumb, indicates accordance with the current speaker. When the whole assembly wiggles their fingers, it indicates consensus and is the only decision making process that the Occupiers use.

Speakers were also bolstered by the “people’s mic,” a tactic that the occupiers have taken up in which a group loudly repeats the words of whoever is speaking.

According to Matt Durham, president of Emerson’s Peace and Social Justice, the people’s mic is the solution to the police ban on megaphones at Occupy Boston. Durham said that the tactic indicates solidarity with the speaker.

As Occupy Boston protests move into the winter months, participants are expecting to see number dwindle. While the Occupy protests have seen record numbers across the country — including more than 100,000 Occupy Oakland supporters who shut down the Port of Oakland, according to The San Francisco Chronicle — students such as Durham know that Boston’s nasty winter is going to be a challenge for the protesters.

As Durham watched the forming assembly, he emphasized the importance of continuing support throughout the winter as a means of showing solidarity with the campers by providing them with blankets and other winter necessities.

“We need to show solidarity with the campers here and support them as best as we can ... as well as making sure that it just doesn’t get forgotten during the winter,” said Durham, a senior writing, literature, and publishing major. “Knowing that there are people planning to stay here, it falls on us to make sure that those voices aren’t left aside.”

While Durham feels that the Occupy Boston movement is still strong, he said he would like to see more direct support from Emerson students.

Durham acknowledged that Emerson students are often busy, but said he hopes that weekly meetings at Emerson and big events such as facilitating Tuesday’s assembly will garner more participants.

One such student, Suzi Pietroluongo, a sophomore theater education major, said she was inspired by her Emerson friend to visit Dewey Square, and has been actively involved in the movement since then.

Pietroluongo said she feels that the Occupy movement addresses many issues that Emerson students face now and potentially later, such as high tuition costs in correlation to the current state of the economy.

“I am studying as a theater teacher, and I’m really tired of paying $46,000 a year to get a job that only pays $30,000 a year, if I ever get that job,” she said.