Occupy students prepare for college summit

by Mike Disman / Beacon Staff • February 9, 2012

Occupy mcloughlin
Repairs are currently being made to what was the Dewey Square Occupy Boston encampment.
Repairs are currently being made to what was the Dewey Square Occupy Boston encampment.

Emerson Occupies Boston member Mark Rizzo, walked home to his Cambridge apartment Dec. 10, an hour away from Dewey Square, where he had spent the night waiting for a police eviction of the encampment.

As he arrived, he said he received a text that said Dewey Square had been raided by the Boston Police Department. The tent city where Rizzo had spent much of the past two months of his life had vanished, the remaining protesters now incarcerated.

“Looking around, I saw there were such a small amount of people there, and if the cops were going to raid, they would have hit it already,” said the senior political communication and marketing communication double major. “When I got home, I got the text ... and there was nothing I could do.”

After Dewey Square’s decline, members of Emerson Occupies will be attending a Feb. 12 student summit at Harvard University’s Emerson Hall to refocus their efforts and develop new strategies for the Occupy movement.

The summit will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and feature members from a multitude of Boston-area schools. It will focus on the future of Occupy Boston’s student movement as a chance to reinvigorate his efforts and those of other Emerson students.

Rizzo said he, like many other students involved with the protests, attended various Occupy-related marches and participated in the Occupy New Hampshire Primary. He said he will also be attending Occupy Boston general assemblies, which happen at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday nights in various churches, in addition to Emerson Occupy meetings at 10 p.m. on Boston Common.

“On one hand, they took the camp, and the camp was a really beautiful place,” said Rizzo. “But on the other hand, it has allowed us to focus on branching out. Since then, the students have become a much more independent wing of Occupy Boston.”

The summit will also give students space and time to expand upon issues that are often left out of general assemblies. 

General assemblies typically focus on urgent or upcoming matters, according to collegesoccupyboston.com. The website says that the future of Occupy Boston Students and the origin of educational inequality will be among the topics discussed.

This semester, Rizzo said that he and other Emerson Occupy members hope to spread campus-wide awareness of the Occupy movement and recruit more members. Currently, Emerson Occupy has 66 students involved. 

Rizzo said that he wants to follow the examples of schools such as the University of Massachusetts- Boston, whose students occupied the school’s student center two weeks ago, setting up tents and information stands. That space is normally rented out for companies to advertise in, according to Rizzo.

While several major Occupy encampments from Boston to Los Angeles were shut down in December 2011, Phillip Gohary, another Emerson Occupies member, said that the Occupy movement has been successful in bringing issues such as income disparity into the public eye, noting that President Obama referenced income inequality in his State of the Union address.

“[Change] takes a long time,” said Gohary, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major. “It’s only been a few months and we’ve already changed the national conversation. You see it in the news, people talking about inequality all the time. The president feels like he has to mention it in order to be reelected.”

Emerson Occupies has only held one meeting this semester, but the club is working toward a few concrete goals, including a teach-in similar to one that Northeastern University held last November. 

During the teach-in, Emerson professors would lecture on problems that affect the student community, according to Rizzo and Gohary. The club is still in the process of contacting teachers for the event, which would most likely occur on Mar. 1, according to Rizzo.

Both Rizzo and Gohary said that although the Emerson community is often too busy in its own academic and extracurricular pursuits, they both want to see increased activism in the community, even without an encampment to rely on.

“I know a lot of people who are near bankrupting their families to come here,” said Rizzo. “It’s not that the issues don’t affect us; it’s that the Emerson attitude is one of incredible intensity in focusing on their [academic] responsibilities. Emerson kids have a lesson to learn, which is that just because these issues seem huge, doesn’t mean that we can’t challenge them. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it.”