Metro

Unzipping the tent

Inside Occupy College Hill

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2011

Two-and-a-half months after the Occupy movement first made headlines, the movement’s precise focus remains an open question — even for members of Occupy College Hill.

When a national student walkout was called in solidarity with the Occupy movement Oct. 5 — just 17 days after protesters began their Occupation of  New York’s Zuccotti Park — about 70 members of the Brown activist community assembled on the Main Green in search of their role within the movement.

“There are these existing structures of people that are politically inclined to support Occupy Wall Street,” said Lily Goodspeed ’13, pointing to student groups like the International Socialist Organization.

“That was possibly one of the most successful actions I’ve ever seen, especially considering that it was called the day before,” said Luke Lattanzi-Silveus ’14.

“It was kind of like an experiment,” Goodspeed said. “When people actually came, there was a sense that we should create some sort of organization.”

 

Joining together

One week later, the group held its first official General Assembly and began to debate the identity of Occupy College Hill.

“It was very split in the first meeting, whether we should have an Occupy College Hill,” Goodspeed said. “At that point, Occupy Providence had started having General Assemblies.”

Students were divided about the extent to which Occupy College Hill should be its own organization separate from Occupy Providence, Goodspeed said. The discussion weighed the national precedent of student activism on college campuses against the unwillingness of many students to further distance themselves from a community that already views them as privileged.

Members of Occupy College Hill want the movement to include faculty, facilities workers and other members of the community — not just students, Lattanzi-Silveus said.

Occupy College Hill decided to become a working group of Occupy Providence, advancing projects on College Hill but continuing to report back to Burnside Park, the site of the downtown Occupy encampment. “We were creating this organization with the permission, and kind of the blessing, of Occupy Providence, but it kept us from drifting off into our own bubble,” Goodspeed said.

 The movement’s focus shifted away from College Hill. “The main goal was, we want to funnel people from Brown and (the Rhode Island School of Design) to Occupy Providence,” Goodspeed said. Eventually, the group stopped holding regular general assemblies on the Main Green, and members instead gravitated to Burnside Park meetings.

Even one of Occupy College Hill’s main actions — a One Night Stand where Occupiers camped out on the Main Green to greet the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, before its Oct. 22 meeting — was held with the ultimate goal of bringing more students to the encampment downtown.

Despite such efforts, Lattanzi-Silveus said it has been a struggle to attract students to join the movement. “It’s been difficult to get people down there,” he said. “I’m not sure why that is. There seems to be a large amount of apathy and/or ignorance about what the Occupy movement is, whether they want to be involved in it.”

Apathy and ignorance may seem inconsistent with the University’s activist reputation. But the high level of student awareness might actually detract from support for the Occupy movement, Goodspeed suggested.

“We at Brown are very analytical about our own progressiveness,” she said, adding that students may be unwilling to speak for repressed groups they do not themselves represent. “People were much more aware of how contradictory an Occupy movement would be for an Ivy League institution,” Goodspeed said. “By sheer fact of us being here, we can’t suppose what people are feeling across the country.”

Organizing Occupy College Hill into a distinct movement focused on student concerns — like increasing tuition, rampant unemployment and Corporation accountability — would overcome these problems and is an idea that has been gaining traction within the group, Goodspeed said.  

 

Recruiting the 99 percent

Yesterday, Occupy College Hill held its first official General Assembly in weeks. Protests at other campuses, specifically University of California at Davis and Harvard, have thrust educational institutions to the forefront of the Occupy movement. College Hill Occupiers congregated on the Main Green to discuss the University’s place in the evolving college movement.

“We’re regrouping after realizing that there is a growing Occupy-your-campus movement, and we want to be a part of that,” said Lindsay Goss GS.

The campus protests bring a new element to the Occupy movement. Goss noted campus movements have focused on more specific demands, while the city Occupy movements seek to address broader societal issues.

One of Occupy College Hill’s main grievances — one it shares with Occupy Harvard — is the University’s investment policies, which the group believes could be supporting corporations antithetical to the University’s ideals.

“What it means to Occupy a campus is to address issues on that campus,” Goss said. In another step towards a campus-specific movement, Goss suggested the group change its name to Occupy Brown. The group originally assumed the name Occupy College Hill to include students at RISD, but Goss said mostly Brown students are involved.

Despite the group’s limited engagement with RISD, members of Occupy College Hill have increasingly been working with other colleges in the Providence area, including Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island and Providence College.

In meetings with students from other schools, members of Occupy College Hill have begun to address college-specific issues related to the movement — specifically, dwindling student involvement in Occupy during final exams and the prospect of keeping the movement alive while students are away for winter break.

Members of Occupy College Hill are still considering the prospect of a long-term Occupation on campus. “The way things are going now, as time goes on, more campuses are going to be Occupied,” Goss said.

“We should and will work toward an Occupation at Brown,” Lattanzi-Silveus said.

But before an Occupation can happen, more students need to get involved.

Occupier and Providence resident Mark Simmons underscored the importance of student involvement in the movement. “It’s your future,” said Simmons, who has served as a liaison between Occupy Providence and Occupy College Hill.

“Your age group usually has the lowest voting record,” Simmons said. “Even if you don’t believe in the movement, find out what you do believe in and get involved.”

“Occupy College Hill is a glorified larger version of the conversations you’re having with your friends around campus,” Goodspeed said. “Just talking about it is the first step, and it’s useless if we only have 25 people talking about it.”