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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Grinnellians occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a social protest in New York City that has brought thousands together and sparked a nationwide movement to speak out against the current corporate structure. The movement was spurred by a Canadian activist group and magazine called Adbusters who published a provocative image of a ballerina balanced on top of Charging Bull, Arturo Di Modica’s statue and one of the most widely recognized symbols of Wall Street.

Contributed by Liyan Chen.

This poster simply asked, “What is our one demand?” and stated “#occupywallstreet, september 17, bring tent”. Hundreds and then thousands began to organize within Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Park, and have remained there since mid-September, with no plans of abandoning the protest soon. However, the city of New York has prevented the protesters from erecting tents and the movement is far from agreeing on one single demand.

“Their lack of a solution doesn’t disregard the fact there is a problem,” said A.J. Johnson ’12.

Numerous Grinnellians have joined OWS (Occupy Wall Street) or subsequent occupations around the country. Many feel that the multifaceted issues which OWS has come to represent is its strongest characteristic. Tyrone Greenfield ’11, a recent graduate, has been participating with OWS since it began.

“We are an unprecedented protest in some ways, having no demands or withdrawal date,” says Greenfield, “Aside from a vague call-to-action from anti-corporate-hegemony magazine Adbusters, people just came to Liberty Park ready to make their voices heard and start building a new world”.

Even though #ows has yet to articulate specific legal or social changes, it marks the beginning of a nationwide conversation attempting to do so. Many Grinnellians see this as an important launching point.

“Occupy Wall Street is waking up the country, not just activists but everyone,” said Lauren Teixeira ’14. “Snapping the populace out of apathy is the first step.”

Perhaps it is not the demands but the discussion which makes OWS a seminal historic event.

“I think the movement’s impact on the aggregate political conversation is undeniable, I hope public discussion around many of the issues raised by the occupation continue,” said Nic Wilson ‘12.

Across the country, occupations are initiating dialogue through direct democracy and showing solidarity for similar movements across the globe. Each evening at 7:00 p.m., OWS holds a General Assembly to address agenda items set in facilitations meetings earlier in the afternoon.

Because the city of New York has prohibited amplification, these meetings rely on the “people’s mic” to make sure each orator is heard. The crowd repeats the words of each speaker as many times as necessary for the entire group to hear.

Furthermore, the group must come to total consensus before any decision is reached. Members of the crowd affirm or agree with the proceedings by raising their hands and wiggling their fingers, a gesture not dissimilar from “spirit fingers”, and block any motion by crossing their arms in an “X” in front of their chest. It only takes one person’s block to prevent a motion from moving forward.

Anna Armstrong ‘12 expressed her opinions in the General Assembly during her time at OWS.

“It was exhilarating and empowering,” she said. “Having my statement echoed back to me by hundreds of voices felt like a validation, not so much of myself but of the system of direct democracy that we were practicing”.

Although this form of discussion is slow and often frustrating, it has created a unique community within the park.

“It gave a great sense of a community gathering to really invest time and effort into the movement,” said SGA President Gabe Schechter ’12. “The park really gave off a self-gov feel.”

Yet the occupation has not been entirely peaceful. This week, occupiers around the country have been marching in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, which was recently raided by police officers utilizing tear gas and projectile rounds. Scott Olson, a Marine Corps veteran, was taken to intensive care after a skull fracture.

“Police brutality has been one of the greatest obstacles which occupiers face,” Greenfield said.

The protesters are working together to healthily sustain their occupation of the park while also addressing our nation’s issues.

“As crowded and energetic as it is, it’s quite peaceful,” Teixera said, “People are angry, but they’re channeling their energies productively.”

Indeed, the General Assembly has successfully organized numerous working groups within the park. These include The People’s Kitchen, Arts and Culture, Alternative Currencies, Legal, Sustainability, Media, The Occupy Wall Street Journal, Comfort, Medics, Accountability & Transparency, Sanitation, The People’s Library and many others.

Two working groups which have been greatly aided by the work of Grinnellians are the Open Source and Internet Working Groups. They have paired with former Grinnellian Isaac Wilder’s non-profit foundation, The Free Network Foundation (FNF), in order to provide wireless internet to the tenets of Zuccotti Park. Wilder and his partner Charles Wyble recently developed Freedom Towers.

“The Freedom Tower is a rapidly deployable, high power, mobile hot spot and VNP (virtual private network) which uses encryption to make its own network,” Wilder explained. “The FNF hopes to build a virtual network which will overtime replace the existing network with one owned by the people.”

Wilder hopes to supply other occupations with Freedom Towers and currently has three deployed in New York, Austin, and Los Angeles. More information regarding FNF can be found at

Both Wilder and Greenfield have been working with the occupation since its beginning, but even Grinnellians who only spent a few days among OWS are continuing projects inspired by the movement. Nic Wilson ‘12 and Vadim Fainberg ‘13 distributed and wheat-pasted posters around the occupation last week and hope to continue this work.

“I plan to print and distribute a collection of photos and essays from various contributors related to OWS,” Wilson said.

Teixeira plans to start an Experimental College (Ex-Co) class about the occupation.

“Ideally, it will be a discussion group where people get together to keep up with what’s going on and organize events in solidarity with OWS,” Teixeira said. “I would really like to make it open to the people of Grinnell and surrounding communities outside the college, in keeping with the inclusive ethos of the movement.”

Grinnellians are quick to rally around the idea of social justice and many have taken up the call by participating in OWS and other Occupy movements.
“We want to make a new world, one that runs on humanity and creativity rather than oppression and greed” said Greenfield.

You can keep track of news surrounding OWS by checking out or joining a local movement such as Occupy Des Moines. Additionally, look out for global conversations occurring Nov. 11. For more information, go to

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    Brenda MorrisOct 28, 2011 at 8:59 am

    You are right, we need have a world full of humanity and creativity not greed.