The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Why Occupy Grinnell matters

Since its inception last fall, the reaction I receive most frequently from my fellow students when I tell them about Occupy Grinnell is something along the lines of: Really? What’s the point? And that is completely understandable. Superficially, the prospect of extending the Occupy Wall Street movement—which began as an encampment in Manhattan’s Financial District to protest the unchecked power of America’s financial institutions—to a small town in rural Iowa seems silly and futile. The town of Grinnell is not, relatively speaking, a seat of corporate or political power. It’s a friendly community of farmers, workers and students. So why Occupy?

First of all, we bear our name in solidarity with the larger Occupy movement, which asserts that the abuses of power on Wall Street have gone on too long and it needs to be “re-occupied.” It is this idea that, last fall, united people all around the country and the world—and Grinnell is no exception. Since our inaugural General Assembly (G.A.) over two months ago I have had the pleasure to meet and make friends with Grinnell residents of all ages and occupations (no pun intended) whom I doubt I would have met otherwise. At a typical G.A. the assembly is less than half Grinnell students.
In early December, just before winter break, the Occupy Grinnell General Assembly gathered to read aloud and ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Huddling in the cold, we took turns each reading an article from the Declaration and having it repeated with the “people’s mic.” Did Wall Street perk up its ears, acknowledge the error of its ways, and pledge to stop its methodical economic subjugation of the populace once and for all? Of course not. But a group of outraged individuals got together to acknowledge the extent of Wall Street’s abuses and find strength in each other, and I think that in itself is valuable. At small occupations all over the country, moments like these are occurring regularly. This is an incredible thing.

One of the aspects of Occupy that has drawn the most criticism—its decentralized nature—is what appeals to me most. This is because I think it allows a given occupation to adapt to and address local issues. In New York, OWS has lent its considerable weight to raising awareness about the NYPD’s unfair “stop-and-frisk” practices, in which 97% of men “randomly” searched for weapons are black or Latino. Occupy Baltimore is occupying a vacant lot on which the city plans to build a $100 million youth jail as part of its “Schools not Jails” campaign. All over the country, in areas urban and rural, the Occupy our Homes movement is defending homeowners from unfair foreclosures.
Which brings us to Grinnell. Last month the Occupy Grinnell General Assembly decided to undertake an issue close to home: the ongoing harassment of organic farmers by the Monsanto Corporation. Earlier this week, we led a direct action at the Monsanto plant right outside of town in solidarity with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Monsanto’s right to genetically trespass on organic farmers’ crops. We had about 40 people—Grinnellians and allies from Des Moines and Cedar Valley—show up at the Monsanto plant and mic-check a letter to Monsanto’s CEO in support of organic farmers. Al Henderson, the Monsanto Grinnell plant manager, has agreed to meet with us. There are Monsanto facilities outside of small towns like ours all over the Midwest. This is a chance for rural occupations to really make a difference.

I am pleased that there is such overwhelming support for Occupy among my peers; I think it’s a movement with the potential to actually affect change in a system which I believe is broken, and that’s why I’m a part of it. It is by nature a participatory movement, and to me getting involved with a small rural occupation is just as meaningful as getting involved with a large urban one. The cornfields are not free of Wall Street’s reach. To quote a phrase you might have heard: We are all the 99 percent.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *