Author Benjamin Heim Shepard spoke to Loyola University Chicago students, staff, and faculty recently about the role of privately owned public spaces during social movements.
“Public spaces become a place for conversation,” Shepard said, “and the best public spaces are well used public spaces.”
His prime example of this is Zuccotti Park, the home base of Occupy Wall Street protesters. As the Occupy movement continues around the world, “we are creating a different kind of democracy and different kinds of social relations,” Shepard said.
“I think people aren’t looking for politicians to solve their problems…We have to lead ourselves.”
Shepard said direct action creates change. Use your voice, or your impact becomes smaller and smaller, he said.
Today, Occupy protesters continue to use their voices, meshing with protesters from various backgrounds, attempting to speak to “many different people about everyday life,” he said.
In response to these efforts, Shepard said “we need to use creative ways to connect with people who are different than us.”
Mary Simon, 20, a sophomore with majors in sociology and political science, agreed.
“To create solidarity amongst Loyola students [on the Occupy movement] we can use Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube; forms of communication we are all familiar with…We can send out invites to everyone we know and gather on the quad,” Simon said.
Shepard extolled the virtue of starting dialogue in a community to promote change. To foster people’s interest in an event, “provide food” and “go local.” Ask the people what matters and start a conversation, Shepard said.
The protests started in New York in the hopes of fighting against corporate Wall Street, but have now expanded on a global scale.
Loyola student Tyler Peterson, 21, was there when Occupy moved to Chicago’s own Grant Park.
“I actually went to the protests two weekends ago. I love activism and protesting,” stated Peterson, a junior pursuing majors in Ad-PR, Peace Studies and Creative Writing.
“I really liked their start but now I feel like it’s a liberal version of the Tea Party,” stated Peterson. “But accountability is important so I hope they can create more structure to the protest and keep it going.”
Loyola journalism student Alex Rich shot this video of a recent Occupy Chicago protest:
The Occupy participants claim to be the 99 percent who are combatting the wealthiest 1 percent. However, their complaints have grown to include anything from greed to a bad economy to global warming.
Another student agreed that the message of Occupy seems confusing.
“From what I hear, they just protest about anything and everything,” stated Fredrick Yoon, 19, a sophomore Environmental Science major. “It feels disorganized and they need to focus more on one thing.”
Barbara Crowley, 19, a sophomore English major concentrating in Creative Writing is pleased with the movement, though.
“I think that the country is really waking up to the massive amounts of inequality in this world,” Crowley stated. “Basically there is a huge percent of people in this country who are not being heard and it was accepted because they didn’t do anything to change it… well now they and we are.”
But the protests have not garnered the attention of all Loyola students.
“I just heard about the protests today, so they’re obviously not reaching enough people,” stated Patrick Yoo, 18, a freshman Business major.
Hyun Sung, 19, is also unaware of the protests.
“I’ve never even heard of Occupy,” stated the freshman Accounting major.
However, several students still support the effort.
“We don’t need an end to capitalism, we just need to be more careful,” stated Reama Malki, 20, a junior Political Science and International Studies double-major. “I think the protesters want to see some regulation, some change.”
Malki continued that she appreciates the political action.
“People are getting passionate about it and I think it’s a good thing. The movement is a great example of our incredible democracy at work and being able to protest when you think something’s wrong.”
Loyola University Chicago students have joined protesters at the Federal Reserve Bank in the Occupy Chicago movement and plan to make a larger presence as the Occupy Wall Street-inspired protest continue.
On Saturday, they plan to be part of the Global Day of Occupation, gathering at LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard for a day of speeches and rallies.
Loyola senior Kat Fossell joined Occupy Chicago on its second day of formation in September.
“I’ve been going down there ever since,” said Fossell, 21, creative writing major. “I went down there to check it out and there were only five people there holding a general assembly and then it got to be about 35.”
While writing an article for a creative writing class, Fossell researched student loans and possible loan forgiveness programs discussed in Congress, which sparked her initial interest in Occupy Chicago.
“I am really interested in making [university] education affordable in the United States,” Fossell said. “It’s set up way differently in every other country in the world and it just seems so insane to me that we spend so much just to go to college and then spend years and years trying to pay back this debt.”
Fossell and seniors Joe DiCola and Kevin Rigot have been active in the movement since it first started and are now working to get more Loyola students involved.
“There are a lot of kids at Loyola who don’t know a lot about it,” Fossell said. “We’re hoping to pass out fliers on Friday, and if that generates some interested, we were talking about having meetings up here that way people didn’t have to travel all the way downtown.”
The meetings would be informal and give students a chance to ask questions about the movement, but Fossell said the best way to learn about Occupy Chicago is to go visit and talk to protesters.
“I know everyone is busy with homework and midterms and countless other things, but for me it’s really cool to be down there and see that other people care about what happens in the future,” Fossell said. “Even if you don’t care about any of that, it’s really cool for students to go down and see you can make a change. That’s why I keep going back.”
The Occupy movements across the country have faced criticism for the lack of solutions offered to solve the problems they are protesting.
“They haven’t really proposed any solutions to the grievances list, but I think that the solutions are kind of self-evident in a lot of cases,” Fossell said. “[Occupy] is a chance to stand in solidary and recognize the same problems. That’s a really important first step. If the majority of people can agree these are the problems were having then we can easily come up with solutions.”
Fossell explained the Occupy movements are still in its early stages. Right now, it is focusing on sending the message that “the 99%” are supporting a common cause.
Occupy Chicago is trying to organize a march of college students from campuses around the city that will converge at the Jackson and LaSalle site.
“I would like to see Loyola represented,” Fossell said. “It’d be sad to have only 20 Loyola kids and a bunch from other schools.”
“Protest seem a little cliché in our day and age,” Fossell said. “There’s this mentality that were not in the 70s and this seems sort of ridiculous, but I think there needs to be a lot of changes in our government system, and Occupy Chicago [addresses] that.”
Protesters from Loyola would love to see more of their fellow students at rallies.
“Personally, I’d love to see other Loyola students get involved in anyway possible” said Kevin Rigot, 21, a senior history major at Loyola. “The best was would be to simply come down and spend some time at the protest. Although we call it a protest, its really much more of a celebration and demonstration of community and democracy, and we want as many people as possible to come down, spend some time with us and experience it. ”