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.
Also known as a “professor, social worker, activist, aspiring banjo player and dad,” Shepard is co-author of Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces and writes extensively on social services and social movements, found at his blog Play and Ideas.