As Two Students Report, OWS Hits Puberty
The National Day of Action on November 17, which marked the two-month anniversary of continued protest known as Occupy Wall Street, had the potential to be the most momentous and celebratory day at Zuccotti Park. Instead, the Lower Manhattan square where it all began was absent of the occupiers who had become fixtures in the neighborhood, devoid of their tents, drum circles and general assemblies.
With the help of the New York Police Department, who evicted occupiers from the encampment in an early morning raid last Tuesday, the movement is hitting puberty — growing, decentralizing and maturing. The movement has been forced to disperse from its once-comfortable home, but not only by the NYPD; in both population and in vision, Occupy Wall Street has become too large for one small square in Lower Manhattan. While remaining a movement of shared ideals, it has also fragmented and found comfort in preexisting social justice movements.
Student activists have been at the forefront of Occupy Wall Street since its inception, and in recent days have worked with students from schools across the city to localize the message, focusing primarily on student debt. While certainly not the only sub-movement within the diverse population of occupiers, the solidarity built within New York’s college student community has come to the forefront of Occupy Wall Street. But this is not a surprise. For the first time ever, the number of Americans suffering from tuition debt has now surpassed the number of those in credit card debt, as President Obama pointed out in October.
The majority of New School students we spoke to at Foley Square on Thursday evening agreed that student debt was among their top priorities for supporting Occupy Wall Street. “I'm a student and in a temporary position of power where I can speak about my forthcoming debt,” explained Lang senior Greer Paris.
While many protesters made their way down to Foley Square for the National Day of Action, hundreds of college students dressed in black raced to beat police officers to the building at 90 Fifth Ave., which holds the New School’s Student Study Center. Protesters barricaded the escalator, designated rooms for particular purposes, and welcomed students across the city to join their newly-formed occupation. The Student Study Center — nowhere near Wall Street — could become the center for student activism.
Supporters of the movement are waging their own personal battles, addressing their unique student-specific grievances, while working within a larger framework. The various messages are becoming more visible as they separate from one another.
As Occupy Everywhere shifts onward, out of its months-old comfort zone of Zuccotti Park, occupiers are coming face-to-face with the second tier of their movement.
“This is a crucial day for figuring out where we are going to head on,” said Occupy Wall Street spokesman Patrick Bruner, as he followed protesters down Canal Street to Foley Square. “There are still so many people sharing their support, from all backgrounds and outlooks. That’s what democracy is really about. But there are still a lot of things that need to be played out as we grow.”
Demonstrators no longer have Zuccotti Park as a center of the movement, and will instead be left to create their own spaces. It could turn out to be the downfall of the movement — a time of fragmentation and eventual disintegration. However, it could very possibly be a phase of maturation, when a movement representing millions of people with diverse causes can work cohesively to represent its many supporters.