On Thursday afternoon, students held a campus demonstration to express their dissatisfaction with the recent eviction of Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zuccotti Park in New York City and the lack of support from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper ’74 for protestors at Occupy Denver. During the protest, which was organized by Occupy Wesleyan in solidarity with the International Day of Action, about 50 students marched from Olin Library to a variety of spots around campus, until they returned to the steps behind Olin to hold an “ungraduation” ceremony for Hickenlooper.
“I think [the protest] was really high energy and it was great to be so visible on campus,” said Occupy Wesleyan member Ross Levin ’15, who dressed up as President Michael Roth during the ungraduation ceremony. “It was fun, but we got a serious message across, and hopefully we can take this energy and put it into more stuff like this—organizing events and all kinds of stuff on campus.”
The protest, organized by a group of 15 Occupy Wesleyan students, started at 4 p.m. with students congregating on the front steps of Olin. Occupy Wesleyan members passed out signs, a sheet of “Occupy Solidarity March Chants,” and a flier with information on the rally.
“Today’s action is in solidarity with the thousands of brave individuals around the world who continue to stand strong for economic justice and true democracy; as well as in condemnation of the inexcusable actions of the state in attempts to silence them,” the sheet of information reads. “Today is an #Occupy global day of action.”
After a “mic check,” during which Occupy Wesleyan members stated their intentions for the march, students began marching down Church Street. The march looped through campus as a few students played instruments and protestors chanted slogans like, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” “We are the 99%,” and “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! This corporate greed has got to go!”
During the march, students went into North College, Usdan, and Olin, recruiting more students to the march and chanting as they walked through the buildings. Students hoped that this would raise awareness for the movement on campus.
“Everyone was really into [the protest] and it was a lot of fun,” said Oriana Ott ’14. “But mainly I hope that other people took notice and that we can continue to get more people out. It shouldn’t just be the people that already know what’s going on and who care about it that are participating and that are taking notice, but rather the greater student body who maybe isn’t as involved directly with activism.”
Once students reached the steps behind Olin, a few Occupy Wesleyan members spoke on the marble platform. Dan Fischer ’12 wore a mask of Hickenlooper and Levin wore a mask of Roth during the ungraduation ceremony. As Fischer read a letter from Hickenlooper’s point of view, protestors booed. Levin’s version of Roth reprimanded “Hickenlooper,” and tore a fake diploma out of his shirt and ripped it up.
“I think [the protest] brought a lot of people out today and I think it’s really exciting,” Fischer said. “We really wanted to show our support with Occupy Denver and stand up for free speech and against the unjust violence against peaceful protestors.”
Police enforcement and city actions to quell the Occupy Denver protests have included the use of pepper spray and violent arrests by police in riot gear as recently as Nov. 14th. According to Levin, since October, Hickenlooper has supported violent police actions in the enforcement of city ordinances.
“That is not supporting free speech because free speech is not just free speech between the hours of six and 10,” he said. “It’s free speech even when inconvenient and even when it might get in the Governor’s way. He is not supporting free speech, he is not supporting the goals of the Occupy movement, and in a very simple way he is going against the Constitution.”
While students acknowledged that support of free speech should not be limited to University alumni, they expressed particular disappointment with Hickenlooper’s tolerance of police actions in Denver.
“We feel that it was important for us to recognize the fact that [Hickenlooper] is from our institution,” said Occupy Wesleyan member Coady Johnson ’15. “With Governor Hickenlooper being a Wesleyan alum, we felt a certain duty to address that and we definitely [could] not just ignore that.”
Levin said he believes Hickenlooper’s actions contradict the values upon which the University seems to be built.
“As members of this same community where [Hickenlooper] was—this same liberal, open-minded movement that upholds free speech and activism as part of what makes us strong—it is extremely disappointing to see someone who has come through this same space directly going against the Occupy movement,” Levin said.
Roth expressed his opinions about recent Occupy Wall Street developments in a blog entry posted on Tuesday.
“As a student here I participated in protests, and now as president I have been (and likely will be again) their object,” he wrote. “I can imagine (with dread) extreme situations in which force would be required to preserve campus safety and our ongoing operations. As students, staff, and faculty make their voices heard, however, the University’s responsibility is to protect their rights, even as it ensures that the educational mission of the school continues.”
Members of Occupy Wesleyan have also crafted a petition denouncing Hickenlooper’s lack of support for Occupy Denver protesters and declaring the Denver Police’s actions to be a violation of the values of the University’s Mission statement. Students have begun to circulate the petition on campus and plan to also present it to parents and faculty via email. Levin said that he would be crafting a press release to send to Denver newspapers describing the march.
Students involved in organizing the event noted that they were impressed by how many people showed up when fliers for the event were posted beginning Thursday morning.
“This preparation happened really quickly, so it’s good to know that people show up on short notice,” said Occupy Wesleyan member Hailey Sowden ’15.
Johnson was also optimistic about the large crowd of students who attended the march.
“I really enjoyed seeing how many people actually showed up,” he said. “This is a lot of people, and I was really pleased to see so many people showing up and actively participating.”