Although the occupy movement is dying down in the news, it’s staying alive on the JMU campus.
An audience of about 90 students, faculty and Harrisonburg community members attended a discussion about Occupy Wall Street on Friday, Dec. 2 at the East Campus Library from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Center for Faculty Innovation, an organization that runs different events for professors, students and community members to participate in, organized the event.
The panelists at the meeting included modern languages and literature professor Esther Poveda, sociology and anthropology professor Stephen Poulson, history professor William Van Norman and communication studies professor Brian Kaylor. The moderator for the discussion was history professor Mary Gayne.
Some of the faculty panelists visited some of the Occupy sites. Assistant communications professor Brian Kaylor visited the Occupy New Orleans site on Nov. 20, and the are where Occupy Harrisonburg took place on Nov. 28 and 29.
The Occupy Harrisonburg protestors meet at the gazebo on Court Square.
“The two that I went to were very different,” Kaylor said. “I went to Occupy Harrisonburg, which was very different than the groups who make the news because they weren’t camping out. Sometimes they gather, but only about an hour on Tuesday nights. It’s an interesting model of civic engagement.”
Kaylor said the Occupy New Orleans site was different because they have a community of protesters.
“They had porta potties, compost for their garden,” Kaylor said. “There were people sitting around, playing games, chatting. It’s just a really different type of iteration of the movement that Harrisonburg has.”
Kaylor not only supports the movement, but is also very interested in its formation and techniques.
“Even though I don’t think there is an articulation of how to solve the problems, I think they’ve done a good job identifying what the problems are,” Kaylor said.
Freshman Lexi De Haven, an interdisciplinary liberal studies major, said she found it interesting that the Occupy movement is more widely dispersed than she originally thought.
“At first, I thought it was just a New York thing, then I thought it was an American thing, and I didn’t know it was a global problem,” De Haven said. “I just had no idea.”
Kaylor said he thinks, if nothing else, that the Occupy movement has brought the national income inequality in the U.S. into the national spotlight.
Pam Drake, a finance and business law professor, expressed a less sympathetic view of the protesters.
“A lot of people are frustrated and disappointed with how things are going in the economy and with the government, but they’re not protesting,” Drake said.
The way the protesters are trying to get their point across isn’t doing much good, Drake said.
“If you take a public park that people enjoy, and you take that away by putting up tents and living there, they may have agreed with you had you tried a different tactic,” Drake said. “But you have people who pay taxes, who work for the park, and you’re going to get some people upset with you that they can’t use it.”
Drake said they have only succeeded in getting media attention and are aiming their protests solely on Wall Street.
“They’re lumping everybody on Wall Street, and I think that if you listed everyone who contributed to this mess, the list would be very long,” Drake said.
But, Poulson said the movement is strong because it binds people together.
“I think this movement is actually going to last a lot longer, because the people involved are very good at strategy,” Poulson said.
He wasn’t straightforward about whether he supports the movement, but said he understood why the movement had gained so much support.
“It’s dispersed, and the reason why people are joining, they tend to articulate these ideas with wealth and equality,” Poulson said. “It’s just something that’s picked up momentum. I think that people join for different reasons.”
De Haven said she thought a point that Poulson made about Occupy Wallstreet was interesting.
“What stood out to me a lot was when Professor Poulson said that college students are bio-ethically available and are the backbone of the movement, and the fact that he thinks that the movement will last longer because the occupiers have a strategy,” De Haven said.
Although there was no specific consensus reached about the movement itself, the varying opinions and experiences led the audience into a dialogue about protesters and their rights.
“Regardless of if the students want to join or hate the movements, I hope they appreciate the rights that are being used by the occupiers,” Kaylor said. “And perhaps someday they’ll find a reason to exercise their own First Amendment rights.”
Contact Kelsey Beckett at firstname.lastname@example.org.