#OccupyISU, a protest formed in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, met on the lawn of Central Campus at noon Thursday, October 13. This was unfortunate for the occupants, as it coincided with the carillon tower’s bell concert that takes place for 20 minutes every weekday starting at 11:50.
Luckily, people involved in the series of Occupy protests that have sprung up across the country are already used to having their First Amendment rights tampered with and have set up a “human microphone” system for when megaphones and other voice amplification techniques are banned. One Iowa State University speaker, encircled by protesters, shouted short phrases that were then repeated loudly by anyone within earshot so that those farther away would be able to hear what was being said. About 200 people attended the gathering by the Campanile, where attendees were encouraged to explain to the crowd what brought them to the occupation.
Professors told about their children’s problems finding careers after graduation, and supplied facts and figures that helped legitimize the occupation in the eyes of some of the more wary protesters. For instance, undergraduate students take out loans totaling an average of $22,000 by the time they graduate — paying them back at 6.8 percent interest, which adds another $7,000 to an already daunting amount of debt considering the average starting salary of someone who graduates from a four-year college was only $27,000 last year.
Students expressed outrage to the local news outlets on hand. For nearly every student in the crowd, there was a smartphone being used to relay information and frustration to friends, peers, and family members, many of whom expressed support from home via Facebook and Twitter, a driving force of the movement at large.
Also in attendance were former Maytag employees’ children, World War two veterans, representatives from Occupy Des Moines, public school teachers, and retirement home workers. And an 81-year-old woman, whose whispers of her peace-making mission in Afghanistan were echoed through the crowd by the loud, passionate voices of those touched by her words. People shared a wide variety of ideas, from the crowd-pleasing “eliminate student debt for graduates” to ideas for an alternative currency. Everyone seemed displeased with the current health care system, Guantanamo Bay, Monsanto Corporation, and military spending.
Though some used their moment to speak to recite lyrics from John Lennon songs or lines from Braveheart, a surprisingly large portion of people shared relevant information. One undergraduate student brought to the attention of the already-chagrined crowd budget proposals for 2012 that could eliminate funding for AmeriCorps and slice Pell Grants in half. A war veteran compared the infamous “three-trillion dollar bailout” to the $1 trillion collective sum of US student debt. Many were shocked to learn that the total student debt has surpassed total credit card debt in the country.
After about an hour and a half of protesting under the Campanile, protestors marched around campus and down Lincoln Way, where CyRide drivers and other passersby honked in support. The movement grew as the marchers passed the Union Drive Community Center and the “Free Speech” zone in front of Parks Library, shouting and waving signs, informing onlookers that they are part of “the 99 percent” (referring to the now-popularized fact that 1 percent of Americans control 42 percent of all financial wealth and that probably no one we know is part of that 1 percent). After another brief occupation of the “Free Speech” zone, during which many students left to get lunch or go to class, the protest made its way in front of ISU President Gregory Geoffroy’s house and around student dormitories.
Constantly tailed by various campus personnel in golf carts, the remaining 100 marchers finally returned to the Campanile, where they held consensus. They made plans to meet for another occupation, and experienced facilitators from Occupy Des Moines provided a detailed walkthrough of how to facilitate an occupation. From that meeting, it was determined that protestors would meet again for a planning meeting and possible reoccupation on Thursday, October 20, at noon
by the Campanile. at the Sloss House (update: see the comment below).
Unlike most occupations, participants did not bring tents nor attempt to camp or permanently occupy the university. Nearly everyone attending the protests had in common busy daily lives and jobs. While many were able to walk out of class and put things on hold, there were dozens more who were not able to attend. Likewise, a separate Occupy Ames organization formed, for people whose 9-to-5 jobs wouldn’t allow them to attend a noon-time campus occupation.
With Occupy Wall Street now a month strong and in hundreds of cities throughout the country, it is unlikely that this occupation will end soon on a national level. What remains for Ames and ISU occupants is questionable. For all the passion and dedication expressed at the rally, there were equal expressions of exhaustion. While planning the next meeting, students argued over work and class schedules and upcoming midterms. The arrests at Occupy Des Moines and around the country in recent days have lit up Occupy ISU’s Facebook wall and may inspire many to keep the occupation going and growing. The biggest obstacle facing ISU’s 99 percent seems to be affording the opportunity to protest.