Students and community activists occupied the Stevenson Union courtyard on Wednesday, Nov. 30, as part of the months-old Occupy Wall Street movement, a massive protest against corporate greed which has left encampments of protesters in cities across the nation, from New York City to Los Angeles.
The protesters formed a semicircle around an open microphone and listened to a variety of speakers, poets and rappers address political and social issues that ranged from climate change to student loan debt. The protesters, though, were united in their efforts to end the underlying cause of the myriad problems: corporate greed.
“Dissent, protest, and the open expression of perspectives are necessary to civil society in the United States,” wrote Southern Oregon University Professor Jody Waters in support of the activists in an email leading up the rally.
Waters, who has written extensively on community-based movements, went on to write, “We [the SOU Faculty Senate] support students as they organize to have their voices heard, take initiative to express their ideas, and step forward as responsible and active citizens.”
The speakers included, among others, SOU Vice President of Student Affairs John Eldridge and Evan Lasley, one of the rally organizers and member of Phronesis, a local student-led activist organization that campaigns for social change and justice.
“I think the Occupy movement, and the role that students play in it … can’t be underestimated, because we do need our students to do those things, which is why I’m incredibly sad when I see on some other campuses … that the students who are doing exactly what we asked them to do are then being told to move along – and sometimes that is happening violently,” Eldridge said.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” he added. “And it’s incredibly hypocritical on the part of those institutions.”
Lasley spoke not only of the importance of students to the Occupy movement but also of the importance of bringing students and community members together to work as one.
“We need to bring the campus into the community,” he said. “The gap between the university and the community must be bridged directly by all of us. We must address the apathy and political disengagement which has been widespread in the student population in the last several decades.”
Aeron Lewis, 22, a community organizer and full-time volunteer at the Jackson County Fuel Committee, came to the rally in solidarity with Occupy Ashland and to further establish the relationship between JCFC volunteers and SOU students. The JCFC is a local organization that supplies firewood and heating assistance to low-income households.
“We are here to try to get people to take physical action,” Lewis said.
“People are awakening to the idea that it’s not our fault,” he said. “Now that we’ve been awakened to it, we have to change it.”
Those attending the rally marched from the SU courtyard to downtown Ashland to attend the General Assembly, an open forum used by many local Occupy movements for democratic decision making. A General Assembly is held in the Plaza every Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Occupy Ashland will join Occupy Medford at noon on Dec. 5 in Medford’s Vogel Plaza to highlight the pro-Wall Street votes and positions that Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has cast and taken during his time in Washington.