It has been weeks now since the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began. What started on the streets of New York City quickly moved across the country and across the globe. Events are being held daily in hundreds of cities, even in neighboring Rutland, according to the Occupy Rutland Facebook page.
But despite the vast number of protests and constant media coverage, the intent of these protests has remained relatively unclear to many people, including the History, Geography, Economics, and Politics Club at Castleton.
On Dec. 1, HGEP hosted an event to shed light on some of the motives and demands of protestors as well as the impact of these daily demonstrations.
“When we first started talking about Occupy Wall Street, we were trying to answer the question of ‘well, what are these protestors trying to accomplish?'” said Castleton senior Mike Callahan before introducing the faculty panelists.
“We realized we couldn’t really answer it,” he said.
The event featured four panelists, each representing their individual department and sharing their specific expertise in regards to the movement.
The club members invited Richard Clark to represent the political science department, Judith Robinson from economics, Carrie Waara from history and Robert Wuagneux from communication.
Clark, the first speaker, discussed public opinion. He stressed the fact that Americans are willing to accept a wide-range of economic inequalities, as long as there is opportunity. But people aren’t feeling that opportunity these days, he said.
“The American public is less optimistic today than ever,” he said.
Wuagneux also discussed public opinion and the media’s influence on it.
Robinson and Waara explained the evolution of the protests and the specific economic outcomes that the occupants are hoping for, which was the question students were pondering.
Robinson noted that many of the protestors in the movement are young people who either have a college degree or who are currently in college, and that the employment rate of this group is exceptionally high.
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“College students can’t get jobs in the field which they were taught, and are either working part-time when they should be working full time, or are working in a field that has nothing to do with their degree,” she said.
She too noted that the average number of work hours has increased significantly in the past couple of decades, and that the American people are not getting the payback they deserve.
Waara said Occupy Wall Street stems from the 2008-09 Icelandic Revolution, which was also called the “kitchen-ware movement,” due to the consistent banging on pots and pans for attention. Iceland was suffering from an economic downturn and citizens realized the “government screwed up royally,” according to Waara.
The effects were lasting and Parliament resigned and their government was revamped.
She also compared “Occupy Wall Street” to the “Arab Spring” and the numerous protests that erupted across the Middle East last year.
She stated that the “Arab Spring” began in Tunisia resulting from the actions of an individual fruit-seller who set himself on fire because he was “being heckled by a bureaucrat to get a new permit for his fruit stand.”
Castleton senior Jake Bourne said the discussion was very informative.
“Being an economics minor and having a solid background on the economic issues involved, it was a nice change of pace listening to professor Wuagneux and professor Waara talk about the communications and history aspects of protests,” said Bourne.
Castleton senior Drew Boudreau was also impressed.
“It was pretty informative, but I think they should have left more time for question and answer at the end … But they did give a good idea of what it’s about from several viewpoints,” he said.