Andover and the National Occupy Movement

Impassioned cries of “We are the 99%” resounded through streets of nearly 95 cities across the nation, as the Occupy movement, an ongoing, leaderless effort against social and economic inequalities, hosted its 40th consecutive day of protests this past Thursday. In response to these protests, Phillips Academy students, with the approval of the school Administration, organized a student-trip to nearby Occupy protests in Boston on Saturday, October 15th and promoted the principles of the movement on campus. The Occupy movement began on September 17th, 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street protests held in the Wall Street financial district of New York City. These protests, led by a Canadian activist group named “Adbusters”, focused on opposing greed and totalitarianism in the corporate economy. Greg Zhang ‘12, one of the student leaders responsible for arranging the trip to Occupy Boston, said, “Just because we attend Phillips Academy does not mean we are distanced from the real world problems happening close by. The Occupy movement is probably a once-in-a-decade chance to help support something pertinent to us, to take to the streets. It’s a rare thing in America, in recent decades at least, to have such widespread street protests, and I think it’s a valuable experience for anybody.” Other student leaders involved in promoting the Occupy movement on campus included Abigail Burman ’12, Alex Anderlik ’14, Kelly Stathis ’12, Daniel Krichmar ‘12, Kate Chaviano ’12 and Tiana Baheri ’12. Leading up to the trip to Boston last weekend, these student activists worked with other passionate students to spread information throughout campus, generate discussion, and garner student-interest for the Occupy movement. The students held a safety meeting on the Thursday night before the trip to Boston for students interested in attending the protests. Zhang said, “The safety meeting rose out of legitimate concerns voiced by a non-attending student in the aftermath of the mass arrests the week before. The main purpose of the meeting was to plan for a worst case scenario, police actively arresting protesters at the rally, as well as teach some basic safety precautions.” “First and foremost, we emphasized that it would absolutely not be worthwhile for any of us to be arrested. We came up with a list of what to bring, how to act to other protestors and to the police, as well as what to do in case of separation with the rest of the group. Luckily, the event was peaceful enough so that we can chuckle in retrospect at the seriousness with which we prepared for the worst, but at the time it felt necessary for the safety of the students,” he continued. The students also created an anonymous email account to address any questions from the student body. Zhang said, “There was an email account created to remain anonymous during the early stages of organization, when we did not know how the administration would react to our event, at That was the email that went out on the posters around campus, but we never did get any emails with questions.” Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, said, “This could have been a whole different story. We could have decided that it would have been inappropriate for students to go , and then stopped them. But I think that this is one of the those moments that underscores that [the Administrative Office] and the school are not simply about telling people what to do and always taking the most conservative view.” “There was no evidence that this was going to be a big deal. I am sure that there were faculty members who didn’t agree with us letting kids go [to Occupy Boston], but there were an equal number of people who wrote to me saying that this was the right thing to do, that this is education, this is history being made, and that students should have the opportunity to see this,” said Murphy. More than twenty students attended the Occupy Boston protests. Anderlick said, “The event was fantastic and well-organized on the part of the Occupy Boston crowd. There was a rally and a march, and the turnout was amazing. The environment was charged and it was exciting, but there were many in the march who were simply marching in solidarity and weren’t shouting slogans at the top of their lungs.” Shannon Adams ‘12, one of the students who attended the concert, “When I went [to Occupy Boston] I was a bit disappointed at first. The people in charge seemed unorganized, and the speakers or protesters had a hard time clearly articulating what they were angry about in the first place, so a lot of it ended up sounding like a jumbled up mess of general frustration with life. But the atmosphere was contagious, and you could just get the feeling that being there meant you were a part of something bigger. I’m really glad I went.” Baheri said, “We should recognize that some of the criticism of the Occupy movement is accurate is valid but the most important aspect of the movement is that it shows that this generation is not apathetic, it makes it okay for policy makers to propose new taxes and it makes sure people are heard. It means people are taking ownership of the political process.” Zhang said, “The environment was very inclusive and I felt safe. There were such a wide range of people at the rally: far right Ron Paul supporters, socialists, college kids, former Vietnam-War protesters, the group Veterans for Peace, and even other high school kids like us. There wasn’t much hostility between the various groups, and everyone felt maybe not 100% supportive but in solidarity with everyone else. The other protesters were welcoming and the Boston Police Department helped to keep the roads clear for us.” Zhang said, “I think that the event was a success, from my point of view anyways. Things stayed peaceful, there were no really ugly incidents that we feared. I got to talk to a whole array of wonderful people, got exposed to different ideas and different stories, and got to feel a part of something larger than myself.” Zhang said, “Personally, I felt that the student march in the afternoon after the scheduled rally and march was unorganized, but on the other hand, the spontaneity was amazing as well. Here were kids our age, enrolled in Boston schools and from across Massachusetts, united together regardless of race or age. We are students, and we were all there to support a cause that affects us.” “The other students who went with us as a group seemed to take a lot away from the experience. Many PA students were at the front of the student rally in the afternoon, and I think the overarching feeling of people at the end of the day was positive, and it was a day well spent,” he continued. “To be so close to something so important and not go felt hypocritical. I say that I like history and I want to study it in college, and had I not gone to Occupy Boston I would have been ignoring history as it happened right in front of me,” said Adams. Anderlick said, “Occupy Boston is a great way for PA students to get involved in current events as well as political activism. It gives a great insight into the freedom (as well as the limitations) granted by our Constitution. It is important to remember that we as a youth have a voice; even teenagers can make a difference! And this is a good example of that.” “I first learned about the Occupy movement from a former camp counselor on Facebook who is very active in the Occupy Wall Street movement. I sympathized with the general grievances of the protesters and I’ve been uneasy for a while about the growing inequality between rich and poor, but the thing that really pushed me into action was being exposed to the stories people had from the Tumblr blog We are the 99%. These people are no different from me: they have their college diplomas, they want to learn, they want to work and be productive, but they can’t find jobs and are ridden in college debt. Honestly, I am afraid. It’s doesn’t take a far leap of the imagination to see oneself in that situation, especially since we’re already paying so much here. Would shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for education be worth it? If it was worth it, if one could find a good paying job with a diploma, then maybe. But that’s just not happening, and I’m worried and I want to help do something about it,” said Zhang.