Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Occupy Amherst movement sweeps through town

By William Perkins

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From the W.E.B. Du Bois Library to the Amherst Town Common, they marched yesterday – wielding protest signs and chanting. A contingent of people that assembled at the University of Massachusetts, they partook in a national walkout critiquing the current American financial system and the way in which business is carried out on Wall Street.

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City and the subsequent ones that have sprung up in areas around the country, a group of students, professors and other members of the community – numbering over 100 at times – participated in Occupy Amherst, part of the national Occupy Colleges demonstration, which called for walkouts at college campuses across the country yesterday.

Around noon yesterday, the group of students came together in front of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library and marched from the UMass campus to the Town Common – making brief stops to demonstrate in front of the Whitmore Administration Building at UMass and the Bank of America on South Pleasant Street in Amherst Center – chanting and shouting in unison during their march. They also continued on to Amherst College following the demonstration at the Town Common – which was the bulkiest part of the gathering, where protesters shared stories and criticized American capitalism.

Those demonstrating cited a number of different items of frustration during the protest – from rising tuition fees for college students to outrage with the controversial Sept. 21 execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia man convicted of killing a police officer.

But something most of the protesters hammered in as a flash point issue yesterday was what they defined as corporate greed in the country.

“It all comes down to corporate greed,” said Seth Meldon, 17, a UMass freshman studying in the School of Management. “We can say it’s about Troy Davis, we can say it’s about Barack Obama … but it’s all about f***ing corporate greed.”

Demonstrators took part in stump speeches on the Town Common, where some of them chastised what they called American imperialism, shared personal stories and reflections, and evoked some words calling for a revolution.

“This is only just the start of something,” said Ben Bull, 21, a graduate student in the Labor Studies Department at UMass, who helped to put together yesterday’s demonstration. “This was basically for UMass specifically as part of the nationwide student walkout.”

Bull said that one of the goals of the demonstrations is to focus more on communities than on corporations.

“People are angry,” he said. “We have problems.”

“Obviously the big goal is a complete and total re-shift of the values of this country – moving away from profit and putting it on morality … communities not corporations,” continued Bull.

For some, the protest yesterday was a chance to recall their experiences of participating in the main demonstrations in New York.

Nonkiko Richardson, 31, an Amherst resident and former UMass student who said she was one of over 700 people arrested over the weekend on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, said she participated in the demonstrations in an attempt to try to provide for a better future for her 8-year-old daughter.

“Her future is bleaker than mine,” said Richardson, who wore a mask during much of yesterday’s demonstration in protest to rules in New York that she said barred demonstrators from wearing such items. “We have to fight for her future.”

The money that banks, corporations and the wealthiest citizens possess, she said, is enough to end the famine taking place in Somalia.

“The issues are big,” added Richardson, who said that she thinks that if everyone does enough during demonstrations and protests, those in power will begin to recognize it. “But the money’s at Wall Street.”

Ben Taylor, who also said he was among the group of people to be arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend, said the sentiments in New York were energizing.

“It was electric,” said Taylor, a UMass student studying political science. “There was a sense that this was the start of an absolutely new movement in American history.

“People are f***ing angry about the system, which benefits the top 1 percent while screwing over everyone else,” he added.

UMass junior Laurie Roberts, who has been following the occupations since their inception through social media but was unable to travel to New York or Boston to participate, said she was “excited” when she found out about the protest in Amherst.

“This is what needs to happen,” said Roberts. “I am so excited that students and people are finally standing up for what is wrong right now. We have to speak up or nothing is going to happen.”

Nothing happening could be one of the worst possible outcomes, according to UMass economics Professor Gerald Friedman, who was also at yesterday’s demonstration.

“This is called the great recession but it might as well be called another great depression that is the magnitude of what we are facing,” said Friedman. “And we are not going to get out of it until we really dramatically change our economic policies. So the only hope is that there is popular mobilization like this and all over the country to get the government to change its policies towards the bank.”

According to Friedman, the government currently is giving banks money in an attempt to drive interest rates down and encourage them to loan money. However, he feels banks are afraid to lend the money and are now holding on to $1.6 trillion in excess reserves. He said the system “is not working, and it is not going to work.”

Friedman also believes that legislation needs to be passed that will force the banks to loan money. In addition, he thinks that the government needs to pass a much larger stimulus than the one passed by Obama in 2009.

“The Obama stimulus was 2 to 3 percent of GDP,” said Friedman. “It was enough to kind of help things along. At the time, I was looking at some notes from a talk I gave back in February 2009 and, for once, I was right. I said we need a stimulus four times as large, and we still need a stimulus four times that large.”

But Friedman said he doesn’t think any solution will come from Capitol Hill or the White House.

“There is nothing in Washington … I like the president. I like a lot of what he is doing, but there is nothing in the White House or Congress, certainly not Congress, that is going to do anything significant to improve circumstances.” Friedman said.

For Jonathan Goldin, 60, one hope of the demonstration is to that it will serve as an impetus to bring back a sense of fairness and improve the quality of life in the country.

“The quality of life in America has gone down,” said Goldin, a self-employed psychotherapist who works with UMass students and is also affiliated with Western Mass. Jobs With Justice.

“The thing that will revive it is fairness,” continued Goldin, a participant in yesterday’s demonstration, who added that more needs to be done to motivate students at the University and prepare them for the workforce.

Yesterday’s protest, though, was the first in what is expected to be a slew of protests in the area in the coming days and weeks.

A general assembly planning meeting for demonstrations in the area was expected to take place at the Town Common yesterday evening, and organizers have already planned for a large demonstration to take place there Sunday, Oct. 16.

William Perkins can be reached at [email protected]. Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]

Shaina Mishkin/Collegian



9 Responses to “Occupy Amherst movement sweeps through town”

  1. joe gerard on October 6th, 2011 10:25 am

    appreciate the informative article, well done..

    my only critique is that there is no need to include swear words ( even if implied and not spelled out totally as you did, and untactful comments such as the one below.. I realize that you want to give accurate quotes, but I expect a higher level of professionalism in the articles, so if someone is going to give a quote like this, please paraphrase it and take out the cussing and untactful comments the next time.. thank you

    People are f***ing angry about the system, which benefits the top 1 percent while screwing over everyone else,” he added.

  2. Seth on October 6th, 2011 2:26 pm

    I think $55,000 dollars in debt is sufficient to put one over the edge to swear aptly.

  3. Larry Kelley on October 6th, 2011 4:09 pm

    Flag Code,Chapter 1, Section 8(g): “The flag should never have anything placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”

  4. Eric on October 6th, 2011 4:45 pm

    It is interesting that Prof Friedman was speaking. His background is in Labor history, not banking. He is a communist, so it is not surprising that he is against the system. He is against the free markets in general and does not seem to understand what is actually happening in our banking system. 25 years ago, soon after I took his useless class, I started working in the financial services industry, and still do today. Banks are not lending, because the regulators are prohibiting banks from making “risky loans”. Even Barney Frank admitted that this is a problem. So if you are a small or under capitalized business, you cannot get a loan. If you are a large corporation, then you are probably flush with cash so you don’t need a loan. Local and community banks want to make these loans but they caanot. Furthermore, banks continue to build up capital because banking regulators continue to tighten capital standards, and Basel 3 will tighten them even more. If you don’t understand why this would prevent banks from lending take Money and Banking. I had Vickers, he was an excellent professor.

    The current crisis is a result of public policy which created and tremendous housing bubble. The government pumped over a Trillion dollars in the housing market via the GSE’s, the FHA was the largest subprime lender in the country, large tax incentives were given to those who took out mortgages, and the Fed kept real interest rates at 0 for several years. The Congress, the FED, the White House, the SEC, OFHEO, and our state attorney Generals did nothing to stop the bubble from getting out of control. The regulators allowed banks and insurance companies to determine capital changes based on ratings rather than the quality of the assets. When the bubble burst our polititions were looking around for someone to blame when they should have been looking in the mirror.

    You should be marching on Washington, not Wall Street. Also, somebody should tell the protestors that most of the banks are midtown, not on Wall Street. All these fools are downtown protesting in front of peoples apartment buildings. How would you like all these people creating a mess in front of your house and making it difficult to take your children to school.

  5. IAmYourBoss on October 6th, 2011 8:30 pm

    Quit rioting and go read a book. Change isn’t made by scribbling on some pieces of cardboard and running around like a herd of sheep. I love the people they quoted. Cursing and swearing; they have no tact. Direct representation of the type of people that are involved in this “movement.”

  6. Jack on October 6th, 2011 10:31 pm

    Eric….YES. You simply echoed my thoughts on the issue 100%

  7. Jack on October 6th, 2011 10:38 pm

    Let’s place bets…..90% of the protestors are either majoring in (or have just finished a degree) in sociology, anthropology…..or some liberal arts degree that our service based economy has no room for now. If anything…try to fight out country’s system of higher education for placing emphases and persuading students to major in such useless fields….with no back up/ technical experience…on top of rising tuition costs.
    and as Eric said above…if you really have the time on your hands…march in D.C…..these 20 year old protestors are primarily targeting working class people in downtown Manhattan…many who make between 40,000- 50,000/ year. Not exactly lucrative by any means.

  8. Rachel on October 10th, 2011 8:06 am

    My son graduated from UMass a few years ago with very high honors. Afterward, he worked a difficult job in human services which paid very little and had nothing to do with what he prepared for in school just to pay off his student loans. He’s the only person I’ve ever heard of who has actually paid those loans off in full. He also bought a new car at one point, maintained it beautifully and was able to sell it for enough money to pay off the car loan in full. I had a van at one time when I was working, the loan for which I paid in full even after becoming disabled, no longer able to keep my job and subsisting on a disability income, with no savings.I would very much like to be working again, but in my physical condition and at my age this is problematic. My son decided he wants to be an MD, so he looked into going back to school to pick up prerequisite courses he hadn’t taken before. He was quickly accepted at Harvard Extension & he was offered a very good loan for the first year. He got A’s his first year, was actually invited to become a teaching fellow at Harvard and taught the physics course he had just taken, until he had to quit because the job hours conflicted with his scheduled classes in September. Then came a major blow. No more funding available for him, not this year! In the first weeks of September he was told this, so in order not to become homeless in Boston and be forced to drop out of his classes, my son went job hunting and applied for financial aid from WEFA and a couple of banks and each effort was turned down, even with my cosignature. Is he a bad risk? Obviously not! There’s no real accounting for this. The government and/or the banks exist in order to afford money to people (like my hardworking, motivated young son,) they should be happy to help people get ahead in life, especially those with good credit established who nonetheless are poor enough to need their help. Blaming the poor for the excessive greed and stinginess of the banks, fie on whoever may do that! And shame on anyone whose bigotry against less fortunate people blinds them to the injustice of a system that is crushing so many young people’s dreams and aspirations, betraying the middle classes and completely neglecting to address the needs of this nation’s most invisible and reviled demographic, those of us living in poverty.

  9. Jake on October 12th, 2011 4:41 pm

    I’m glad to see that this is finally getting recognition. I hope occupy Amherst continues! I want to see a sea of maroon out there. We are the 99%.

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