Supporters and opponents of capitalism host demonstrations in Amherst

By Chris Shores

Matt McCarron/The Amherst Wire

On the 30th day of the Occupy Wall Street protest, local demonstrators gathered again yesterday at noon on the Amherst Town Common to speak out against corporations, capitalism and more – the latest in a series of the Wall Street protest’s spin-off movement.

And while the demonstrators at the “Occupy Amherst” rally took turns giving speeches on the lawn to a group of over 100 people, a second demonstration – called “I Love Capitalism” and sponsored by the College Republicans and the Tea Party of the Pioneer Valley – took place along the side of South Pleasant Street.

The demonstration was not a counter-protest, said Avery Normyle – one of the organizers and a 19-year-old University of Massachusetts student who spoke out against the “Occupy Amherst” protest at its event last Wednesday. Instead, it was a demonstration formed in an attempt to showcase that the “Occupy Amherst” protests are “not really showing the whole student body’s opinion,” he said.

“We don’t agree with everything that’s going on [in America]. We don’t support corporate greed,” said Normyle. “But we believe in capitalism, we believe in our system [and] we love our country.”

Despite the proximity of the “I Love Capitalism” demonstration to the “Occupy Amherst” one, participants of the latter event did not believe that it would affect the morale of their group.

“They are a small part of a larger opposition,” said Emahunn Campbell. “They are fueling what we are doing.”

From his post on the street sidewalk, Nathan Fatal, 19, a student at UMass and president of the newly-formed New England Objectivist Society, said he believes the organizers of Occupy Wall Street and its spin-off movements have gone about things the wrong way.

“You cannot solve political issues by taking away people’s freedoms,” he said. “When people who organized the Occupy Wall Street movement decided that they’re going to demand free education, free health care and a trillion dollars in infrastructure, they’re demanding a little bit of my wealth.

“Other perspectives are important, [but] if you disagree with something, it’s important to understand why you disagree with something,” he added, “not just to smear it with ad hominem attacks. That’s immature, that’s something toddlers do to get candy. That’s not what intelligent, rational self-respecting people do.”

“Occupy Amherst” protesters said repeatedly during their event that one of the largest criticisms of the movement was that it lacked direction or failed to provide real solutions to the problems they were protesting against.

But Mathew Jacobson, 45, said that he – while initially skeptical of the movement’s focus – has since been won over and believes it is acceptable for the protesters to not “have all the answers.”

“How can you blame the people who didn’t mess it all up for not having the answers on how to fix it? It is the right of everyone to be outraged on what has happened to this planet and you don’t need to have all the answers,” he told the crowd.

“Maybe the difference in this movement and why this movement will work is because [the protesters] haven’t come already with answers that they came up with on their own and are trying to inflict, enforce or push on everybody else,” Jacobson added. “Because people are getting together, and saying, ‘We are different, we are not sure, but we have had enough, let us work together to find a better way.’”

Rebecca Fisher, who declared herself as both a mother and grandmother, spoke to the crowd about how everyone lives in what she believes to be a planet dying because of corporate greed and capitalism.

“We live in a world where the oceans are dying, where forests are dying, where rivers are dying, where mountains are dying,” she said. “I speak for the animals and for the plants; against corporations, they haven’t a chance.”

Margaret Lobenstine – a 68-year-old woman who held a sign on the sidewalk just feet away from the “I Love Capitalism” demonstration – said that she was taking part in the “Occupy Amherst” protest because all of society’s “safety nets are being cut.”

“Students at UMass are having to pay higher and higher interest on their student loans,” she said. “There are fewer and fewer jobs out there for them to get when they graduate and try to pay them back.”

Standing next to Lobenstine was Lynne Weintraub, 51, who said that she “just wanted to show that there are people here in Amherst that can’t make it to New York but are there in spirit.”

A few members of the “Occupy Amherst” demonstration said that they had been able to make it to the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and told stories of their experiences in the city.

At the beginning of the demonstration, organizer Dylan Kravette said that “it has been difficult to establish what exactly it means to have an ‘Occupy Amherst’ and if we should even be using that terminology and what the importance of it is in this context.

“It’s been difficult to figure out how to make decisions and discuss important issues in a way that doesn’t utilize the oppressive power relationships that we’ve all been trained in,” she said. “It’s really hard work and we’re doing it.”

Felicia Cohen contributed to this report. Chris Shores can be reached at [email protected]