Despite strong Occupy Lansing movement, Occupy MSU fails to gain momentum
In the wake of the first demonstration that took place in Lansing on Oct. 16, Occupy Lansing protestors have set up camp in Reutter Park as part of the much larger Occupy Wall Street movement that is gaining momentum in cities across the country. Protestors at the Occupy Lansing campsite discuss why they chose to get involved with the movement and what their experience camping out in the park has been like. The Occupy Wall Street movement began last month in New York City.
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to accurately reflect that the MSU students associated with the Occupy Lansing movement plan to attend a black power rally on Nov. 2 to support racial equality on campus.
A hashtag symbol — now synonymous with the Twitter revolution and a new, digital form of grassroots organization — is painted on a banner at Lansing’s Reutter Park, set against the primitive tent city of the Occupy Lansing protestors.
Protestors associated with Occupy Lansing, a sub-branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been sweeping the nation’s cities in the past six weeks, have advocated for social class justice and more accountability in America’s corporations. Activists say the movement is in response to a flood of money that has poisoned the political system and destroyed the fundamental values of the U.S. democracy.
In weekends past, hundreds of people from across Michigan have gathered to protest on the Capitol steps. But while colorful signs, tents and the occasional acoustic group occupy Reutter Park, just two blocks north of the Capitol, all is quiet on the MSU campus.
No tents. No chants. No signs. No students demanding change.
Erik Zempel, of Waterloo Township, Mich., left, and Mike Tuell, a graduate student, protest Saturday morning on Grand River Avenue during the Occupy Walk. Part of the Occupy Lansing movement, the walk is another effort to bring out MSU students to the join the protest force in Lansing.
Occupy Lansing has experienced slow but noticeable growth since the movement’s start in numbers and in organization. It has not stuck in East Lansing or on campus, despite pained attempts from the organizers of the protest to capture the support of the more than 40,000 students that occupy campus and surrounding areas. Students and leaders of the movement cite a variety of reasons for the lack of enthusiasm, including lack of information and little faith in the movement’s weight.
An empty occupation
Occupy Lansing is everything to 22-year-old Lansing resident Ian Eberhart.
His tent in Reutter Park is his home. He has no house, no apartment. He used the last of his money to buy an outdoor jacket. And he’s not planning on leaving anytime soon.
“I honestly don’t know (what would make me leave),” Eberhart said, adding the prosecution of bank executives for the financial meltdown would be a start. “People will stay here until they see the changes that they want to see.”
Some members are planning to stay through the winter, building huts made of wood and canvas in the park, Eberhart said.
Randy Meger, who is one of the founding members of Occupy Lansing, has similar complaints.
“I’m here because I’m a patriot,” Meger said, adding the U.S. treasury was “ransacked” by corrupt members of the government and greedy corporate executives.
The group camping in Reutter Park started off small with just a handful of people and now has grown into an encampment of about 20 permanent tents with more temporary participants showing up for weekend demonstrations.
But students here have yet to be inspired by the movement’s message; so far, there have been no significant demonstrations on campus. An initial attempt to start an “Occupy MSU” movement seemingly failed — a group who identified themselves as students tried to organize a protest three weeks ago at the rock on Farm Lane to coincide with a national “walk out of class” student movement. But the protest, which the group attempted to form via Twitter, never materialized. The group told The State News in a message via Twitter that the group had disbanded because of lack of support and planned to merge with Occupy Lansing.
Further demonstrations have yielded little MSU support. A demonstration by hundreds on the Capitol steps Oct. 15 — the same day as the MSU home football game against the University of Michigan — failed to draw a sizeable number of MSU students, while still gathering support from many different age groups, hailing from cities across the state.
Then, on Saturday, the group suffered another failed attempt to mobilize the campus community. As rain pelted the 16 attendees at the base of Beaumont Tower for a planned student march to Reutter Park, the leaders were left wondering what to do. With meager numbers, the march commenced as planned, starting with only one marcher who was a student.
“Right now, I’m happy but still not satisfied with the progress,” said political theory and constitutional democracy senior Kevin Pietrick, who is heading the effort to mobilize MSU students.
“There just hasn’t really been quite the opportunity (for MSU students to get involved).”
A lack of momentum
Pietrick said several more students joined the march part way to the park. As for the lack of enthusiasm to participate, Pietrick said he thinks there just haven’t been many opportunities to participate and little dissemination of information.
The lack of support on the side of the student body has been surprising to history professor Lewis Siegelbaum, who attended the march Saturday.
“It’s been disappointing,” Siegelbaum said, noting the movement still is in its early stages. “I think the lack of student participation to the extent aIl of us would like to see is partially a result of the sense of (not) being able to get something accomplished.”
Some campus activists not associated with the movement have other theories.
“It’s midterms — students are busy,” said Stephen Wooden, a member of the MSU College Democrats. Still, he’s thinks the movement might gain momentum soon.
“I’m hearing good things from the Occupy movement,” he said.
What started as a general dissatisfaction of America’s direction has turned into something that looks a lot like the government of the founding fathers.
The Reutter Park camp has adopted a general assembly to make democratic decisions and subcommittees to tackle more specific problems, such as food, cleanliness and shelter. They’ve ratified a Declaration of Occupation — a constitution of sorts that outlines specific points for change — including reducing education debt and repealing the state’s Emergency Financial Manager law, which allows the state government to appoint a manager with the power to override local government deemed in a disaster state.
Pietrick said he hopes the MSU students who join the movement will develop a similar focus.
On Wednesday, Pietrick and other students plan to attend the a black power rally on campus to show support for racial equality on campus, and Pietrick said he hopes to gather more students to attend a full day of occupy events in Lansing this Saturday.
“It’s not like we categorize and separate these issues out. It’s all one big system of injustice,” Pietrick said.