Occupy ‘teach-in’ draws 100
While Occupy Wall Street protesters around the state face challenges to their encampments, a group of more than 100 students, Occupy Wall Street supporters and critics gathered at a Bowdoin College auditorium Tuesday to ask of the 10- week- old movement: What next?
After hearing perspectives from a panel of professors and activists, organizers opened the discussion to audience members seeking to understand and report on the movement that visiting professor and panelist Nicholas Toloudis said has no specific goals.
“It’s not a response to a specific bill or the budget or a specific policy or an individual person,” said Toloudis, who teaches a course on social movements. “ It’s an expression of frustration and resentment with the state of American democracy today.”
At the outset of the movement, Toloudis said, he did not expect that it would grow, and that he had “misgauged the degree of frustration in this country.”
“I’m thoroughly impressed with the degree to which I underestimated that frustration,” Toloudis said.
Panelists and audience members tussled with the question of how the movement should translate to economic policy, and critics in the audience raised concerns about the justice of placing a heavier tax burden on the nation’s top earners.
Professor Kristen R. Ghodsee, director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at Bowdoin College, reflected on what the protests had accomplished so far. Tuesday’s forum, she said, was one tangible result.
“ If this movement has accomplished anything, it’s teach- ins like this where there is an entire auditorium with people here talking about income inequality,” Ghodsee said. “It’s the first time in my 10 years at Bowdoin that this has happened.”
Ghodsee, who said she was an early observer of the movement and urged Bowdoin students to pay attention or become involved, said that the protesters have brought issues related to income inequality, banking regulations, taxation and free speech to the forefront of political discussions in America.
“ The Occupy Wall Street movement has brought attention to phenomena that are very recent,” leading to what she said is the “ pursuit of wealth for the few at the expense of the democratic rights of many.”
Ghodsee presented data from inequality.org, which show that after-tax income has increased significantly in the past four decades for those making more than $200,000, while showing much smaller increases and even decreases for the nation’s poorest residents.
In the same data from the period 1947 to 1979, Ghodsee said that incomes were growing evenly from the bottom 20 percent to the top 5 percent. “Where did that America go?” Ghodsee asked
Ghodsee said that the change is partly due to a steady decrease in tax rates since the Eisenhower administration, when she said the top rate was 91 percent.
“There were periods when there was a lot more redistribution going on,” Ghodsee said.
In part, she said, Bowdoin students should be concerned about the message of the movement as they enter a difficult economy and job market.
“It’s easy to wall yourself off from the reality because it doesn’t affect you directly ... yet,” Ghodsee said.
Robbie Benson, the student organizer of the event, said he was pleased with Tuesday’s turnout and hopes that it raised the level of awareness on campus.
Jerry Provencher, a Bath resident, said he has participated in the downtown Brunswick Occupy protests that began on Nov. 5. He said that the movement has been trying to find ways to extend its reach beyond the weekly demonstrations that take protesters from the Mall to the sidewalk in front of the downtown Bank of America branch.
“I thought this (forum) was very good,” Provencher said. “The goal is to raise awareness.”
Provencher said he was impressed with how the movement has grown and that “ two months ago, we might have had a handful of people here.”
“ The movement is growing,” Provencher said. “Even the president and the mainstream media are talking about it.”
Provencher said the forum was the most involvement he’s seen so far from students at the college.
As attendees exited the auditorium Tuesday night, Benson turned to panelist Lisa Savage, the Maine coordinator for the peace activist group Code Pink, with hopes for future collaboration.
“This is a beginning,” Benson said.
Benson said he plans to join the Brunswick protest Saturday morning.
Savage, who said she has visited five different Occupy encampments since the start of the movement in early September, said during Tuesday’s forum that the movement is encouraging.
“I’m sorry that there is so much economic distress, but it’s so encouraging that you can no longer fool people with entertainment and infotainment because there are parents who can’t afford to have their kids’ wisdom teeth taken out,” Savage said.
On Tuesday night, Savage showed footage she took Sunday of nine protesters who were arrested in Augusta after refusing to leave property outside of the Blaine House.
Savage said she spent Monday night in a teepee erected by the Penobscot Nation at the Occupy Augusta encampment, where protesters brokered a deal Monday, according to the Bangor Daily News, to continue its protest following the filing of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the Occupy encampment in Portland had filed for a permit with the city to remain in Lincoln Park through the winter, and a Bangor Daily News report indicated that protesters in Bangor will consider leaving their encampment in Peirce Park at a meeting scheduled for Monday.