October 16, 2011

Cornell Democrats ‘Occupy’ Ho Plaza in Protest Rally

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Dozens of Cornell students, faculty and city residents joined the Cornell Democrats’ “Occupy Cornell” rally on Ho Plaza Friday afternoon. Organizers said they hoped the rally would show support for the Occupy Wall Street protests and capture some of the movement’s techniques and energy to further their own goals.

“[The goal of Occupy Cornell] really depends on the goals of people who show up,” said Tony Montgomery ’13, president of the Cornell Democrats. “In any grassroots movement there will be different motives. What we are trying to do here is raise awareness.”

Montgomery said that the rally was originally scheduled at the beginning of the semester to bring attention to new voter identification laws. As the Occupy Wall Street rallies grew, however, Montgomery said he thought that bringing the movement to campus would provide a “better forum to vent frustration [with] not just national but campus issues.”

Members of the Cornell Democrats traveled to New York City to join the Wall Street protests and returned to campus with protest techniques that were incorporated into the rally on Ho Plaza, Montgomery said. Among these was the use of a “people’s mic,” in which the audience serves the function of a microphone by echoing the speakers’ words.

Mimicking the Occupy Wall Street protests, Occupy Cornell’s participants were not solely focused on one issue, organizers said.

Montgomery said that a major goal of the rally was to “show solidarity” with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and he did not shy away from the fact that Occupy Cornell was a patchwork of advocacy groups.

“At the moment this is a show of support,” said Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward), the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Ithaca, after he spoke at the rally. “Most of the issues [supported at the protest] are related to the federal government, but the energy this creates can translate into action on local issues.”

Montgomery and the Cornell Democrats worked with other campus groups — such as Voices for Planned Parenthood and Black Students United — that are also “concerned with the disenfranchised,” Montgomery said.

Georgia Crowthers ’14, a member of the Cornell Democrats, said she attended the rally to raise awareness about voter identification laws pending in Albany and elsewhere. Still, like Montgomery, she embraced the complexity of the movement.

“I think [the Occupy movement] does not need a more defined goal, as long as we go back to supporting those who are underrepresented,” she said.

The Occupy Cornell rally attracted more than just students who braved the intermittent rain. Speakers on the “people’s mic” included Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, and other members of the Cornell Democrats.

Sanders called the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement a “wonderful thing” that has the potential for “staying power” comparable to the Tea Party movement.

“Social movements like this can put the government back on track,” Sanders said. “What has to be done by Occupy Wall Street is to find candidates who support them, even in local elections.”

Sanders gestured to Myrick and said that he could be one of the “young, unknown candidates … who will support [the movement] in institutions.”

Myrick said he was not involved in the planning of Occupy Cornell, but that it was “pretty impressive” that a student group put it together.

In his speech on the “people’s mic,” Myrick said that the Cornell community “must continue to be a microphone for the people around us.” He said that although there are no clear policy objectives for Occupy Cornell at present, “engagement is the key” for any political change.

However, not all Cornell students said they understood the objectives of the Occupy Cornell rally.

Nick Balta ’15 said he does not think that Occupy Cornell will go far in advancing students’ policy goals.

“The size of that protest isn’t going to do anything. There wasn’t enough people and it wasn’t clear what they were doing,” Balta said. “It didn’t seem like there was a point to what they were doing. They need to sell themselves better.”

Cornell Republicans President Raj Kannappan ’13 also said that he didn’t think the rally “can have much effect” on the issues for which the participants were advocating.

“They simply seem to be protesting anyone and everyone who has power in America,” Kannappan said.

“This isn’t Wall Street,” said Dan Greener ’14. “It’s Ho Plaza.”

Original Author: Jacob Glick