Students will “occupy” Occupy New Haven

occupy-New-Haven
Photo by Stephen Harris.

Occupy New Haven will have another movement to contend with when it begins its occupation this weekend.

A group of Yale students is remonstrating Occupy New Haven, the Elm City’s manifestation of the anti-corporation protest movement sweeping the nation, with an event called “Occupy Occupy New Haven.” The Occupy Occupy protest, which was organized through a Facebook event and is generating debate both online and around campus, will take place at the same time and place as Occupy New Haven: Saturday afternoon on the New Haven Green. While students remain divided on whether they support Occupy New Haven or its opponent, city officials said they are only concerned with keeping all protesters safe as they converge on the Green. Members of the anti-Occupy movement said while they understood the plight of those involved in the group they are protesting, they object to the means Occupy New Haven is taking to affect change.

An Oct. 13 survey by Time Magazine found that 54 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the protests, while 23 percent possess a negative impression. How Yalies will fall on the issue remains to be seen.

DEFENDING CAPITALISM AGAINST “AIMLESS MOBS”

The Occupy Occupy Facebook group’s description compares the Occupy Movement to a mob, and states that while “times are tough for folks across our nation,” positive change can be effective without “the overhaul of society.”

Elizabeth Henry ’14, a creator of the Occupy Occupy event on Facebook and a member of the Yale Political Union’s Tory Party, said she understands the hardships that Occupy protestors face.

“Unemployment has skyrocketed, the federal deficit is out of control, and the Obama administration has no answers about how to get us out of this mess,” Henry wrote in an email. “However, I think the Occupation Movement’s crying out against corporations and capitalism is misguided and unproductive.”

The Occupy movement possesses an irrational hatred of wealth and seeks the destruction of the U.S. economic system, said Alec Torres ’13, an officer of the YPU Conservative Party. The Occupy Occupy group, he added, believes that capitalism is an important tool and that anger over the fact that “some people can afford yachts and other can’t” should not be an impetus for radical change.

Still, students and New Haveners alike have come to the defense of Occupy New Haven, using the Facebook event comment board to accuse organizers of being “disgusting,” “incoherent” and “heartless.”

Michael Knowles ’12, chairman of the Yale College Republicans and a creator of the Occupy Occupy event, said in an email that he thinks these commenters misunderstand the event’s aims. Rather than attacking the unemployed or “millions of citizens like us” who are unhappy with the Obama administration’s handling of the economy, “we are protesting the mobs of left-leaning political activists that are ‘occupying’ public parks and streets in cities across the country and who proudly proclaim that they have no goals or even an understanding of why they are there.” Knowles said.

“These ‘Occupiers’ do not petition their elected representatives to pass specific legislation because they have no solutions to propose — they only have anger,” he added.

Knowles said his opposition to the movement is not based on political partisanship but rather for the Occupy protestors’ disregard for democratic processes. Protests without goals, he wrote, cease to be protests and instead become “aimless mobs.”

COMING TO OCCUPY’S DEFENSE

Bassel Habbab ’14 disagrees with the label “aimless mob,” arguing that the Occupy movement does not have “sharply defined goals” precisely because it is a “spontaneous popular uprising.”

“People are angry that, in a time when they cannot find jobs, feed their children or afford basic medical care, our government is committed to spending over $1 trillion on hundreds of Lockheed-Martin F-35s,” Habbab said. “Perhaps the Occupy Occupy group’s efforts would be better spent protesting the egregious sums of taxpayer money being wasted on things designed to kill people in other countries rather than improve life in our own.”

Many critics of the Occupy Occupy movement took issue not just with the group’s aims, but also the manner in which they planned to protest. The Occupy Occupy event page initially stated that it would be “protesting the loafing and incoherence of the Occupy New Haven occupiers” while armed with “posters and Febreze.”

New Havener Ben Aubin, an Occupy New Haven participant who owns four small local businesses, said this was the wrong way to go about protesting the movement.

“The real problem is we’re not going to an empty space, we’re going to a place that’s filled with people who have been unemployed and homeless for years,” Aubin said, adding that to spray Febreze at these protestors would be disrespectful. The Occupy Occupy New Haven organizers later changed the group descriptions to remove any reference to Febreze and said in comments that it was a joke.

Martina Crouch ’14, who has taken part in New Haven’s Occupy movement, said she hopes that the Occupy Occupy group will come to Occupy New Haven meetings to learn what the protests are actually about. She said that she had previously tried engaging Occupy Occupy participants in “emotionless” discussion on the Facebook event’s wall, but group creators dismissed her claims based off media reports and soon after deleted her posts.

“Most of their ideas are fueled by fear and assumption,” Aubin said. “If it’s really important to them they’ll come out and voice their opinion.”

The Occupy New Haven event will begin at noon on Saturday and last 24 hours, according to the official event page, while the Occupy Occupy New Haven counter-protests will run from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

SAFETY IS THE REAL ISSUE

City Hall Spokesman Adam Joseph said that the primary aims of city government is to ensure that everybody, protestor or not, is safe during the event. He added that New Haven has a long history of peaceful demonstrations and that City Hall supports such outlets of expression. “People are stressed right now; we get that,” Joseph said. “It’s important for people to organize and express their point of view, to articulate collaborative solutions — that’s how you advance the community.”

Joseph said that, on the topic of fighting big corporations, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was able to extract $21 million from a banking deal last year to create START Community Bank, which he said is “interested to serve in the community and invest back in New Haven.”

Jeffrey Kerekes, DeStefano’s opponent in the upcoming mayoral election, said that he is planning on attending Saturday’s Occupy New Haven protest.

“Protestors have some sense that something is wrong, that the system’s not working,” Kerekes said. “I think they’re right.”

Since its birth in New York on Sept. 17, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to over 70 cities in the U.S. as well as to other countries, drawing comparisons to the Arab Spring, Tea Party and Spanish Indignant movements.

As of press time, 465 people were listed as attending Occupy New Haven’s event on Facebook and 652 said they would not be attending. Meanwhile, 85 people said they would be attending Occupy Occupy New Haven, while 100 were listed as not attending.

Comments