Members of local Occupy groups hold teach-in meeting

By Steve Zoski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 17, 2011

University students partook in Ann Arbor’s spinoff of the Occupy movement yesterday with the aim of breaking the status quo.

Members of the Occupy Ann Arbor, Occupy UM and the Washtenaw Community Action Team held a teach-in meeting in a classroom in the C.C. Little Science Building last night, where speakers educated the standing-room-only audience about the motivation behind the Occupy movement. Students in attendance discussed their grievances with society, and event-goers announced future Occupy events in Ann Arbor and throughout the state.

LSA and Art & Design junior Ian Matchett, a member of Occupy Ann Arbor, gave a speech at the event and outlined why the teach-in was held.

“The Occupy movement has completely changed the discourse in this country, and we want to discuss the ideas of the movement to the people here at U of M,” Matchett said. “This used to be a really radical campus, the campus that led the nation in changing this country, and we want to make it that way again.”

Matchett was followed by Dan Nemser, an assistant professor of Spanish at the University, who spoke about how he witnessed demonstrations against tuition increases as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. Nemser said he thinks the Occupy Oakland movement has a “unique character” since it is closely connected to tuition increase and the lingering anger over a white police officer who fatally shot fatally shooting Oscar Grant, a black man, in 2009.

“If you take a step back and look at the Occupy movement as a whole, a lot of the language we use today that is becoming very mainstream first entered the discussion in 2009 with these occupations that happened in California,” Nemser said. “For example, the idea of 'occupy everything, demand nothing’ first were articulated in these occupations in California a couple of years ago.”

Rackham student Brian Whitener then spoke about student debt. He said the movement is planning to release a petition in which signees promise they will default on their student loans if it reaches 1 million signatories.

“Student debt is not like other debt,” Whitener said. “These big banks have pushed through legislation in Congress to make student debt a safer bet for them, and the worst bet for you.”

The event hosts passed out fliers announcing the first general assembly meeting of Occupy UM on Nov. 30.

Attendees were also instructed to write their dissatisfactions with societal and economic issues on signs.

“This group of people think they own us. In a way they do — on paper they do,” Matchett said. “The Occupy Wall Street movement is about us stepping out of that paperwork and saying, 'This is fucking ours, you can't have it.’”

Rackham student Wendy Sung said she came to the meeting because she was interested in learning more about the Occupy movement.

“I know there are lots of goals,” Sung said. “It’s this kind of amorphous movement. I’m interested to see what concrete action has been taken … Michigan has been a flash-bang historical kind of place for political change.”