As House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–Va.) took the stage at the Michigan League yesterday, a group of protesters outside the building erupted in chants of “Eric Cantor you can’t hide, Eric Cantor we’re outside!” that resonated inside the room.
The group of about 50 protesters demonstrated against Cantor’s visit to campus and carried an array of tombstone-shaped signs bearing phrases such as “RIP Higher Education” and “RIP Equal Rights.” Students and Ann Arbor residents criticized Cantor’s political views and his neglect of lower-and middle-class issues.
Kicking off the protests was a satirical speech by Rackham student Joel Batterman, who was dressed as Cantor in a blue pin-striped suit and glasses and who stood beside a tombstone labeled “The Middle Class.” Batterman’s speech mocking Cantor’s policies was met with boisterous cheers from the crowd, which was composed of people from a variety of age groups and racial backgrounds.
The group’s chants, like the popular “1-2-3-4, if you’re hungry, eat the poor, 5-6-7-8 you’ll be next to fill our plate,” continued throughout Cantor’s speech.
Some students took a more festive route in their protests and attended dressed as zombies. Batterman, who is also a Michigan Daily columnist, even referred to Cantor’s politics in Halloween-themed lingo.
“It’s supremely appropriate that Cantor’s here on Halloween because his vision for the country is pretty creepy,” Batterman said.
LSA senior Jordan Harris was among those adorned in red and black face paint as part of the horde of zombie protesters. Harris said she is currently concerned about a “lack of humanity” within the U.S. political system and a society dominated by corporate interests.
“I’m a little disappointed that I feel like I’ve been cemented into the corporate world, and I know that a lot of people feel that way also, so I think that we need to be more open and encouraging of organizations that have ideas that are less one-minded,” she said.
Also in the crowd of protesters yesterday was LSA junior Amanda Tracy, who held a sign that read “RIP LGBTQ Rights.” Tracy said student activism helps instigate social change, especially when it comes to wealth distribution — a major concern of the Occupy Wall Street movement. She added that political activism among young people will help maintain the rights of LGBTQ couples, and she expressed her disappointment with a pending state bill that could deny same-sex partners benefits.
“The reasons our politicians are able to get away with such an unfair distribution of wealth is that through our silence, we’re giving them implied consent,” Tracy said. “But when we gather together as representatives of our own economic classes, we show them that we’re not blind. We can see what they are doing and … they cannot govern us like this. They are not representing our interests.”
Amin Al-Qadi, a junior at Eastern Michigan University, came to the demonstration with his grandmother, Carolyn Al-Qadi. He said that since Cantor comes from a prosperous family, he fails to recognize the needs of lower- and middle-class citizens, particularly college students facing mounting debt from student loans.
“He’s a younger guy, so you think he’d be able to understand that we’re going to come out of college with thousands and thousands in debt, but he came from that rich 1 percent …” Al-Qadi said.
He added that politicians like Cantor should make policy decisions with all of their constituents in mind, particularly the student demographic, which has struggled with job and financial security in recent years.
Ann Arbor resident Paula Christensen attended the protest with her friend Cathy Helton, a fellow city resident and University alum. Helton said she is frustrated by Cantor’s dismissal of the Occupy Wall Street movement, particularly after he lauded the Tea Party’s social activism two years ago.
“The minute the Occupy Wall Street people came out, he changed his mind completely and said, ‘Oh these people are pinning Americans against Americans,’” Helton said. “No, these people are standing up for Americans.”
She added that Cantor has consistently blocked legislation the Obama administration has worked to implement.
“He has done nothing but obstruct President Obama in every kind of situation and law that he’s tried to pass to help the middle class, to help students, the poor, to give health care for everyone,” Helton said. “I just can’t imagine how these people have a conscience, I don’t even know how they sleep at night when all they care about is creating more wealth for themselves and their friends.”
With the 2012 presidential election just a year away, Helton said she is concerned about ambivalent citizens failing to cast their ballots and make their voices heard.
“I’ve heard people think that Obama hasn’t done enough and so will just sit at home and not vote,” Helton said. “He may not be perfect, but look at what your options are at this point. The Republicans are just going to crush our country.”
University alum Clare Levijoki, who works on Occupy Ann Arbor’s press committee, said the ultimate goal for organized protests is to pressure politicians to act with the interests of their constituents — rather than their friends and fundraisers — in mind.
“I feel that (the Occupy movement shows) there are people that are so unhappy, they are willing to live in tents in the rain to demonstrate that they’re unhappy,” Levijoki said. “So I’m hoping that might push a little change in Washington.”