The global financial crisis, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, corporate greed and corruption have all added to growing unrest in the country. In response, thousands of people across the globe have taken to the streets to demand change.
“I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country,” President Barack Obama said in a news conference on Oct. 6. “And yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place.”
Occupy Wall Street is an ongoing series of demonstrations that began on Sept. 17 and is the template for similar demonstrations across the U.S. and around the world. As of Sunday, there were branches of the Occupy movement in more than 70 major cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Salt Lake City in the U.S., as well as London, England; Montreal, Canada; Athens, Greece and other international cities.
“We will only grow stronger in our solidarity and we will be heard, not just in New York, but in echoes across the world,” said a statement on occupytogether.org, a website that acts as an unofficial hub of all Occupy organizations.
On Oct. 7, the movement spawned a branch in Manhattan called Occupy MHK. Jeremy Smith, Manhattan resident, initiated the group on Facebook and began sending invites to like-minded individuals in the Manhattan community to join him in a protest in Triangle Park in Aggieville the following Saturday, Oct. 15. One of the people he contacted was Scott Poister, research technician in biology at K-State. Poister immediately went to City Hall to request a permit for the demonstration.
“It all happened within hours,” Poister said.
As of Tuesday, Occupy MHK had more than 400 members on Facebook and the event page showed more than 80 people slated to attend the demonstration at Triangle Park. Poister said the purpose of Occupy MHK, like all of the Occupy groups, was to show solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and encourage people in the community to stand up for their rights, demand change in the world and register to vote to enact change.
Smith said he was surprised and excited by the response.
“It just kind of exploded,” Smith said. “We started getting Tweet-backs from all over the world.”
Poister said he believed many people, particularly the poor, do not vote because they are disenfranchised and believe their vote does not count. However, the corrupt people of the world holding all the power are only one percent of the world’s population. If the 99 percent being abused by this power stood together, it would be harder for politicians to ignore, Poister said.
“You are not alone, you are one of many,” Poister said.
Despite being one of the most economically stable counties in the U.S., Riley County is not immune to the problems of the economic recession and the abuse of power that led to it. Poister said he has experienced corruption of power in corporations when he and about 20 other individuals were laid off by Gumby’s Pizza in January. It took about six weeks to get the last of the pay they were owed by the company and they had to fight for it. In addition, the pay was not given to them in a lump sum as it was supposed to be, but a little at a time each week.
“We’re not asking for freebies or handouts,” Poister said.
In addition, because of Poister’s managerial experience, finding a job afterwards proved difficult because many companies prefer to hire younger people with less experience who will settle for less pay. As a result, Poister said he learned to make himself seem less experienced to prospective employers.
“I have a good resume and I’ve learned to lie about it to get a job,” Poister said.
Members of Poister’s family have also experienced problems. His mother, an educator with about 40 years of experience, is unemployed and having trouble finding a job. His father, an engineer with about 40 years of experience, is also unemployed and recently joked about finding a job as a Wal-Mart greeter. Poister’s older brother was in a car accident and did not have health insurance. The settlement he obtained was not enough to cover his medical bills and he had to move into a trailer.
Smith said he hoped the Occupy movement, including Occupy MHK, would instill hope in people that things can change.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be long before it got here,” Smith said. “People are just tired.”
Ellen Welti, senior in history and biology, said students should be particularly interested in getting involved in Occupy MHK because their futures are at stake. Welti said she worries consistently about being able to get a job that will enable her to pay off her student loans, sustain her, provide health care and be in a field that is interesting to her.
“Pretty much every time I think about getting out of school, I consider ways of remaining in school and putting off going into a job market that would not sustain me,” Welti said. “I think this protest in a larger context is definitely something that students should be involved in.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March that the unemployment rate for Americans under the age of 25 was 18.8 percent. The cost of going to school has worsened, too, as two thirds of all students graduate with loans and the average debt for students was more than $40,000 in 2008, according to the Project on Student Debt. Students face equally problematic situations in developed nations worldwide. A Jan. 26 article in the The Telegraph stated an average of 45 new college graduates were vying for every job available.
Poister, Smith and Welti all stated they hoped people from K-State and the Manhattan community would join Occupy MHK in their protest on Saturday.
“It’s a matter of demanding our government works for us, not corporations,” Welti said.