Wilkes students and faculty weigh in on Wall Street protests

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

Its focal point may be in New York City, but the Occupy Wall Street movement, which protests against corporate greed and social and economic inequality, has quickly spread beyond the Big Apple.

Not only have sister “Occupy” movements cropped up in major U.S. cities like Boston and Los Angeles, but also internationally, in places like Rome, London and Tokyo. Even in areas which haven’t developed mini-movements of their own, OWS has taken root in the culture in the form of spirited debate.

It seems everyone has an opinion, including students and faculty members at Wilkes University.

Dr. Mark Reid, for instance, is a philosophy professor at Wilkes. He’s also a dedicated supporter of OWS.

In addition to championing the cause of OWS in his personal life, Reid has managed to integrate discussion of the beliefs and behavior of the movement into his Social and Political Philosophy and Introduction to Ethical Problems classes as a teaching tool.

Whether in a private or professional setting, Reid has no problem openly voicing his enthusiasm for the OWS.

“The most amazing thing is the spirit, the soul, the emotional state and attitude of the people who are there,” Reid said. “I’ve seen it in wolves. There’s just this intensity that is a hundred percent confident, a hundred percent calm. These people know what they want, they what they’re doing and they’re totally sure they’re going to succeed. It’s contagious.”

Since the weekend of Oct. 14, when Reid first visited New York to experience OWS up-close and in-person, there isn’t a weekend that’s gone by where Reid hasn’t returned to Zuccotti Park, the hub of New York’s OWS movement, to join in the protests.

Reid hasn’t been going to these protests alone, though. In fact, he’s turned the weekly pilgrimage into a family affair.

Reid said that his wife is just as supportive of OWS as he is, and added that though his children may not grasp the gravity of the situation, they enjoy the trips to New York nonetheless. An image of Reid’s children clutching a protest signing emblazoned with the slogan “My momma ain’t on welfare, but your bank is,” has even gotten some attention online, spreading virally across the internet and becoming a hit with OWS protestors around the world.

Reid said that despite the frequent news stories focusing on instances of OWS protestors being arrested or getting into physical altercations with police, he never felt as though either he or his family were in any danger.

Sarah Mitrotz, a communication studies major, agreed with Reid, remarking that the atmosphere she observed during her recent visit to New York was predominantly peaceful and that she never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe.

Mitrotz speculated that some people’s misperception of OWS may be the result of media sensationalism.
“You see all this stuff on T.V. of the cops going up and beating the protestors and just being in their face, but when I went up there, there was no tension at all,” Mitrotz said. “I recommend everybody go up there, even if you think you’re against it. Go there, check it out and decide for yourself.”

Although Mitrotz said she agrees with the OWS stance against inequality, corruption and greed, she is also not shy about criticizing the movement for what she perceives as a failure to offer up any significant and reasonable government policy changes that could help make its lofty goals into a concrete reality.

Mitrotz also makes a distinction between movements whose message is in favor of some specific reform, and those that merely rail against some form of injustice, which is what she thinks OWS does.

“I think that when you protest for something, more people are likely to get active and try to get something done about it,” Mitrotz said, “as opposed to just saying ‘Yeah, that’s awful, that’s terrible.’”
While Rob Sebia, a history and political science major at Wilkes, admits he’s not yet had the chance to witness the movement firsthand for himself, he agreed with Mitrotz’s opinion that OWS has still needs to identify a set path it can follow in order to achieve what it aspires to.

“They’re not offering up any solutions,” Sebia said. “They’re just saying ‘This is a problem.’ Well, everyone can agree that this is a problem, but no one’s got a clear-cut solution.”

Of course, Mitrotz and Sebia don’t see eye-to-eye on all matters. One such matter is OWS’ advocacy of pro-active federal efforts to balance the distribution of wealth and its complaints of economic unfairness.

“Basically what they’re calling for is destroying capitalists,” Sebia said. “They want them arrested, brought up on criminal charges and whatnot. To me, it’s just jealousy. I’m not angry at the ‘1%’ because they make more money than me. Instead, I’m inspired to be like that. I don’t want a hand-out. I want to work for it.”

Mitrotz, meanwhile, remains supportive of OWS’ message and optimistic about its ability to effect positive political change.

“This is an historic event,” Mitrotz said. “There is change happening right now. … This is going to be our world once we graduate. It’s our generation that has to change things.”