Yesterday, Boston University students joined hundreds of other college students in an Occupy Boston march protesting corporate corruption and the rising cost of college education.
The BU students gathered in Marsh Plaza and marched to the Boston Common, joining up with students from schools such as Emerson, Suffolk, Tufts, Harvard, Berklee and Northeastern before continuing onto Dewey Square, the permanent site of Occupy Boston.
The BU students walked in the streets down Commonwealth Avenue to Massachusetts Avenue before turning down Boylston Street to march to the Boston Common. Traffic slowed to a stop behind them. Protestors threaded in between cars parked at stoplights. At one point, the students paused at a stoplight and chanted, “Show me what a traffic jam looks like! This is what a traffic jam looks like! Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
The Boston Police department was present and put up barricades to allow the protestors to march safely. Students seemed relieved that the police were there in a neutral capacity.
Students gave mixed reasons for participating in the protest. “I don’t know enough about it, and the only way for me to talk about it in an educated way is if I check it out,” said Tino Bratbo (CAS ’13).
Emily Nicase, a sophomore in CAS, was protesting the rising costs of education. “My parents work three jobs and they still can’t pay for my education. My family is going to be in so much debt even though they work so hard. I feel like I’m being punished for wanting a good education.”
Many protestors chanted the slogan, “We are the 99 percent!” which refers to the economic gap between the top 1% of earners in this country and the rest of the country.
Emmanuel Smith, a freshman in CAS, said,”I feel like this is finally the moment where all of us come together to support a cause against how the fiscal environment is right now. I’ve never done anything like this– it’s just amazing.”
A large critique of the “Occupy” movement is that the protesters have no unified message. But for some protesters, that’s not overly important. “What I think is important is the networking aspect, and the conversation that’s happening. You get to meet people and plan for future events. And it’s a success so far as I’m concerned, that people are taking time out of their day to talk about these things,” said Luke Rebecchi (CAS ’13).
The reaction from bystanders was mixed. Some were openly supportive, including Lisa Hadar, a woman visiting Boston. “I think it’s great. I think it’s more than time that we stood up for ourselves. I just wish it was more than this age demographic.”
People along the route stopped and stared as the crowd of students marched down Boylston in the middle of the street. Many people working in the buildings along the route came to windows to take pictures and wave at the protestors. Many bystanders declined to comment on the record. Some, however, got actively involved. One man who worked in a food truck along the route handed out water bottles to protestors free of charge.
Before the march, the BU organizers prepared walkers for the task ahead. One BU student gave legal advice. “I’m here to talk to you about what happens if something goes wrong. And something can go wrong.” He went on to point out the legal observers provided by Occupy Boston and to give out the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild, which has access to bail money in the event of a protester’s arrest. A medical representative pointed out the red cross taped to her shirt and advised walkers to stay hydrated and, for those with special medical needs, to keep their medicine on them at all times and to share information about their medical needs with a friend.
The students heard about the march through the media, word of mouth, the BU Occupy Boston Facebook group, and Coffee and Conversation, a weekly meeting hosted by the Howard Thurman Center.