McKivor: Inside the Occupy movement

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Thursday night was a particularly cold one in Eugene, but that didn’t stop the Occupy movement from setting up a few tents and bare mattresses on Memorial Quad on campus.

Rumor was that they were planning on camping out, ready to face the onslaught of the Eugene Police Department, but by the time I got there (tent in hand), an agreement had already been reached to move the encampment to the Eugene Millrace. According to the movement’s kitchen staffer Big John, the police had made it very clear that by 11 p.m., nobody was to be occupying the quad.

“There are some people who want to stay out here and get arrested,” Big John said. “Me, I feed them, so I can’t really get arrested. I’ve gotta make sure they get breakfast in the morning.”

I heard one student say in passing, “Yeah, I want to get arrested at some point … but not tonight.”

Most of Occupy had already moved to the Millrace, with only the newly formed student arm of the protest continuing to meet in the quad past 9:15 p.m. Part of me was disappointed the mettle of this group wouldn’t get tested that night — but mostly I was happy that nobody was going to #OccupyLaneCountyJail, and more selfishly, that campus wasn’t going to get any more crowded than it already was.

The sentiment was mostly positive after the main group moved off — especially from students.

“Maybe camp out at a bank or something, but not the University where you are getting the most progressive people in the 99 percent,” said Justine Adlong, a business [email protected]@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Justine+Adlong@@

Occupying a college campus alienates the movement’s core group of supporters through inconvenience. I know that when I’m on campus, the last thing I want is to wade through an impromptu Woodstock to get to Knight Library. Luckily that wasn’t the case, except for the trash that was left behind.

Now that the fledgling movement has moved to a more permanent location (permanent meaning until today), my only qualm is that when a group like Occupy Eugene sets up a free kitchen at a place like Millrace or the quad, groups of homeless are sure to follow. Again, something a lot of students just don’t want to deal with during midterms.

Providing services to the homeless, however, is one of Occupy Eugene’s explicit goals.

“We have two different agendas here,”said Occupy Eugene spokesperson Lauren [email protected]@http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2011/10/411756.shtml@@. “One is our political agenda, the other side is that we provide service to the homeless who have been disenfranchised by the population. They are part of the 99 percent … their voices are just as important.”

This is definitely a benefit to the community as a whole, seeing as Oregon has the highest per-capita homeless population in the [email protected]@no wonder I see so many@@ According to Asprooth, Occupy has garnered Eugene City Council approval on this issue.

My problem isn’t the fact that there is a movement helping out the homeless near campus (I applaud the sentiment, in fact). My problem is that while Occupy Eugene has its own peacekeeping force, they simply cannot control the actions of the homeless as they inevitably wander around campus.

On Thursday night, there was a gentleman who interrupted my conversation with an Occupy member to ask — rather frantically — if I had seen his pack of cigarettes, which housed his stash of crystal meth. He was “totally bummed that (he) couldn’t sling tonight.” The man and a couple of others scoured the quad for the missing stash throughout the night.

Unless they eventually found the stash, I suspect that someone else picked it up on Friday and got a little more than they bargained for.

What surprised me the most was the night-and-day transformation of Occupy Eugene’s presence from when they were on campus Thursday to their setup at Millrace on Saturday. On campus, Occupy was more of a griping mixer, with groups of people forming small conversation huddles. The crowd was largest when announcements were being made concerning the move to Millrace.

When I asked where everyone was, some people involved with the movement said that their previous location at Alton Baker Park had turned into a party complete with disc jockeys called SpongeBob’s Occupy Eugene. I kid you not.

When I made the trek out to Millrace to check out the new location, I was pleasantly surprised. After being thoroughly depressed and unimpressed by Thursday’s gathering, seeing any semblance of cohesion was a welcome change. There was adequate infrastructure on site to support the movement’s activities and a small but devoted group of activists protesting from the sidewalk.

“Awareness is our number one goal,” Asprooth said. “Everything we are doing is going towards that.” Occupy has a large contingent of people working on-site, but they have a much broader base that helps with things like editing press releases and donating food.

Occupy’s Vision Committee is working on identifying a clear and concise set of objectives for the movement. But they have a long road ahead if they want to accomplish all of their (yet-to-be-decided) goals.

Because the only way Occupy will survive is by adhering to a specific message and garnering enough support within the community to elect officials who believe in the cause.

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