From Berea to Wall Street and Back
Forty-two students decided to sacrifice their weekend in order to embark on a journey to the city that never sleeps for one reason: they are the 99%. From October 7 through October 9, these students’ lives were transformed in more ways than one. For some, this was the first time they were leaving Kentucky. For others, this was the first time they participated in a protest and for the rest, well, we are college students searching for an ultimate understanding of life and its correlation to what we learn in our classrooms. Berea College taught us this. They taught us to speak our minds, to stand up for equality and what is right; they taught us to see both sides of the story and to never settle because we come from backgrounds with less opportunity. Truth is we belonged there. We felt empowered surrounded by people who were there because they, too, refuse to settle and together our voices were stronger.
Among the students who attended, Matt Jenkins, a senior art major, was heavily involved in advocating his reasons for being there. Jenkins recently studied abroad in Australia but finds his heart settled in Appalachia. Jenkins: “An older lady was keen to know why I was there. She emphasized ‘you’ when she asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ I stated I was here for Appalachia. I was here for the people that could not voice their opinions either because they were not able to come physically to do it themselves, or were afraid of coming because they could potentially lose their jobs. I told her, I was there to combat corporate greed by letting the world know that we, the people, were tired of fueling their machine. That’s when she stopped me. ‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘We’re not here to fight money, business or the economy. We’re here fighting greed. Greed is why I’ve come. It has to end.’”
Another student very involved in the movement and eager to make her presence understood, is Katherine Collins, a senior. A native Kentuckian majoring in women’s and gender studies, Katherine reflected: “Each and every one of our lives were changed by marches, by signs, by the people we shook hands with, by the interviews we did, by the answers we received and the questions we were asked. We were changed by the solidarity and unity, the communication and love surrounding Zuccotti Park. The Blue Crew became a sensation because we are privileged enough to have received an education at an incredibly revolutionary college, because we were able to articulate why we were there and why it was important that we got there even if it wasn’t easy.”
Duncan Blount, a junior communication major from North Carolina who participated in various marches and conducted many interviews with the media said, “The protestors, the dancing drummers, that homeless guy who now has found my toothbrush and Aqua Di Gio, all of them; I want to help! I intend, for now, to let people know why the corporate machine needs an oil change, and how legislation can stop corporate money from going where it shouldn’t, and straying from the hands who earned it. I will be spreading the message that Occupy Wall Street protesters are waving on cardboard signs: the 99% cannot be silent.”
The president of the Berea College Student Government Association (SGA) attended Occupy Wall Street, but not just because he felt it was his duty to assist the students, but also because he found himself eager to comprehend more about the situation and join others in spreading the news of being awakened. Sean Litteral, from Ohio, is a junior majoring in sociology and minoring in philosophy. Litteral was one of the persons directly involved in organizing and re-organizing the trip to Occupy Wall Street. In his reflection, he recalled, “So often it occurs that people are trained to view the American Dream as a reality; only to find out that when they awake, their reality was nothing more than a state of mind existing in unconscious sleep. The corporations, the banks, Wall Street, and the politicians have allowed us to exist in this unconscious state of mind; not waking us for fear that we might actually stand up, stand together, and challenge them. This movement, however, has awakened us from our slumber and has motivated us to move forward as brothers and sisters fighting for a common cause.”
Jessica Roberge is a junior communication major from Tennessee. She has a special interest in topics that involve peace and social justice. Jessica said, “I’m sick and tired of all the poverty that is caused by corporate greed and corruption. I felt that in order to make a difference I needed to go to occupy Wall Street where the heart of it is, where it started, to learn from it and take it to Berea in order to fight for our rights here. I learned that together people can make a difference. My eyes were opened to how fantastic people really are and how they still have hope. On Wall Street, the occupiers formed a community and they upheld their own system and I feel like we could all learn from that.”
Jacob Burdette, a freshman from West Virginia interested in anthropology, slept in a sleeping bag on a sidewalk of Zuccotti Park among nine other students, soaking in the real, full experience. “I can honestly say that this trip changed me and I feel that it is for the better. I didn’t really have a sense of empathy like I do now. I realize that we are all connected. We all have common things that tie us to one another. When I read the articles about the Occupy Wall Street movement, I was sympathetic. However, being there has made me realize that I wasn’t an outsider looking in; I was a part of these people. I am the 99%.”
The bus ride back to Berea was a quiet one. Most of us could not sleep due to the excitement, energy and adrenaline running through our veins but also, because we knew we had made a difference. We stood in Zuccotti Park for hours, even days, chanting what we believed in. We stood for Appalachia, our parents and their struggles, Berea College and its foundation with a revolutionary history, but most importantly, we stood for ourselves and we stood together, as a community. This is what Berea College is, a community where “all peoples of the earth” can learn, work and serve together. Occupy Wall Street reinforced our sense of selves and allowed us a place where we felt camaraderie and solidarity. We were not afraid to use our voice and stand up for those who could not be there and we were noticed. Forty-two Berea College students had one of the best weekends of their lives being the 99%.