Students with diverse interests unite in Occupy D.C. movement

From sleeping on sidewalks to organizing vigils in McPherson Square, AU students in Occupy AU and other student groups are giving their continued support for the Occupy D.C. movement. Here are what each group is doing to support the Occupy movement.

Community Action and Social Justice Coalition

CASJ is leading AU student engagement in Occupy D.C. The coalition acts as an organizing collective for 14 campus clubs that coordinates independent events and directs interested students to clubs within the coalition, according to Mitch Ellmauer, a junior in the School of Public Affairs.

CASJ started in the 1960s as an anti-war and anti-draft counseling center and is not funded by AU. CASJ clubs including Movement for Global Justice, Student Worker Alliance and Fair Trade Student Association have had student representation at Occupy D.C.

During the first two weeks of Occupy D.C., CASJ had 10 to 12 students and alumni actively participating together in the events, some of which stayed overnight in sleeping bags at the protests.

“The point is to try to get people to see and know what’s going on in the city in terms of activism,” said Mary Donoghue, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Participation has lately been on a more individual basis and has been less consistent.

“The thing about Occupy is that it’s trendy, so people will go once or twice then lose interest,” said Rachel Mandelbaum, a junior in the School of International Service.

CASJ will be focusing on student democracy next semester, which would include increased student input in University decision making that goes beyond student government. The coalition hopes to put an elected student with voting power on the Board of Trustees.

Students for Justice in Palestine

While many members of Student for Justice in Palestine have participated in the Occupy movement independently, the group helped organize a vigil Nov. 6 in McPherson Square for the victims of Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-2009 war in the Gaza Strip.

The vigil was not an official Occupy D.C. event, but many D.C. occupiers joined in, Steve Demarest, a junior in SPA, wrote in an email.

SJP also protested Israel’s use of Caterpillar bulldozers during Operation Cast Lead to destroy homes, factories, food and water systems, Demarest said.

“There is a diverse group of political views within the Occupy movement, but I think the one common thread that unites protesters is opposition to corporate abuse, i.e., putting profit over people,” Demarest said.


Eco-Sense has been advocating for sustainability and environment awareness in the Occupy D.C movement. Members volunteer and engage in political activism on environmental issues on campus and in D.C. A handful of Eco-Sense members were recently involved with the Occupy D.C. movement.

Mandelbaum; Megan Lyle, a sophomore in CAS; and other AU students attended the Anti-Tar Sands Keystone XL rally Nov 6. The rally was not directly a part of Occupy D.C., but many occupiers attended it, Lyle said.

The protest focused on stopping the construction of the Tar Sands Keystone XL pipeline, which could potentially pollute major water supplies and transport tar sands oil that burn dirtier than other oils, according to Mandelbaum.

The pipeline would stretch across thousands of miles from Canada, through the continental United States, to Texas to transport unrefined oil, Lyle said.

American Vegan Outreach

American Vegan Outreach has not been directly involved with Occupy D.C., but numerous AU vegans have joined the Occupy D.C. movement, according to Paige McNamara, a sophomore in CAS.

The Occupy D.C. Declaration directly mentions opposition to factory farms, a key AVO issue, McNamara said.

McNamara held teach-ins about veganism at Occupy D.C., offering the platform for discussion on why veganism should be a viable option for all people.

“I hope to be able to introduce the idea of veganism as a tool of liberation, not just for animals but for workers, people, consumers to the people at McPherson,” she said.

McNamara also said sustainable living practices are a major theme at the Occupy D.C. camp. McNamara said it is only natural that veganism will be the next major discussion at Occupy D.C.

Justice Not Jails

The prison reform advocacy group took part in a march from the McPherson Square to a Wells Fargo bank Dec. 2 to protest the bank’s investment in the GEO Group. Demarest said the GEO Group is a private prison company that cuts costs by assigning one doctor for every 1,300 prisoners at the Rivers Correctional Institute, where many D.C. residents are held.

He saw “a decent amount” of people at the protest.

“Once we got to Wells Fargo, many people spoke about their own thoughts and experiences with private prisons and the prison system in general,” Demarest said.

College Democrats

College Democrats is one of the largest clubs at AU and has differing opinions when it comes to the Occupy D.C. movement, said Chris Litchfield, president of College Democrats and a junior in SPA and CAS.

College Democrats agrees with Occupy D.C.’s major issues, but not with the methods the group has proposed for solutions, he said.

One of the major issues that College Democrats has focused on is wealth inequality. The Democratic Party is looking for a more equitable tax structure to help shrink the wealth divide between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, Litchfield said.

“I think there is still a role to play when it comes to advocacy in government,” he said.

He also said he sees a lot of overlay between the future of the Democratic Party and Occupy participants.

“Occupy is not an arm of the Democratic Party, but moving forward, this will be a very defining time,” Litchfield said. “It is nice to see other people than the Democratic Party talking about these issues.”

On campus, College Democrats hosted a panel on debt negotiation Nov. 30 after the failure of Congress’ Super Committee and plans to host events in the near future focusing on student education of important issues facing the United States and AU.

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