When senior Brandan Carroll first entered Zucotti Park on Saturday, September 17, he said wanted “to demonstrate my First Amendment rights.” Carroll and senior Ben Koatz ended up joining Occupy Wall Street (OWS), a movement that protests corporate influence in politics and economic inequality. “This would be a brilliant way to be an agent of change in the world,” Carroll said.
After attending a meeting of the New York City General Assembly, the movement’s decision-making body, they started to become more active in the protests.
“I fell in love with the direct democratic process,” said Koatz, who was arrested near Union Square in September for protesting. “Everyone can get to speak and make their views heard, and you feel like you really matter as a part of the movement.”
As the protests grew, Carroll and Koatz proposed a Stuyvesant chapter of OWS. However, Principal Stanley Teitel rejected the club’s charter, not wanting to associate Stuyvesant with the movement. So Carroll and Koatz rehashed the club as the Stuyvesant 99%, a club that educates students on the issues surrounding OWS, and houses discussion and debate on the movement.
The club meets every Wednesday and Friday in room 315. The club’s meeting format emulates that of the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly. At the start of the meeting, attendees discuss recent developments in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and suggest topics of disucssion, before voting on which topics to focus on. In the past, they have discussed economic equality, corporate influence in politics, and the media in relation to OWS.
One discussion topic, brought up by club member and senior Saad Bokhari, was the lack of organization in Occupy Wall Street. “We do need organizational structure, not necessarily a leader,” he said.
“A leader can force their views upon the people,” club member and senior Lilja Walter said. “That is not what we want.”
A parliamentarian decides on the order in which people will speak on each issue, keeps the order, and watches the time so that all attendees get a chance to speak. Carroll, the club president, and Koatz, the club vice president, choose a new parliamentarian at each meeting.
Attendees use several hand gestures during discussion. They wiggle their fingers upward when they agree with the current speaker, and wiggling their figures downward when they disagree. They form a triangle called a point of process with their hands when they think that the current speaker is going off-topic. The raise one finger in the air to mark a point of information, or to request additional information.
“[The gestures are] a really good way to express agreement or disagreement or what have you, without interfering with the flow of discussion,” Carroll said.
A facilitator decides whether to accept points of process or points of information. Carroll and Koatz are the default facilitators, “just because we know a lot about the movement, and we’re the heads of the club,” Koatz said. However, any member may be a facilitator.
A minute-taker takes down notes about the meeting and puts them up on the club’s Facebook group. Like the parliamentarian, the minute-taker varies each meeting.
The club has begun inviting teachers to give lessons about issues reulated to Occupy Wall Street every other Friday. The first speaker, social studies teacher Bill Boericke, gave a talk on Friday, December 2, about the media’s role in the OWS.
However, before they even started teach-ins, they encouaraged teacher involvement. For example, English teacher Philip Mott, who was told about the Stuyvesant 99%, attended a couple of the club’s meetings. He decided to attend because he supports OWS as an example of “when people decided that they wanted to take a stance and speak truth to power,” he said, and wanted to observe how students took part in the movement.
“I was initially intrigued by the individuals who are part of the club, their maturity, and their understanding of the issues,” he said. “I’m just so thirsty in this school for a level of a conversation that is on the level that these young people have presented themselves.”
“When the meeting was over, I was like, ‘How can I use the order and the procedures of this meeting in my classroom?’” Mott said. “There was no adult in here to keep them on task. But young people tend to be stricter among themselves than if there was an adult actually in the place.”
The Stuyvesant 99% members not only encourage teachers to attend their meetings, but also all students, no matter the degree of their OWS involvement. Senior Michael Hubbs said he originaly considered himself a supporter of OWS, but did was not well-informed about the issues brought up by the protesters to take an active role in the movement. However, he became more involved after attending a Stuyvesant 99% meeting at which he said he heard that “this was the time for action and for protesters not to be [...] passive.”
The club uses a variety of sources to educate attendees. They post articles, speeches, and videos concerning the protests on the clubs’s Facebook group, “Stuyvesant 99%,” in addition to printing out select materials to bring to materials. “You can’t get all your education from one textbook and say you know everything, or say clearly and unequivocally that what I know is true, because there’s always a second opinion on everything,” Koatz said. “We don’t do hearsay. We’re […] making sure we believe what we believe, and that we back that up with fact instead of opinion and bias.”
According to Carroll, almost all of the club members supports OWS. However, even the supporters are never in complete agreement. Nevertheless, Hubbs said the club created and “open atmosphere” where, “No one was like, ‘No, you’re wrong.’ You can hear from all sides.”
“Everyone’s allowed to come on stage,” Bokhari said. “It’s kind of humbling. It kind of forced me to listen to different perspectives. It forced me to talk to people I normally wouldn’t talk to.”
Carroll and Koatz have reached out to students other than OWS supporters. “It’s hard to get people to bridge that gap between being called the Stuyvesant 99% and us saying, ‘Yeah, it might be called that, but what we’re really committed to is a conversation,’ and not just us preaching to the choir,” Koatz said. He promises dissenters “an equal playing field” with other members and hopes that they alter the club’s makeup.
Senior Dennis, a fiscally conservative libertarian who plans on attending future OWS meetings, agrees that there is excessive corporate influence in government, but is strongly opposed to OWS. “It’s a lot of talk and no actual action,” Rim said. He suggests that OWS finds a leader if it is to “actually become a movement,” he said.
Koatz has also managed to get supporters of Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts, and of Sarah Palin, Republican vice-presidential nominee of 2008 and former Governor of Alaska, both of whom have criticized OWS, to attend his club’s meetings.
“No matter what your viewpoint is, you’ll be welcome at the Stuyvesant 99%,” Koatz said. “If you don’t have a viewpoint, you’ll be welcome at Stuyvesant 99%, too, because we’re for education.”