Students in Occupy Lexington say they're shaping their future

College students say they're shaping their future

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comNovember 14, 2011 

At dusk on Main Street on Friday night, 11 participants in the protests called Occupy Lexington gathered beside a tent outside Lexington's Chase Bank to discuss strategy for their 24-hours-a-day demonstration against major banks and corporations.

At least six in the group had to consider class schedules before they could commit to taking a shift at the protest site.

College students from the University of Kentucky and Bluegrass Community and Technical College are taking a large role in the demonstrations in Lexington, which is among at least 100 U.S. cities where demonstrations have sprung up in the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in September in New York City's Financial District.

Kate Folsom, who is finishing a psychology degree at UK, said she thinks college students are involved in the demonstrations in part because they are worried about the lack of available jobs once they graduate.

"We're starting to realize that we've got to take the reins," Folsom said. "We've got to make some changes."

Stephen Shepard, who facilitated the protesters' discussion — called a General Assembly — on Friday night, estimated that about half of the 70 people who regularly gather at the protest site on Main Street are college students. Shepard is a cartographer for the state Department of Revenue and said he plans to take some classes at UK in the spring.

Although students make up a significant portion of Occupy Lexington, organizers said people of all ages, backgrounds and occupations are participating in the protest in Lexington.

According to its Web site, Occupy Wall Street is a "leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions."

"The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the one percent," the Web site said.

The movement started in warm late-September days — Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17 and Occupy Lexington on Sept. 29. The protest is starting to experience the first blasts of late fall and winter, with heavy rain and cooler temperatures expected this week.

But BCTC student Steven Burt said he didn't think the approaching winter weather would thwart the demonstrations.

"We're getting prepared for it," he said.

In some cities this weekend, police and government officials have been working to shut down Occupy protests that they say have become unsafe. And other times in the nearly two months of the movement's protests, there have been conflicts with police in other cities.

In Lexington, "the demonstration has been peaceful," said Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Gray.

Straub said city officials have made a few requests of demonstrators. "We've asked them not to sleep on the sidewalk or block the sidewalk or entrances to businesses. We've asked them to keep the area clean," Straub said. The protesters have complied with those requests, she said.

Cheyenne Hohman, who is working on a master's degree in library sciences at UK, said in a phone interview that she became involved in Occupy Lexington to show solidarity for friends who are participating in similar protests in New York and Chicago.

"Being out there and doing what we can do on a community level is better than not doing anything at all," she said.

Some students involved in the Lexington protest said they go to the downtown site every day and spend the night whenever possible. Others, including Joan Braune, a UK graduate student studying philosophy, can get away from their studies only once a week.

Braune said she wants to live in a "society in which the needs of people are prioritized over the needs of profit and corporations, and I see this as part of a larger project to do that."

Jacob Folsom, Kate Folsom's husband and a junior at UK, studying psychology, said he generally goes to the protest site a few hours every night and stays overnight once a week.

Jacob Folsom said that one reason he likes the site on Main Street is because people stop by for one-on-one conversations about topics such as economic justice.

"Economic justice for the underprivileged is essential if we want to have a world worth living in," he said.

Burt, a second-year student at BCTC studying political science, has been at the downtown site every day since the protest began. He said students are concerned about increasing tuition rates and high-interest student loans.

Alexander Southard, a senior at UK, said he thinks some people have the inaccurate perception that people involved in Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Lexington don't have jobs. Most of the people interviewed said they were employed.

"I'm probably going to have to pick up a second job to pay for student loans," Southard said.

Robert Wilhelm, who is studying philosophy and secondary education at UK, said he goes to the downtown site to be part of the demonstration every day because he cares about the world he is leaving for future generations.

"The big concern for everyone is the intense level of greed that is expressed in corporate America," Wilhelm said. "Instead of calling it what it is, we call it economic growth."

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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