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October 7, 2011

Students angry at Wall Street form Occupy OSU group

STILLWATER, Okla. — Ryan Nelson sat on a bench on the Noble Research Center lawn at Oklahoma State University on Friday afternoon surrounded by a crowd of approximately 40 people.

Before the group’s discussions ventured too far into specifics, Nelson had one disclaimer.

“This is mainly for the group of people who are not afraid to go to jail,” he said.

Nelson and the others came out to attend the second meeting of Occupy OSU, a fledgling student organization formed in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests currently underway in New York.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last month with a small number of young people pitching a tent in front of the New York Stock Exchange, has expanded nationally and drawn a wide variety of activists, including union members and laid-off workers. Demonstrators marched Thursday in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska, carrying signs with slogans such as, “Get money out of politics,” and “I can’t afford a lobbyist.”

The protests are in some ways the liberal equivalent of the conservative-led Tea Party movement, which was launched in 2009 in a populist reaction against the bank and auto bailouts as well as the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

In Zuccotti Park, the center of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, activists expressed deep frustration with the political gridlock in Washington D.C. While some blamed Republicans for blocking reform, others singled out President Barack Obama.

The OSU group is one of four such organizations in Oklahoma. Similar chapters exist in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and at the University of Oklahoma.

The group’s meeting Friday was mainly devoted to discussions about the group’s goals, future events and how the group would be structured.

One of those possible events could be a large-scale demonstration in Oklahoma City. Nelson said that demonstration, as well as any that come after it, could come in a number of forms. Marches, flash protests and other nonviolent forms of civil disobedience have been effective in the past, Nelson said.

Nelson likened the national movement to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Members of that movement occasionally found themselves on the wrong side of the law, he said, and when they did, they recognized they couldn’t always trust the legal process to serve them and simply had to do what they believed was right.

A number of meeting’s attendees said they thought the group would need to develop some sort of statement of purpose in the near future to articulate the group’s complaints and, simply put, its reason for existing.

The lack of a well-articulated purpose has been a stumbling block for the national movement, with many in the media complaining that the group lacks viable ideas.

However, Kirsten Pressley, the group’s organizer, said the movement nationwide has one basic complaint: Corporate donations play too heavy a role in the American political process, which, in turn, leaves individual voters voiceless. At Friday’s meeting, Pressley carried a sign saying “I am the 99 percent” — a reference to the percentage of Americans whose voices the movement believes have been drowned out by those corporate donations.

“The heart of the issue is the fact that our political process is being diluted by political donations,” she said.

That message has been lost to an extent in the national press, Pressley said. Protesters voice complaints about a variety of issues, ranging from the environment to education to taxation — but, she said, those issues are all the result of an ineffective political process.

The brand of voter disenfranchisement in Oklahoma is unique, she said. Because of Oklahoma’s heavy conservative leaning, she said, all other voices tend to be drowned out.

“We’re the reddest state in the country,” she said. “Automatically, if you vote against the Republican party, your vote does not count.”

Despite being substantially outnumbered politically, Pressley said the group is open to anyone who is interested in joining. As if to demonstrate her point, a handful of self-professed Ron Paul supporters joined the largely left-leaning crowd at Friday’s meeting, one bearing a copy of Paul’s book, “End the Fed.”

The point of the organization isn’t to advocate one political party over another, Pressley said. Although each of the members has his or her own political persuasion, she said, the movement’s focus is to lend voice to the majority of the population who the movement says has been left out of the national political process. That majority includes Americans of all political stripes, Pressley said.

“Everybody is included in the 99 percent,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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