Yesterday afternoon more than a thousand students walked out of class and gathered in Washington Square Park before making their way down to the Occupy Wall Street Community/Labor March at Foley Square. The call to leave NYU was for 4 p.m., but a substantial crowd was already gathering around the northern side of the fountain by 3:45. As organizers passed out flyers with maps of the route, lists of chants, and information about follow-up events, people huddled together in little clusters and knelt on the ground with markers in their hands and white poster board at their knees.
At about ten past four, a man stood up on the edge of the fountain and started the requisite chanting of, “Show me what democracy looks like!” Immediately, the clusters dispersed and everyone shouted back, “This is what democracy looks like!” The chant also picked up a double-time clapping rhythm worthy of one of Zucotti Park’s ever-present drum circles.
It only took the addition of “We are the 99%” to get the cowbells and actual drumming started. Shortly after that, a group of about 500 students from the New School arrived with shouts of, “Come join us.” The already present group, made up of students from a range of NYC schools with a large majority representing NYU, didn’t need much convincing; the two groups quickly merged into one mass that began making its way out of the park and across West 4th Street. As the group walked through the eastern end of the park, one girl from the New School stopped to look around and then, turning to the girl next to her, said, “My life has become really bizarre.”
We found NYU student Aaron Lynch-Miller, who offered a slightly different take on the afternoon. “Every other civilized country has a much more equitable system of providing aid to students to get a higher education to make the economy and the country a better place, and this country really needs to change that. If the people from the top aren’t going to change that, we’ll have to change it from the bottom,” he said.
As the march made its way down Lafayette Street, choruses of, “They got bailed out. We got sold out,” and “Students and workers: Shut the city down!” came and went as the energy of the protestors did the same. The drumming, police presence, and reminders that we are the 99% were constants.
The march was headed south to join the larger labor rally at Foley Square, but many of the participants had reasons for being there that went beyond merely showing solidarity with the occupation. We stopped to talk to Audrey, a senior at FIT, who told us why she believes that students have something to say about the growing dissatisfaction with the country’s workings: “As a student, I feel like I’m being forced to feed a system that I don’t really believe in. Nowadays, you have to go to school and get a degree just to get a job. So students are being forced to go to school just so they can possibly get a job, but they end up out of school and tons of thousands of dollars in debt, and then they can’t find a job. Something’s not right there,” she explained.
By the time the group reached Foley Square after almost an hour of walking, it had grown to include about 3000 people — not to mention the supporters it passed along the way, including a police officer who waved at passing protestors with one hand while stopping traffic with the other. As the students crossed the street into the square, the group merged into the massive crowd, and its individual members, as well as their dedicated chants, were swallowed up by the movement.