Howard University Adds Its Voice to Occupy Movement

by November 11, 2011

Howard University alumnus Maria Ellis is one face of the Occupy D.C. movement. She has a graduate degree in International Relations and wanted to go to law school but couldn’t afford it. And as a homeowner, she, like other Americans, feels squeezed by the recession. She is among a vocal group who hold politicians, corporate interests, and others responsible for the declining state of the nation’s economy.

Ellis’ concerns are what prompted her to join scores of Howard University alumnae, students and faculty on the university’s campus Fri., October 28 and to march to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at 16th an H Street, N.W. to rally for a change.

The protestors joined the growing numbers of people who are using Occupy D.C. and Occupy Wall Street to express their extreme dissatisfaction with the status quo.

“I’m a homeowner or I’d be in dire straits. I feel very uncertain of what these [conditions] will bring,” said Ellis, 34, who says she is underemployed. “People are upset. I’m not surprised they’re out here. I see a great need for justice to even things out.”

The marchers trekked along a circuitous route that took them down Georgia Avenue in Northwest, along Rhode Island Avenue, and 11th Street into the heart of downtown. They ended up in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Led by march organizer Talib Karim, a lawyer and community organizer, the group of about 25 chanted, handed out fliers and encouraged passersby to join them on their March for Jobs and Justice.

They stopped briefly at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, the sites of two public spaces taken over by Occupy D.C. and by the time marchers stood on the steps of the Chamber of Commerce, the crowd had swelled to about 60 people.

Along the route, protestors talked to those who paused to watch, engaged others who offered vocal support or other comments, and seemed to draw strength from the energy of passersby.

“Send them to jail, send them to jail, they’re bank robbers,” one Hispanic man shouted in support.

Howard University professor Bridget Todd, 26, said the issues publicized by the Occupy movement are as important to African-Americans as they are for anyone else. “I’m out here as a young person. I support all of this,” said Bridget Todd, 26, who has been teaching for two years at Howard. “We are the 99 percent. Economic injustice is racial injustice. This is our issue.”

Occupy Wall Street and its D.C. offshoot is an amalgam of students, retirees, war veterans, the unemployed, the homeless and even children who say they will no longer tolerate inequality and a political and economic system that marginalizes the poor and middle class. In Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, people have set up tent cities with the intention of occupying public spaces until big business, pharmaceutical companies, bankers, and politicians dismantle the cozy relationship that often produces unfair advantages for the rich and privileged.

What began as a group of 2,000 protestors camped out in New York’s Financial District in Lower Manhattan giving voice to anger at the antics of the nation’s political and economic elite, is now a wildfire that has hop scotched from the United States to Australia, the Philippines, London, Ireland and Rome.

Occupy Wall Street continues to gain momentum and credibility in the U.S. and around the world even in the face of questions about what the group really wants, how it hopes to achieve that and the derisive, smug and condescending remarks and comments from politicians and media alike. Occupy Wall Street’s increasing popularity can be traced to the fact that its message resonates so deeply with the disaffected.

“I’m here because I believe in humanity and human rights,” said Danny Montes, 25, who comes to McPherson Square daily to offer his time and support. “Occupy D.C. is about justice, equality, and equity, not just for D.C. and New York residents but also for people all around the world. There’s a lot of things that built up to this. I am very concerned about immigrant rights and migration because of my family history. People are getting screwed over not just by the government but by the way the system works.”

“On a personal level, I want to make sure my little brother has a future,” said Montes, a D.C. resident whose family came from Mexico. “I want an education, a good job as defined as a living wage, a protected job, like a union job. The American dream is defined as having a (good) job and being comfortable, but the reality is that is not the case. People don’t have opportunities – there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Local lawyer Franklyn Burke said when he heard that the march from Howard was taking place, he decided to take his place alongside his fellow demonstrators.

“I’m sure everyone knows someone who’s been affected. It is the beginning of a movement. I hope it continues,” said Burke, who is a HU alumnus and who has lived in the Washington D.C. area for 46 years. “Citizens united have opened the door. They control our politics quietly. In the last campaign, they even had money from overseas [influencing American politics].”

“This will be a long, hard task. It will be tough to defeat this entrenched set.” •

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