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Former Iowa City Occupier: Sadly, it was time for us to go

BY GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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When reading the article, "Occupy Iowa City will get the boot" (DI, Feb. 14), the other day, a flood of memories and emotions stirred within me.

I remember the first day of Occupy Iowa City. It was a Friday in October, the weather was perfect, and energy and curiosity filled the air. The nation needed reform, and cries of the 99 percent were already ringing out in major metropolitan areas. I wanted desperately to be in on the action. 

The everyday environment at the park was refreshing like nothing I've ever experienced.

Philosophical conversations about "just societies," human rights, and morality were going on left and right. Everyone at the park was friendly and open. Passersby were all greeted and invited to learn more about the movement. The homeless population of the city was encouraged to join — part of the mission of the ongoing national "Occupy" movement was to welcome and feed homeless people, because they are just as much a part of the 99 percent as the rest of us.

No matter what economic background, gender, age, ethnicity, or involvement in the movement, everyone's voice was equally important. We were a family at College Green Park. Strangers became friends and the organization grew stronger. I began staying in a tent at the park a few weeks after the movement began. The weather was extraordinarily grand, as if the universe was providing optimal conditions for the future movers and shakers to unite. I had many friends who were closely involved in the movement, and "Occupy" began to become closely integrated in all of our lives. I was in a huge academic slump before "Occupy" — normally a straight-A student, I couldn't seem to get homework done like I used to, and my mind lacked focus. Occupy provided me with a purpose and a direction which aligned the rest of my life in just the way I needed. My friends who were also "Occupying" felt similar effects. After not too long, the movement was a part of us, a central aspect in our day to day lives — providing us with grand, positive thoughts of a future world free of inequality, poverty, and injustice. 

The "Occupy" movement went from something highly beneficial to my motivation to a source of chaos and sleep deprivation. As much as I wanted to stay strong and support the cause, I could no longer justify the harms. Less and less friendly and familiar faces were at College Green, and the homeless population was getting out of control — not respecting the rules laid down by the residents and the city to ban all alcohol and drug use in the park and to keep quiet after 10.

To solve this problem, our movement began "registering" tents of those who respected the movement and relocating those tents to one area of the park — while the homeless people who refused to obey the demands set forth were moved to a separate area of the park. "Occupy Iowa city" became a stratified society within a stratified society.

It was after this change that I struggled to take the movement seriously, and it was harder for me to defend our methods than ever before. The "homeless camp" outgrew the "legitimate camp."

Donations were no longer being brought to the food tent, and on top of this, the arrests and police presence due to the rowdiness of the homeless camp was drawing negative attention from the public.

All that remained was a distant dream of revolution and a littered park.

When I heard the "Occupiers" needed to be out of the park by Feb. 29 — though the old me would've been up at arms about it, ready to fight the decision and keep the movement alive — the city's decision came as no surprise. As much as I hate to admit it, it's probably about time what's left of "Occupy Iowa City" be destroyed. It's doing no good for the cause to keep a space for homeless men to drink downtown and cause a ruckus, and perhaps the tents and foot traffic have done enough damage to College Green Park as it is.

Maybe the "Occupy" movement was not the answer to corporate greed and economic equality we all thought it was. Though the movement is fading, the problems that brought us all together still remain. My biggest disappointment when I heard our local movement would be shut down is that I know this is the trend for the rest of the country. Once Occupy Wall Street is no more, how long will it take for the unjustified wealth distribution in the U.S. to become a part of the political agenda again? How much longer will the banks and corporations get to tread on unnoticed as they profit from the sweat and tears of the American working class? Occupy was not our answer, but the answer will come some day.

The invisible profit-driven population at the top of the economic food chain has not seen the last of the 99 percent.

— Ruth Lapointe is a UI student.


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