In the efforts to continue the “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy Madison” movements, University of Wisconsin protesters kicked off an “Occupy UW” movement Monday afternoon, demanding more equal opportunities to higher education and reduced student debt.
Organizer and UW freshman Noah Phillips said he hoped “Occupy UW” would encourage more students to become involved in the protests, which Monday afternoon included about 15 UW students and Madison community members.
“At ‘Occupy Madison,’ there has been very, very little student involvement, which is disappointing because they have a lot of energy and passion,” Phillips said. “So I wanted to reach out to students more.”
While the movement was sparked by “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy Madison,” which protest corporate power, Phillips said he wanted “Occupy UW” to illustrate student debt and the lack of job security upon graduation.
“I don’t personally have a bad guy,” Phillips said. “I’m just hoping to encourage more students to get involved and see them rising up and saying no.”
UW freshman Will Keener said he saw the protests as a way to get involved with the larger “Occupy Wall Street” movement opposing the influence of corporate power in politics.
He argued Gov. Scott Walker specifically was elected because of the power of corporate wealth and its power of politics locally and nationwide.
Other protesters added the continuing economic crisis makes it increasingly difficult for students to gain access to education.
UW sophomore and Student Services Finance Committee Rep. Justin Bloesch added the widening income gap between the wealthy and average citizens will dramatically affect UW students.
These arguments prompted chants throughout the hour-long march on campus, including, “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white,” and even mocked the Badger football “Eat shit, fuck you” chant with, “Eat debt, screw you.”
“Incomes are going down for the average family, and tuition at UW-Madison in the past three years has gone up $2,000 a year,” Bloesch said. “The UW System got over $100 million in cuts and is about to get $60 million in cuts. That money’s going to come from us.”
After setting up at and marching through Union South, the protesters moved north on Charter Street and continued to Bascom Hill, stopping once for speeches in front of Ingraham and Bascom Halls.
Phillips added he hopes word-of-mouth communication and continued protests will draw out larger numbers of students to the protests.
“Right now, we’re looking for numbers,” Phillips said. “Next week we’re looking for bigger numbers; the week after that we’re looking for bigger numbers, and then we’ll see where we are.”
The group also discussed ideas which would help increase turnout and campuswide attention for the protests, including involving the UW Teaching Assistants’ Association and occupying a building on campus.
“We want to maintain the United States [is] a place … of equal opportunity, which it’s not yet,” Bloesch said. “But it has to start with the rich paying their fair share … and that is why occupy anything – Wall Street, Madison, UW – needs to happen.”