Grand Forks gets its own Occupy protestThey may have come with different goals, but about 50 workers, college students and local residents who held a demonstration Wednesday at a busy Grand Forks intersection said they were united in solidarity with the Occupy movement that has swept across the world.
By: By Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
They may have come with different goals, but about 50 workers, college students and local residents who held a demonstration Wednesday at a busy Grand Forks intersection said they were united in solidarity with the Occupy movement that has swept across the world.
Participants gathered on the corner of DeMers Avenue and Washington Street, holding up handwritten signs and drawing cheers from passing motorists as they sought to bring more attention to the local offshoot of the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street.
It was the first demonstration for Occupy Grand Forks-East Grand Forks, a group formed on Facebook last month with a handful of supporters but has since grown to about 40 regular members.
Nancy Hennen said the event coincided with the Occupy movement’s national day of action, which encouraged local demonstrations and protests across the country on Wednesday.
“It’s a rally in support with our brothers and sisters all over the United States that are doing this,” she said. “Everybody is here for different reasons, but we stand in solidarity with the 99 percent.”
Participants held up signs calling for economic and social reform of a national system they said favors the so-called “1 percent” — the wealthiest and most powerful in the country — over the “99 percent” majority.
Joshua Dix, 20, said he is “fascinated” with the movement because it ties into his anthropology education at the University of North Dakota, some of which looks at how a change actually occurs.
“I want to see change in how we have our current setup and our society,” he said.
Dix said he would like to see “more equality between everyone,” not a system that favors the wealthy. He also said he wants to see more assistance for higher education — a personal issue, he said, because he is already $20,000 in debt and is just in his second year of college.
“I think education should be for anyone that wants it instead of just being a business transaction,” he said. “I would like it to be free, but it’s not the easiest thing to do.”
‘Occupy a job’
But not everyone agreed with the demonstration. Several members of the UND College Republicans showed up with their own signs, including one that simply read “Occupy a Job,” and held their own makeshift protest.
Kristin Emmons said the national movement simply doesn’t make sense in North Dakota, which now boasts the nation’s lowest unemployment rate and has “plenty of opportunities for jobs.”
“We don’t have greedy billionaires walking around on the streets here,” she said. “We have a growing economy, and I think it’s ridiculous for people to be protesting in Grand Forks.”
Tate Carlson, also a member of the College Republicans, said it was important to make sure the Occupy movement didn’t try to speak for him.
“We just want to make ourselves present because they don’t represent us,” he said. “We may be economically part of the 99 percent, but we believe in the free market and capabilities of capitalism.”
But Tyrone Grandstrand, a member of the Grand Forks City Council, said many of the issues that are at the core of the national Occupy movement still apply to North Dakota — even if the economy is better here than most places.
“It’s teaching us how to have a conversation and talk about issues that affect us,” he said. “Those might be different in different places, but what connects us is that we all need to learn how to talk about issues generally again. And we’re all affected by what happens on Wall Street because most people have retirement savings that are handled by Wall Street.”
Cory Carivau said there still are misconceptions about the Occupy movement, which kicked off with Occupy Wall Street in September but has since spread across the U.S. and around the globe.
“From everything that I’ve seen and read and talked to people about, it’s a lot of just average, everyday people, people that are working and people who have families,” he said.
Carivau said the message of the movement has been unfocused as participants have worked to keep it open to everyone and not centered on a core issue. But that is similar to the tea party movement, he said, and the broad goal of taking on “corporate greed” could resonate with liberals, conservatives and libertarians alike.
“I think it would help to have a little bit more of a solid message, but these movements are growing all across the country and now are in Grand Forks,” he said. “There are people out here protesting this idea and just trying to call attention to it.”
Ryan Johnson is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.