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Occupy Valdosta exceeds participant’s expectations

I don’t consider myself an extremely political person, but I do believe that people should stand up for what they believe in. The Valdosta community has recently come together to do just that.

On Friday, I participated in the Occupy Valdosta march with over 100 students, teachers, and other members of the Valdosta community. I was excited that I got to shed my title of Spectator reporter and editor for a day and actually fully take part in an event. The turnout was, in a word, amazing. Honestly, I was trying not to get my hopes up too high for this.

I started following the development of the Occupy Wall Street movement before protesters descended on Liberty Plaza on Sept. 17, and I understood where the early participants were coming from. I kept up with what the internet group Anonymous was saying about the proposed protest on its website.

Thing is, I never thought anything like that would happen anywhere near Valdosta. I mean, come on, a liberal movement in South Georgia? In any red state? Yeah, right.

But it did happen. The Occupy movement has spread worldwide at this point. This movement has grown big enough to finally hit close to home.

We were supposed to meet up between 11 and noon in Drexel Park on Friday. As I walked across campus to the park, I began to get anxious. I got outright scared.

“What if there’s nobody there?” I thought. “There’s no way there’ll be a decent turnout. Nobody cares enough to make this happen.”

Come to find out, there were a lot of people already at the park when I got there around 11:45. A lot of them were people I knew.

Devin Roth, who I haven’t seen since he rode my bus in high school, was there with one of the funniest, most awesome signs I have ever seen. It read: “In Kapitalist America, Bank Rob You!” I thought I would die laughing.

Ethan Abbott, another fellow Lowndes High School alumnus, was there with round sunglasses that made him look like John Lennon. I expected those who did turn up to be these types—students my age out to have their voices heard—but I was surprised. The crowd also included young kids, a couple of ladies pushing a baby in a stroller, older adults, even dogs.

Our motley crew left Drexel around 12 and marched down Patterson to Bank of America. As we left Drexel, a short-lived chant of “Valdosta on the March” started at the back of the group. The chant quickly turned to “We are the 99” and almost the whole group chimed in.

As we headed down Patterson, cars drove by waving, honking, and cheering us on.

A group of older 306 North patrons, on the other side of Patterson from where we were walking, came out as we went by. One man came to the front of the group to give us a double “thumbs down.” I guess he didn’t like our message.

Nonetheless, we continued on towards our first stop, Bank of America, pausing to group and get water.

After everyone had caught up, Erin Hurley, a senior anthropology major, broadcast a question over the megaphone: “How many of you have Bank of America accounts?” A flurry of hands went up.The majority of these hands stayed up as she asked how many of those people now wanted to close their accounts.

From the bank we headed to the Martin Luther King Memorial. I continued to steadily move through the crowd to meet as many people as possible.

I met a lot of interesting people during the march, including two ladies who had come down from Fitzgerald to join the march. I also met a lady from the “Vote No for the Children” campaign that opposes the school consolidation.

When we got to the Memorial, Hurley invited anyone who wanted to speak to come up and be heard. John Quarterman, who runs the blog “On the LAKE Front,” came up to speak out about private prisons.

But it wasn’t just the adults that wanted to voice their opinions. A young kid, who looked to be in middle school, came up to speak. Although I couldn’t hear what he said, it was moving to see someone so young take a stand.

As we moved from the Memorial towards the Valdosta Daily Times (VDT), we had some interesting run-ins with government workers. A road worker we passed cheered us on and told us that he “need[s] a real job.”

Not everyone was so positive. A man in a red shirt stood in front of the City of Valdosta Customer Service Center as we passed by. As I passed by he shouted at the group, “Get a job!” I promptly turned to him and said, “I have a job.”

This is where the march got a little awkward for me, personally. I am, obviously, a member of the press and one of our stops was the VDT.

Now, I was all for the chanting of “Fox news lies” as we approached, but when that changed to “all news lies” a little part of me died inside. Not to mention that I was standing eye-to-eye with Dean Poling, the VDT’s Assistant Managing Editor, at the time.

It was very strange for me to hear the honest opinions from the crowd about their dissatisfaction with the media. Complaints ranged from lack of coverage of local events to the desire for more Letters to the Editor and a larger Rant and Rave section.

Knowing how a newsroom works, I was thinking, most of this isn’t his fault. I began to get nervous for him.

Poling stayed cool and responded, saying that the VDT welcomes suggestions for news coverage and explained the paper’s policy of limiting Letters to the Editor to 250 words. He also explained that, due to space constraints, not all submissions can be printed. Another major factor in news coverage is legal issues such as libel, and submissions must be scanned for that as well.

After Poling’s address, the crowd marched on towards the courthouse and our final stop at the Chamber of Commerce. I hung behind to thank Poling for coming out and being a positive image of the media at a time when journalism isn’t the most respected profession.

Being a member of the media amidst all the controversy was a bit strange, but it felt good to have some release. News coverage must be unbiased and not portray any personal opinion, unless you’re writing for the Op-Ed section, of course. Experience pieces—like this one—are another exception. How else can you write about an experience without asserting your opinion?

So, knowing our last stop was coming up, I took advantage of what little time we had left together to meet a few more people. One of these people was a 78-year-old man who told me about how he got himself arrested protesting for civil rights when he was my age.

He said that we need to remember what we were doing there and keep it up because we will be needed to march for whatever rights are under fire when we are his age.

Being a part of this march was, in a word, liberating. I felt like we were really doing something, like maybe things will begin to change. Not necessarily because we marched once, but the global movement that the Occupy Wall Street movement has become has the potential to make big waves in the world as we know it.

Like Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” By coming out, taking a stand and letting our voices be heard we provide inspirations for others to do the same.

Eventually, if you make enough noise, someone, somewhere will listen.

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