Oct 112011
Authors: Matt Miller

In the four weeks since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, I have seen images and videos of the 20-something movement spreading across the country. This Monday, the protest hit Fort Collins in front of a foreclosed building on the corner of Maple Street and College Avenue. So I decided it was time for me to see this nationwide protest firsthand.

I didn’t expect much as I headed to their intersection, but when I arrived, I was surprised at our iteration of Occupy Wall Street.

What I expected was a group of college students who were fired up from the Facebook group for Occupy Fort Collins and passionate enough to ditch class to play their part in the growing movement.

As I neared Maple Street, hearing car horns and voices, I turned onto the intersection and was greeted with a group of people who, for the most part, were more than 20-something years out of college.

The media shows the movement as college students with masks and tambourines and celebrities like Kanye West and Michael Moore speaking for the waiting video cameras.

What I saw on Monday was an older generation –– either working, laid off or retired.

“Everybody is fed up with the recent economic downturn,” Gena Zerlan, 68, said to me in between her own cheers and the rush of cars moving past. “We are retirees seeing our fixed income dwindle.”

Zerlan, a resident of Fort Collins for 32 years, said she hopes that once these movements get seen, the policy makers will step forward.

“It’s crossed generational gaps –– now we’re all in the dumps,” she said.

While this movement has been characterized in the media largely as a youth movement, in Fort Collins it seemed like a different story. This isn’t just the fight of a restless youth: It’s a youthful movement that resonates with an older generation.

So why were members of an older generation, like the man I met who works a corporate job at Hewlett Packard, taking the day off to protest while a school full of almost 30,000 students occupied their classrooms blocks away?

Those of us who are 21 now were 17 when the housing bubble peaked –– not old enough to buy porn, let alone understand our financial crisis. And since then we have been stuck in school, trying to work hard enough to get a job when we enter the real world.

Being in school is no excuse to be oblivious to what is going on in our country, but it may resonate with the fact that the financial problems we face as students await us in the future, and the problems faced by those out of college are a daily reality.

People like Zerlan and the hookie-playing Hewlett Packard employee have had their own stake in our financial system for years, if not decades, and have experienced the horrors of corporate America on their own.

“They have the experience behind it,” said Zerlan’s son Dalton, 30, who drove to New York City last week and is still protesting on Wall Street. “At first glance it seems to be youth-led, but there is a large percentage of all ages –– Vietnam vets, post-college grads.”

Later Monday evening, about 70 people arrived at the foreclosed building to discuss the future of Occupy Fort Collins. And while this group had more college-aged protesters, a majority of them were still from an older generation.

Countless times the media has described the Occupy movement as “young, overeducated and underemployed,” but the group I saw in Fort Collins was nearly the opposite.

This movement might even hit home more so for those older than us, like the Hewlett Packard employee, who are already too invested in the system, so they rely on us to mobilize.

I can’t ignore the scores of young people who have participated in New York City, but that participation has diffused 2,000 miles to a smaller city like Fort Collins, where an older generation mobilized in the first hour of the first day –– an age group that has largely been ignored to focus on a hopeful youth movement.

I don’t expect CSU to have the same response to Occupy Wall Street as New York students who have protests in their backyard. But I do hope CSU students take note of the blue-collar, white-collar, retired, unemployed and debt-drowned graduates that have the passion to helm what has been characterized as our movement.

News Editor Matt Miller is a junior journalism major. His column appears Wednesday’s in the Collegian. Send letters and feedback to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:40 pm

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