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Students, Faculty Examine Occupy Movement

Initiative’s Future Depends on ‘Controlling Message’

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Panelists at a forum on the Occupy movement discussed public perception of the protesters, the role of media coverage and the movement’s future.

By Jill Gambon

For Keith Boulanger, the tipping point came when he saw video footage of a New York City police official pepper spraying women at an Occupy Wall Street protest. 
In Boulanger’s view, the act was an abuse of power. It was also a call to action. Boulanger, a senior political science major and an Iraqi War veteran, got involved in the local Occupy movement, working to organize and mobilize other students.

“The Occupy movement is a grand awakening. It’s a source of hope for me,” Boulanger told an audience of some 120 students, faculty and community members attending a forum this week at O’Leary Library on the protest movement.  Organized by UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion, the forum examined public perception of the protesters, the role of media coverage and the movement’s future.

“We see evidence all over the world.  People want to speak out and be heard,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan, who moderated the forum. “I’m proud of the Center for Public Opinion for getting people engaged in discussions about these issues.”

The forum came on the heels of a new UMass Lowell-Boston Herald national poll, which found that Americans are divided in their opinions on Occupy Wall Street. Slightly more of those who participated in the survey said they view Occupy Wall Street unfavorably than favorably. The poll also found that those who identify with the Occupy movement and the Tea Party, despite ideological differences, agree that Wall Street and political action committees have too much political influence while people who are not wealthy have too little.

Political Science Prof. Jenifer Whitten-Woodring said the Occupy movement has been successful at getting its message across despite the fact that it is only a few months old. “It has put financiers and political leaders on notice,” she said. The movement’s future, however, depends on its ability to maintain control of that message, said Whitten-Woodring, whose work focuses on protest, repression and media freedom.

J.P Hollembaek, a senior political science major and an Iraq War veteran, said he joined the movement to fight what he saw as undue influence of corporations on the country’s economy and political process. As a veteran, Hollembaek has health care and education benefits but is concerned about people who don’t have similar benefits. “You shouldn’t have to go to war to get health care or college tuition benefits,” he said.