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Friday, October 14,2011

Struggling to occupy

CU movement battles low attendance, student apathy

By Steve Weishampel
photo by Blair Madole

In the early-morning hours of Oct. 14, the Occupy Denver protest area was dismantled by police, and more than 20 protesters were arrested as hundreds looked on in a packed Lincoln Park.

That wasn’t quite the scene the day before at the University of Colorado Boulder, as a 2:30 rally planned on Norlin Quad attracted about 10 participants and a few more onlookers. Protesters made and handed out signs reading “Forgive Student Debt” and “No Taxation Without Representation.” They occasionally addressed passing students, but generally stayed in a group.

One protester, sophomore Max d’Hauthuille, copied charts taken from a Business Insider blog post onto cardboard signs. He said he was surprised by the turnout.

“There’s 30,000 people here at CU,” he said. “I was hoping for at least a couple hundred.

“I thought this school was pretty liberal, and besides the whole pot-smoking thing, I haven’t been proven right. A lot of people call themselves liberal, but I just don’t see it.”

Surrounded by sunbathers lying on the grass, d’Hauthuille expressed frustration at how unmotivated his peers seemed. He told a story of a teacher asking a class of 100 how many wanted to join Occupy Wall Street or other Occupy movements. D’Hauthuille was the only one who raised his hand, he said.

“I feel as if a lot of my generation is pretty apathetic to this cause,” he said. “They think that the American dream is still alive, and that’s a lie. Social mobility is at an all-time low. The American dream’s dead, and people have to wake up now.”

For CU students, that might be a struggle. Many said they couldn’t occupy anywhere when they were so occupied with schoolwork.

“When I’m in college, I don’t know anything in the outside world,” said Delaney Rockwell, a sophomore.

“I haven’t been following it,” said Kevin Eno. He said he’d consider protesting if it was something he believed in, but he wasn’t sure Occupy CU — which seemed to argue that “corporations are bad,” Eno said — was something he would be involved in.

“I have no idea what it’s about,” said Nicole Rodriguez, although her friend Desiree Ramirez said she’s seen coverage of the Occupy movements from The Daily Show. Ramirez said she isn’t big on protests and she “doesn’t find CU to be a very liberal place.”

And while Rodriguez wasn’t aware of the movement’s “We are the 99 percent” slogan, she offered her own take: “Ninety-nine percent what? White?”

Asked if they’d participate in a class walkout, student responses were tepid at best. “If everyone was doing it, then I would have participated,” said sophomore Ryan Helle.

There were students in the quad with a familiarity of the Occupy movements, like Kevin Klinkel, who said some of his friends are planning to go to Denver’s movement this weekend. But Klinkel admitted he didn’t know about the campus event and said he’s “in his own engineering bubble.”

For d’Hauthuille, these are symptoms of the problem. “This school is mostly attended by the upper-middle-class,” he said. “And they don’t see the poverty that’s affecting a lot of people. I’m hoping people are going to wake up.”

—Blair Madole contributed to this report.

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