For weeks now, national attention has been focused on the Occupy Wall Street protesters camped in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. At 1:30 a.m Tuesday morning, NYPD moved in to attempt a forcible eviction of the park; an action live-streamed by protesters in real-time.
What do they want? Who is in charge? How long will they stay?
But the most provocative question may be: What will they do next? It seems the Occupy movement is spreading its influence across the country and at SUNY Purchase.
"None of the ties are formal" said student Melanie MacCaskie. "We're in contact with Occupy Wall Street." She said three representatives from the Wall Street group who work on education and outreach have visited campus to share lessons about consensus building and peaceful assemblies, but their group is honed on their campus.
MacCaskie, a senior majoring in anthropology from Southbury, CT who plans to attend graduate school; Elan Cohen, of Edgemont, NY, a philosophy major with interests that include education; and Zachary Brady, most recently of Mount Vernon, a new media major interested in using his web design skills in early childhood education, are just three of the students taking an active role in organizing SUNY Purchase students to spawn their version of the Occupy movement and focus on the social issues most important to them.
The trio have made frequent trips to Zuccotti Park. After Zachary was arrested on Brooklyn Bridge, the trio was motivated to really get more deeply involved.
All three say their experiences with Occupy Wall Street have profoundly affected them.
"It's changing my future plans," said Cohen. "I didn't expect that at all." MacCaskie agreed saying whatever her future plans, they would surely involve working on issues of wealth inequality and social justice.
Cohen has been working as a medic at Zuccotti Park, often spending entire weekends there helping the protesters.
Yet they all agree the physical location of Occupy Wall Street is not the point of the movement.
"There's too much focus on Zuccotti Park," said Brady. "It's a call to action, a call to see the issues in our immediate communities." For their group, SUNY Purchase General Assembly, those issues are tuition, student debt and access to higher education.
"Zuccotti Park is almost a distraction," Cohen said in agreement.
MacCaskie said, "I haven't been down there [Zuccotti Park] in weeks. I live here. I've been getting things off the ground here."
Since Sunday, the SUNY Purchase General Assembly has claimed the academic mall near the campus clock tower. Saying they are "inspired by" and "stand in solidarity with" the Occupy Wall Street movement, the group's website proclaims: "Together we do what we can to protest the economic and democratic injustice that keeps 99% of the country from the fair pursuit of happiness."
For many critics, those kinds of statements seem vague and imprecise. But the students organizing the event wouldn't have it any other way.
"The cool thing about a general protest is that it doesn't have to offer a solution," said MacCaskie. In fact, all three had a different opinion of the most important issues.
"There are a laundry list of problems," said Cohen. "The point is to empower responsibility for change. The main problem is that we've been trained to be consumers instead of citizens."
On Tuesday, Melanie, Elan and Zachary will participate in a day-long slate of events inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The SUNY Purchase General Assembly will gather to discuss a host of social issues including campus administration, property rights and the tax code, the history of campus activism at SUNY Purchase and the formulation of a group statement.
Then events will continue throughout the week, and they hope long into the future.
"People have been taught their problems are their own fault," said MacCaskie. "But we can change things. You have more power than you think you have."
For more information about the SUNY Purchase General Assembly and their events, check their website here. Check out their Facebook page or follow their Twitter feed @PurchaseGA