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Alumni occupy Wall Street in New York

By Laura Newberry
On October 15, 2011

UCF alumni are among the thousands who have gathered in protest for Occupy Wall Street, a movement that has garnered international attention.

Matt De Vlieger and Eric Eingold, former UCF senators who were running mates in a Student Government Association presidential election in 2008, were well known on campus for their activism and involvement in various student organizations. Today, their efforts on Wall Street to create a more democratic society parallel the changes they fought to make during their time at UCF.

Occupy Wall Street participants stand, sleep and sit in the streets of New York City for hours at a time, discussing and protesting governmental issues such as corporate greed and economic inequality. More than 150 cities, including Orlando, have begun to partake in similar downtown demonstrations.

Signs brandishing the now-popular slogan "We are the 99 percent" have dominated the protest, broadcasting the overwhelming opinion among protesters that decisions can no longer be solely made by the 1 percent that possess most of the country's wealth.

"The way things are right now, the cards are stacked against average people," said De Vlieger, who graduated in 2007. "The game is rigged."

De Vlieger said while some question whether the Occupy movement has any sort of true focus or goal, the value of the protest lies in the ability of the masses to finally voice their discontentment with the way in which the United States government has been making decisions.

"It's a rejection of the way things have been going; people feel that there are no options for them," he said. "They see the failures of government and corporations. They haven't been allowed to become involved in empowering situations where their voices are heard, and this is their chance."

De Vlieger has been involved in the protest from the beginning, spending much of his time on Wall Street documenting the protest and interviewing participants. He has most notably recorded interviews with actor and screenwriter Mike Myers, as well New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges.

Eingold has helped Occupy committees organize via Facebook and Twitter, and he attends general assemblies and marches associated with the movement.

"The way it's been put off by the media is juvenile, lawless, dirty," Eingold said. "But it's one of the most hyper-charged, intellectual political spaces that I've ever been around."

According to De Vlieger, the discussion process being facilitated among groups at Occupy is similar to what he aimed to achieve as a member of Students for a Democratic Society at UCF.

SDS, a national organization that grew out of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, sought to advance the rights of students and enabled them to speak out against on-campus injustices.

"The fight that we were in at UCF is part of the same struggle that's going on right now," De Vlieger said. "There's administration that make decisions that impact the people, and students don't have any real representation or the ability to advocate for themselves."

During their time with SDS and the SGA Senate, Eingold and De Vlieger protested tuition hikes, unethical corporate funding and various other student rights issues.

"Students probably had some of the greatest activism going on in the country during that period," De Vlieger said.

Patrick DeCarlo, UCF graduate and Occupy Miami participant, was an SDS member at the same time as Eingold and De Vlieger and often worked beside them during on-campus demonstrations.

"A lot of the stuff we were doing at UCF was practice for what we're doing now with Occupy," DeCarlo said.

According to DeCarlo, who graduated in 2007 and now works for a domestic violence prevention agency in Miami, the essence of the Occupy movement is the ability of individuals to voice governmental concerns without being stifled by others.

"Personal relationships are enriched using these principles because they're about cooperating with a person and not dominating them," DeCarlo said. "All of that is going to translate to having a better community, and that's going to translate to having a better nation."

Mark Kimbrell, an Occupy Portland protestor who graduated from UCF in 2007 and was co-president of Campus Peace Action and an SDS member, said that UCF students are voiceless in the same way that Americans have been up until the Wall Street movement.

"It all ties to UCF, because the people that should be making the decisions at universities should be the people that are paying for tuition: the students," Kimbrell said. "People are ready to start having a say about things that affect them. UCF is just a microcosm of that."

De Vlieger said that overall, he is confident that the Occupy movement will be a catalyst for social and economic change and one students should be a part of.

"It's not a question of how they're going to be affected; they are affected. It's a question of whether they want to make a change, if they want to give this movement a chance," De Vlieger said regarding UCF students.

"We can't [wait] to continue to buy into the myth that we are going to work hard, go to college, come out, have a good job, own a home, and at night the neighborhood's going to be safe and the kids are going to be taken care of," De Vlieger said. "People have realized that that promise isn't there for them."

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