Phyllis Cole-Dai, center, helps to facilitate the second assembly of Occupy Brookings at the Brookings Public Library Saturday afternoon. The group held its first assembly Nov. 12 and started a “buy local” initiative then. Photo by Charis Ubben/Register
• More than two dozen attended first meeting of local Occupy offshoot
When four Brookings residents were planning the first meeting of a local Occupy Wall Street offshoot, they decided to simply set a time and place and “see who would show up.”
When more than two dozen people attended, the next thing was to decide if they were in enough agreement to start something.
They were, said Occupy Brookings media liaison Phyllis Cole-Dai, though exactly what means the group will use to accomplish its goals are still being decided.
“It was a wonderful meeting because the door is still open to ideas,” said Russ Stubbles, who attended the group’s first meeting Nov. 12. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the group does good things for Brookings.”
During its second assembly this Saturday afternoon, attendees included people of various ages – farmers, writers, social workers, a dental hygienist, a trucker, a retired bricklayer, several students and others.
The group’s initial mission statement is this: “We work for the common good. With a constructive vision of what our society could be, we educate, inform and empower the public to help bring it about; advocate for economic justice; agitate for vital reforms, especially in our political and economic systems; and seek to create a vibrant social culture that respects the worth and dignity of every child, woman and man.”
Members’ first agreement is that there is a disparity between the 1 percent of U.S. residents – who, when a documentary was made on the subject in 2004, controlled 42.2 percent of total financial wealth – and the remaining 99 percent. Occupy Brookings is interested in the welfare of everyone, said member Florence Moller, and believes that economic decisions should not be made to profit only the top 1 percent.
“One term they mentioned was ‘economic justice,’ meaning that the few shouldn’t benefit from the work or the labor that the majority of people do; it should be a majority benefit, and this is one of the ideas that we are emphasizing,” Moller said.
“At least so that the majority of people can make a living, for instance, have a job and make a living that way. And that isn’t true right now; the jobless rate is higher than we’d like to see,” she said. “It isn’t only that, but the wages of the ordinary person in the last decade haven’t risen enough to keep up with what the needs are of our families. All these things kind of make us interested in working together to see what can be done, or at least to raise awareness.”
Members of Occupy Brookings may be among the 99 percent, but some recognize that they are among the privileged 99 percent, Cole-Dai said. They are concerned for the less privileged: children who don’t have the food they need, elderly whose Meals on Wheels are being canceled or lack of funding, U.S. military veterans who are told to go elsewhere because the VA hospital does not have space for them until a much later time.
“We also have people who are members of the 1 percent in this community who are saying ‘I should pay more taxes in order to help this country move forward,’” she added.
They and are looking for constructive things to do locally that will contribute to a vision of what the American society could be.
“It’s an exciting time, to see a bit of agitation in the public for change, but there are no clean-cut answers and it’s going to take a lot of public wisdom,” Cole-Dai said.
Libby Marking, a senior at South Dakota State University majoring in global studies and French, with a minor in political science, said she is involved with Occupy Brookings because it is one way her voice can be heard and she can support changes she believes are important for the betterment of the U.S. and its citizens.
“I think that for our particular group in this small town of South Dakota, the most we can do is raise awareness and support, which will strengthen the overall national and global movement,” Marking said. “In more specific terms, we also hope to support the community by promoting the small, local businesses that may not be able to compete with the larger companies that have settled down here.”
Marking, 20, is one of the youngest members of Occupy Brookings. She estimated that about 50 percent of SDSU students are aware of Occupy Wall Street, and only a small percentage strongly supports it.
Fliers that were once posted on campus in support of the movement were quickly taken down, she said. However, Marking knows several students who are excited about the Occupy movement, and one friend attended Saturday’s assembly.
While the group continues to decide how it will accomplish its goals, Occupy Brookings has committed to staying peaceful. Its members see a need to reform the democratic process, said Cole-Dai; many have “soured” on writing to their lawmakers only to receive a form letter in return.
Members believe that the problem is systemic and to create an economy that benefits its workers will be a long-term effort.
“They understand that the movement to transform those kinds of systems, or enterprises or laws, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Cole-Dai said.
But, wanting to make a difference right away, Occupy Brookings did launch an initiative encouraging everyone to “buy local” this holiday season, spending their money to support local entrepreneurs, small businesses, low and middle-class workers and the local economy. At Saturday’s assembly, the group decided to organize a “cash mob” for Dec. 3, meaning its members will converge to shop at a locally or regionally owned business, then share a meal at a locally owned restaurant and possibly visit another shop before holding their third assembly that afternoon.
Tonight, Occupy Brookings members will attend a public education forum, which will include Sen. Larry Tidemann, Rep. Spencer Hawley, Rep. Scott Munsterman, Brookings School District Superintendent Roger DeGroot and school board President Steve Bayer, and Sioux Valley Superintendent Tom Oster. The forum will include opening remarks by these officials and time for answering written questions from the audience. It is planned for 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Mickelson Middle School cafeteria.
Further plans include an event on the SDSU campus soon after the start of next semester, which will be organized by student members.
Anyone is welcome to attend Occupy Brookings meetings. Find meeting times and more information on the Occupy Brookings Facebook page and at www.occupybrookings.com.
Contact Charis Ubben at firstname.lastname@example.org.