Protecting the Future: Elementary School Students Join Occupy Wall St.

This afternoon at Liberty Plaza (AKA Zuccotti Park), what parents and teachers estimated to be 100 elementary school students joined the Occupy Wall St. demonstrations. 

In coordination with what the adults dubbed "Un-Columbus Day," dozens of elementary school  students sat down at Liberty Plaza and conducted a "mic-check" by which several students explained their reasons for participating in the nation-wide demonstrations.  One little girl said she was there "because some people don't have enough money to go to good schools," while another little boy said  "because the government isn't giving enough money to schools and health care that we really need." 

Students then listened to a young female teacher named "Ms. Kristen" read from from the children's bookEncounter by Jane Yolen.  As Ms. Kristen spoke, students used the demonstrators' human microphone technique to echo her phrases so all could hear. The story told the tale of the real Christopher Columbus -- not the Columbus many students learn about in school, but the genocidal Columbus who exterminated the Taino people. After reading the story, Ms. Kristen said Columbus Day is a time to remember what happened to the Taino people so that it never happens again. 

Then, the kids gathered alongside other demonstrators to make signs for the "march" they would hold around the park.  Adorable, some examples of their scribbled signs are:

If a five year old can share, why can't you?

I love unicorns and taxing the rich

Stop the wars

We need Help


End Poverty

Some of the students marched with their signs around Liberty Plaza, chanting "Occupy Wall St. on Un-Columbus Day," while others were lost with their parents in the crowd.  

Melissa Eaton, an African-American mother of three, explained why she brought her  children to the demonstration:

"I need them to see what it is that they're up against for the rest of their lives."

Her son, sixth-grader  Morgan Palmer, had his own reasons for attending.

 "I'm here to help the poor get some money to survive better and because the rich people are getting too much money and the poor people aren't getting any money at all."

Palmer added,

 "So we're seeing if we can help them survive better by getting the rich people to donate more money."

Very determined to see his action translated into change, he said:

"We're going to make signs and march until they say yes" to "donating money to the poor people."

Palmer was not the only young student eager to participate. As parent of two Jeannie Lee said,

"They want to be here so bad. My 11 year old was organizing this with me.  He sat down and wrote a list of 11 friends from 11 schools."

Planning for the "Occupy Wall St. on Un-Columbus Day" event happened quickly and gathered more support than organizers  have hoped. The action was planned by parents at Central Park East, an umbrella for two New York City public schools, but expanded via networking by parents, as well as students, to other NYC schools.

"A week ago, four mothers started chatting about hey,  let's take our kids down to Occupy Wall st. And then we were like wait a minute! Not sunday, let's do it Monday," said Lee, "Let's call it un-columbus day." 

After deciding to invite the whole school, Lee said "it went viral.  In seven days it went from ten people coming to we don't know how many people coming." Lee said she used Facebook and social networking, for the first time, to spread the word. 

According to Lee, after getting online, 

"We said Oh my gosh.  This is going to be bigger than we ever imagined, and we're excited.  We're really grateful for the reception that we received here." 

Of course, Lee said her biggest concern was the children's safety.  But it's not what you think.  "People told me over and over again make sure someone's watching them because you might get arrested," said Lee.

Despite the threat of arrest, this afternoon is not the last we will see of the very young 99%ers.  As Lee said,

"The 99% school is established and we are going to, depending on the weather and scheduling, have kids come out and do school again…and show them a different perspective on American history, why we're here,  and why all these people are doing this."

These children, however, were not the first kids to show up at Occupy Wall St., and they will absolutely not be the last.  As the movement gains momentum, more and more families show up daily. Many parents say they are committed to helping their children protect their futures.

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at October 10, 2011, 10:46am