Geneseo General Assembly provokes discussion

Occupy Geneseo held its first general assembly Thursday Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. on the College Green, drawing approximately 53 students and faculty.

Juniors Nick Sloper, Kevin Castañeda and Josh Kent, three of the movement's organizers, facilitated the discussion.

"I think it went really well," Sloper said. "I think that it stayed very organized … I was really impressed with all the facilitators because in taking part in other general assemblies, [organization] was always an issue."

"It definitely went really well. We got a lot of participation," senior Jesse Drury said. "We actually had one person argue against us, which is unexpected because most people don't want to raise their voice against the majority, so that was nice too."

Castañeda opened the general assembly with a reading of an amended version of the New York City General Assembly's list of grievances. Sloper explained the proper use of hand signals to communicate consent, neutrality or disagreement regarding an issue in the general assembly process.  

Kent presented the meeting's agenda and introduced working groups, or groups of people who work together to accomplish specific tasks, research specific issues and plan courses of action.

The discussion itself focused on why the students had chosen to involve themselves in the Occupy movement, and touched on divisive issues such as education, social and economic equality and the environment.

Sloper emphasized focusing on education issues in order to attract other students to the organization, while Castañeda highlighted his hope to see the general assembly "[take] our democracy back." As college students, "we are in a really valuable position to make change," he said.

Other students stood to speak on their thoughts about the Occupy movement and their hopes for the future of the organization. A common theme among the student discussion was a call for avoiding Wal-Mart and other corporate franchises in favor of local Geneseo businesses. One student suggested compiling a list of items students could purchase from local businesses in lieu of shopping at Wal-Mart, and a working group was appointed to the project at the end of the assembly.

The organization also assigned other working groups, including ones focused on both community and campus outreach.  

Among the group of students were members of Geneseo's faculty, including professors Paul Schacht, Jim Allen and Ken Cooper.

Schacht, the English department chair, said he was impressed with the students he heard speak at the assembly.

"It's really nice to see this generation of students thinking big," he said. "They're thinking in more systemic terms about our society. I think that's really important, and it's great to see, and it's something we haven't seen so much of in the last few decades," Schacht said.

He also expressed appreciation for student activism on campus.

 "I'm sure that I'm far from alone as a faculty member in having wished for a long time to see more student political activity and student political engagement," he said. "I think that as a student it may be hard to see how politics have a direct impact on your life, and moments like this really bring out for you how politics have an impact."

Occupy Geneseo will continue to hold bi-weekly general assemblies in the College Union on Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m. and Fridays at 4 p.m.

The organization, with the support of some faculty members, will also hold a teach-in on Nov. 17 that will focus on issues including education and the environment. The teach-in will also include a panel to discuss the Occupy movement, although the final details regarding that panel have yet to be determined.