Students hear Occupy and Tea Party voices at Benedictine mock rally
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com April 17, 2012 3:26PM
Students from local high school's through out Chicago land area learn about political protesting from the local "Occupy Movement" and the "Illinois Tea Party" on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at Benedictine University in Lisle IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 19, 2012 8:04AM
Several hundred local high school students had a chance to see ideological passion in action Tuesday morning at Benedictine University.
The Lisle campus hosted its annual Youth Government Day activities, this year inviting representatives from a pair of philosophical camps — both of which recently have had substantial influence on the political landscape — to stage a mock rally. The event was a simulation, but some of the students found the messages genuinely convincing.
About 30 people were on hand from Occupy Naperville, and a roughly equal number of Tea Party Illinois adherents brought the view from the other side. Through signs, speeches and the expression of deeply held beliefs, each had their say.
On the day the Internal Revenue Service was expecting to have heard from all U.S. income earners, Tea Party members reiterated the aggravation with taxes, regulation and government spending that gave rise to their movement three years ago.
“If we’re going to be sharing our debt with you ... the least we should be doing is talking to you about it,” said Rob Figulio, who asserted that spending is better done by private citizens than government. “Generational theft: be on guard for it.”
Keith Knutter, chapter relations officer for the Ayn Rand Institute and a self-described “unapologetic radical capitalist,” reminded the students gathered for the Tea Party rally that “no one owns you,” and likened the Occupy movement to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
In their simultaneous rally just outside the Rice Center field house, Occupy Naperville participants engaged in their trademark chants of “We are the 99 percent!” and emphasized their platform’s major planks: economic and social justice, honest government, grass roots democracy, responsible use of resources and nonviolence.
Social activist and author Dick Nogaj of Wheaton cautioned during a presentation later in the morning that “big corporations today are draining the future of our society” and urged the students to learn about the Occupy movement, noting that its 99 Percent Declaration itemizes the members’ primary concerns.
“Just a few of these grievances that you may decide to research and study are things that affect you today,” Nogaj said, “such as the need for student loan restructuring, emergency reform of public education, protection of our planet, getting money out of politics, and making sure that you will be able to use the Internet for research and study.”
For sociologist, filmmaker and Naperville resident Stephanie Hughes and other Occupy followers, a large part of economic inequality stems from the power of unlimited corporate money in politics.
“The problem is that liberty has been trumping justice in our society,” Hughes said.
Teachers from Metea Valley and Naperville Central high schools brought students to take part in the morning’s events. Metea teacher Don Pankuch said the 14 students in grades 9 through 11 who came to the event were invited at the recommendation of their social studies teachers. While they brought along no rigid political dogma, Pankuch said some opted to attend one rally or the other on the basis of their emerging opinions.
“We’ve got two strong Tea Partiers that were all excited when the Tea Party people were talking,” he said.
Naperville Central High School teachers Mike Bochenski and Randy Smith accompanied all six of their sophomore advanced-placement government sections to the event, assigning three classes to each of the two mock rallies.
Bochenski, who heads the Humanities Department at Central, said they encouraged the teens to listen and question what they heard from the activists.
“Our political landscape is fractured,” he said. “So we tend to break into these movements that are amorphous.”
Smith said the instructors took steps to make sure the students had a basic grasp of each side’s beliefs before they came to Benedictine for the event. They tried to stress the deep conviction and “fire in their belly” that lead citizens to heighten their role within a movement.
“What I would love is for these kids to (gain appreciation for) social movements,” Smith said. “And maybe put some sense of a human face on all this.”
Participants from Central later shared a variety of reactions to the morning’s presentation. Maggie Jia said she’d had limited exposure to activism before, but she distilled what she heard quite simply: “It’s corporations versus the government.”
Ivy Lei found it eye-opening to hear that not everyone pays taxes, a point made by the Tea Party followers as a way of underlining their opposition to most taxpayers’ mounting bills.
“I feel like I agree more with the Tea Party, because of this discussion,” she said.
Derek Duleba, who was sent to the Tea Party rally and took along a pro-liberty sign he’d made for the occasion, was swayed “not at all” from the Occupy leanings he brought to the event. Wesley Lo, one of Duleba’s lunch companions, said he was surprised by the depth of feeling shown by the activists on both sides.
“I’m still that person who can go either way,” he said.
Emily White felt the same way. She had heard valuable points come from Occupy and Tea Party alike.
“It got pretty intense,” she said. “I guess I’m still absorbing everything.”