Sunday October 9, 2011

The "Occupy" movement is coming to the Berkshires. Today, the first "Occupy the Berkshires" event will be held in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Organizers have outlined the local gathering to be "a peaceful, upbeat rally," which will be held along the street outside of Great Barrington Town Hall from 1 to 3 p.m.

Occupy the Berkshires is one of countless other meetups being held in 905 cities across the country, according to the website Occupy Together. At least two other such events are scheduled in the Berkshires this coming week: Occupy Images on Monday at Images Cinema in Williamstown and Occupy Lenox on Wednesday at Lenox Town Hall.

Bill Shein, 44, of Alford, a co-organizer of Occupy the Berkshires, offered a reason of the growth of and interest in this movement.

"People realize it's time for fundamental and transformative change. What has been discussed since the beginning of this recent financial crisis has been marginal, if [discussed] at all. The young folks in Liberty Square realize that the old ways just don't work any more, that they're just not effective," said Shein.

Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17, when a group of citizens, mostly people of college-age, set up an encampment in Zuccotti Park (also known as Liberty Square) in Manhattan's financial district. Their presence was meant to protest social inequalities stemming from corporate greed and influence on political campaigns and the U.S. government. Others bring their individual grievances as well.

Since then, the leaderless resistance movement, blind to demographic labels, has garnered the support of countless people worldwide. Not attached to one specific demand, the overarching mission of the movement seems to be to inform citizens, enabling them to demand for more fairness and accountability of financial systems in the United States.

People like Justin Adkins, Shannon Toye and Thomas Winstanley, all from Berkshire County, have also become involved, and even arrested, for the cause.

Justin Adkins, 33, of Williamstown is the assistant director of the Multicultural Center at Williams College, and also works as a website developer.

"My students, some of the smartest and brightest in the country, are living on their parents' couches, not able to find work. Even though I got some of the largest scholarships at my school [Marlboro College in Vermont], I'm $39,000 in debt from my bachelor's degree, which I will be paying for a very long time. All this has made me passionate about the Occupy Wall Street movement," he said.

He has spent the past two weekends in New York City, joining the Occupy Wall Street movement. He was also among the 700 protesters arrested while trying to march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1.

Adkins' arrest, his first, has become quite public in the news blogosphere, from the Huffington Post to Instinct Magazine. Adkins, who is a transgender male, issued a public statement on his website, detailing his claim of unfair treatment during the eight hours he spent at Precinct 90 of the New York Police Department in Brooklyn. Adkins said he has made no decision on taking any legal action.

Instead, he has chosen to focus on sharing more information about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he will do during a public panel and screening of live Occupy Wall Street footage on Monday at Images Cinema.

"Our country has been stuck in a polarized two-party system for a very long time. It's like a wad of hair stuck in a drain. All these issues, all these hairs are clogging our system, clogging our country," Adkins said.

Shannon Toye, a 35-year-old Mass MoCA educator and single mother from North Adams, also went down to New York this past Tuesday.

"I just wanted to see for myself who was showing up. [To see if it was] just a group of rag-tag hippies," she said.

She said she found a diverse group of people, "There are the homeless, the unemployed and also very intelligent, motivated people just hungry for some change."

Though her personal interests are improving the costs of health care and education, Toye said she also hopes the movement will generally help people feel empowered to demand change.

"A lot of adults feel so overwhelmed by what that could entail. They agree with what's happening [in the movement] but are paralyzed by debt or fear of losing their jobs," Toye said.

For Thomas Winstanley, a Lenox native now living in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, Occupy Wall Street is doing for him just what Toye had hoped. Winstanley, 24, works for a pharmaceutical advertising agency by day, but since the movement began, he's been spending a few hours each day after work mixing with the people at Zuccotti Park.

"It's become a sort of awareness campaign for my generation that's been so apathetic until now," he said. "What should be done is the million-dollar question that everybody's trying to answer. But we need to have some stake in [the answer]. It's our government, too."

Occupy: The Berkshires Movement

Today

Occupy the Berkshires, 1 to 3 p.m., outside of Great Barrington Town Hall, Main Street. A closing gathering will take place at 3 p.m. at the gazebo behind town hall.

Monday

Occupy Images, 6:30 p.m., Images Cinema, Spring Street, Williamstown. Activist Justin Adkins and other protesters will share their experiences with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. A live feed and footage from New York City will be streamed on the big screen.

Wednesday

Occupy Lenox, 5:30 p.m., Lenox Town Hall, Walker Street.

Wednesday, Oct. 19

William Cohan, an award-winning journalist and former Wall Street banker, will present a lecture titled "Money and Power: Why do we keep getting crushed by Wall Street?" at 7:30 p.m., in the MainStage of the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance at Williams College, Main Street, Williamstown. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. To obtain tickets, call the ‘62 Center box office at (413) 597-2425 or online at 62center.williams.edu.

On the Web: occupywallst.org or search "Occupy the Berkshires" on Facebook.