Spectators used the words “interesting,” disturbing,” and “exciting” when asked to describe the Occupy Georgia State University (OGSU) “Walk-Out” on March 13. Before the day was over, students stormed out of classrooms in anger and frustration, police and protesters engaged in a literal tug-of-war over a student protester, and members of OGSU addressed its grievances — against tuition and fee hikes and the ban on undocumented students — to the Board of Regents.
At the end of the rally, police removed flyers that littered the campus, and students from Occupy Class (ENGL 3120) reported that one protester actually set a small fire in the courtyard. Some GSU students joined the protest, while others expressed annoyance or disgust at the rally. Either way, OGSU’s “Walk-Out” was ultimately successful: people are talking, and their demands were heard.
Walker, a member of OGSU, contacted Occupy Class member Reca Washington on Tuesday morning to let her and other Electronic Writing & Publishing class members know where the protesters would meet. The plan was to rally in the courtyard and encourage as many students as possible join the march to the Board of Regents meeting downtown at the Industry & Trade building. According to Washington, Walker, like other OGSU members, is also affiliated with the GSU Students For Public Higher Education (GSPHE).” Partnerships with other groups like Occupy Atlanta and GSPHE have increased OGSU membership and exposed the group to fresh approaches.
Before the march, OGSU Members emerged with buckets as makeshift percussion instruments, noise makers, banners, and flyers, and began distributing them on the 4th floor of General Classroom Building. Protesters carried signs that read, “Regent Scum Here We Come,” “Walk-Out,” and other familiar “Occupy” slogans. At 11:30AM, the drums sounded and voices began to cry, “Walk Out! Walk Out!” Protesters walked the halls of each floor to disrupt classes and draft students for their cause; several students joined.
According to some students, protesters interrupted classes by opening doors and yelling for students to walk-out. Protesters made their way through each remaining floor of the General Classroom Building and into the courtyard. For roughly thirty minutes, OGSU engaged a collection of GSU students with its agenda and invective against the Board of Regents.
One of the banner carriers, Tyson Duffy, expressed a desire to do something about University problems. “Complacency is no longer the answer,” he said. “Students are not a profit margin.”
During the protest, a few protesters wore orange hoodies that read: “Cop Watch: Stop Police Brutality.” This team, a staple at other Occupy events around the country, was charged with the task of recording officers’ names and badge numbers in the event of police action. As protesters shouted their frustrations from the courtyard’s stage, one of the female students screamed into a speakerphone: ”Look! Police brutality!” A small group of students began following police officers who had arrested Luke O’Donovan, an OGSU protester and Georgia Gwinnett College student.
As the police escorted O’Donovan into General Classroom Building, a member of the crowd grabbed Luke’s leg to pull him away from the officers. The officers slowly pushed O’Donovan to the ground to control him. Occupy Class member Faith Emmanuel says “I did not see a need for the officer to do this, as I did not see Luke resist.”
The group of students followed officers onto the sidewalk of Peachtree Center Avenue, and both groups called for backup. The students chanted, “Let him go!” as the officers lifted O’Donovan by all four limbs. According to Emmanuel and others from the crowd, O’Donovan did not resist. After four squad cars arrived outside of Walter’s Shoes on Decatur Street, officers placed the wounded student into a police vehicle.
Spectators and officers have given variations on the story of O’Donovan’s arrest (see: GSU Police arrest summary). One officer indicates that they arrested the student for throwing papers in the library. Many protest spectators confirm that part of the rally did include throwing flyers around campus, and an unidentified library student said that the arrest happened because the young man refused to cooperate when asked to stop distributing flyers. This arrest, and the accusations of police brutality, fueled the rage of the OGSU students during its rally for supporters.
What occurred in the wake of the arrest continues to frustrate OGSU activists. Acording to O’Donoavn, he spent six hours after the rally awaiting medical treatment at Grady Hospital. “When I left Grady around 7, I was brought to Atlanta City Detention Center. My bond was posted by 10:30 pm., but I was not released until 2am,” O’Donovan says. In court the next morning, O’Donovan’s charges were dropped, and he was released.
After the conclusion of the courtyard rally, OGSU invited students to march with them to the Industry & Trade building on Washington Ave. where the Board of Regents meeting was scheduled to take place. Once inside the meeting, OGSU members disrupted the meeting by standing up in opposition when the signal — a cough — was given. Eventually, the Board asked the group if it wanted to appoint a representative to speak. Instead, OGSU reminded the Board that Occupy is a leaderless movement made of all voices. “Mic check,” said a voice from the crowd, and all members began echoing the concerns stated by one. After ending with the words, “take a [expletive deleted] pay cut!” OGSU left the meeting.
Meanwhile outside the building a law enforcement presence consisting of Georgia State Capitol Police as well as Georgia State Troopers that exceeded the numbers of protesters inside formed. After the protesters had been inside for about 40 minutes the presence peaked with some 14 police cars lining the street outside. No off campus incidents with the police were reported.
Back on campus, many students felt threatened by the Walk-Out. The rally included language and demands that confused or offended some GSU students. “It was disturbing for me to see the faces of each student who had no clue as to what was going on. Many of these students expressed how they too were disturbed by OGSU Walk-Out tactics,” says Washington.
Occupy Class member James Campbell notes, “The rage used by OGSU today to spark the passions of Georgia State students was nothing to be scoffed at.” Campbell regularly films OGSU meetings, and he has noticed evolution since its first meeting in January.
OGSU members are aware that not everyone on campus was sympathetic to the Walk-Out, but according to organizer Hira Mahmood, such resistance was expected. In her work within the GSU community for the past several years with GSPHE, Mahmood has found other less dramatic tactics to be ineffective. “‘Disturbing’ the crowd is what we were going for,” says Mahmood. “Nothing else has worked on that campus for the past three years.”
Edited by Matt Sansbury and Pete Rorabaugh with contributions from Reca Washington, James Campbell, Faith Emmanuel, Destiny Whiting, Maiya Bright, Keela Palmer, Jalisa Allen, and Lindsey Smith