On October 27 from Noon to 2 pm, a public forum was held to for people of all backgrounds and political stripes to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement and its local incarnation, Occupy Augusta. Organized by the Office of Civic Engagement, Social Science major Sarah Therrien and Assistant Professor of Social Science James Cook, the forum kicked off with four public speakers. Prof. Cook distributed pamphlets to the 125 people assembled containing Census Bureau information on income stratification. Demi Colby of Occupy Augusta shared her personal motivations for involvement with the movement:
"A lot of people ask me why I went down to Wall Street. I have a fair amount of college debt and I've been unemployed for over a year. I was told that if I went to college, everything would be OK. It's not OK."
State Representative Maeghan Maloney shared the experience of her constituents:
"People who are working full time can't afford to fix their roof. Their floors are buckling, and it's a real struggle.... But this today is what democracy is all about. It is so exciting. This is what makes America great."
State Senator Roger Katz closed the formal proceedings with a call for open dialogue:
"I think that one of the big problems in our country, one of the things that is holding is back, is that increasingly we tend to talk only to people we agree with, and we tune out those with whom we disagree. Too often, political discourse in this country turns into a matter of Us versus Them.... For those of you who are in Occupy Augusta who are here today, I suspect we may not agree on many things, but I hope that I may learn something from you that will help me do a better job."
At the conclusion of these remarks, the main event followed: an open circle in which all in attendance were free to share information, ideas, perspectives and opinions regarding Occupy Augusta and related subjects -- regardless of whether the content they shared was supportive, critical or neutral. The structure of the forum followed the Occupy movement's favored process, in which Therrien acted as a facilitator to welcome a "stack" of speakers given the floor in sequence without preference of rank or stance.
Evaluations submitted after the forum's completion included a variety of sentiments:
"Being a student full time I haven’t had time to attend the Occupy movement in Augusta. This was very helpful to have this available to us at school."
"I learned more about how the Occupy movement works at a practical level… actually holding a general assembly demonstrates what its challenges are."
"Simply impressive to see such a large group attend. Rare to get UMA community to come in such large numbers."
"I thought it was good to provide a forum for civil discussion. The country is so polarized today. Too much name calling. Not here."