Bringing Occupy Philadelphia to campus

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 20, 2011

Penn students and community members gathered in the Kelly Writers House to discuss the Occupy movement through art.
(DP Staff Photographer)

People have aired political grievances in the form of the written word for centuries, and last night, the Kelly Writers House joined this tradition by centering its monthly Speakeasy Open Mic Night around the Occupy Philadelphia movement.

"The goal was to raise awareness and show that the Writers House is an available space, not just for Penn students, but Philadelphia writers," Michelle Taransky, assistant to the director of the Writers House, said. "You can have a voice even if other people think you shouldn’t."

The two-and-a-half-hour event included 17 readers, both from Penn and the larger Philadelphia community, who are opinionated or directly involved with the Occupy Philadelphia movement—a protest at City Hall inspired by Occupy Wall Street. Performances ranged from musical numbers involving guitars and pianicas to poetry reading.

Writers House Program Assistant Amelia Robertson read a William Carlos Williams poem about government corruption. "It's the role of individuals to chose whether they want to be involved and why. It's the role of this event to bring that discourse to Penn," Robertson said.

College senior Lindsey Todd said, "I would like to see people get an understanding that this is a safe place to share dissenting ideas."

The Writers House Arts Cafe was filled, as the event was well attended with an enthusiastic audience of approximately sixty people.

Wharton sophomore Guy Viner read an original sestina poem titled "New Jersey" about Occupy Philadelphia. One line read, "Does turning up the volume on an iPod mean there's no protest going on because you can't hear it?"

College freshman Rosa Escandon read "To Occupy Space," a poem she wrote about the movement's effect on people. "He is not a mob, he never really cared for politics."

Jessica Bergman, a College sophomore and Writers House project assistant, said, "We had a whole campaign with red flyers. Speakeasy isn't something we normally advertise, but this time they were concentrating on attracting people from the Occupy Philadelphia movement."

Peter Schwarz, who graduated from the College of Liberal and Professional Studies in 2004 and is now an administrative assistant at Writers House, was the guest host for the speakeasy. The theme for the event was his idea. "Speakeasy is a really good forum for this. The Occupy movement seems to be very much about getting people together to talk," Schwarz said.

Many in attendance viewed the event as a starting point for discussion. "I hope people will take the time to go down to Occupy Philadelphia, if nothing else just to develop their own opinion," Robertson said.

Taransky said, "It was successful in creating a new audience and giving people the podium. We're another place where people can gather based on common goals—an alternate location that is not City Hall."