Occupy Denver's sphere of influence (and the bad PR it occasionally invites upon city officials) has traveled well beyond Colorado borders, and its most recent stop earned it a spot in Connecticut. On Thursday, students at Governor John Hickenlooper's alma mater of Wesleyan University took official offense to the graduate's actions toward the Denver movement -- so they revoked his degree. (Well, kind of.)
The end result served more as a symbol than as a legitimate removal of the Bachelor's in English and Master's in geology Hickenlooper earnd there in 1974 and 1980. Wesleyan's own occupation group began in conjunction with the one formed in New York City's Zucotti Park, though it has been active on campus a little longer than a month. On Thursday, the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and a day of international action for the movement as a whole, approximately 100 Wesleyan students gathered to take a stance against what they see as "widespread police brutality" sanctioned by someone who once walked the same halls.
"There's a group of people here who have been following the entire movement very closely because we are a part of it and feel very involved in it, so we were aware of all the various times police action was taken against Occupy Denver," says Ross Levin, an eighteen-year-old freshman majoring in environmental studies. "The fact that he is an alum came to light, and we felt we had some responsibility to speak up."
The action began around 4 p.m. with a speech inside the university's library, after which 100 students marched across campus, through the student center, administrative areas and the library, toward a marble podium where they announced the revocation. Along the way, they passed out flyers and shouted the movement's now standard chants, edited only slightly to fit the situation: "Whose school? Our school!" Levin dressed as Wesleyan president Michael Roth while another student, Dan Fischer, garbed himself as Hickenlooper for a skit in which the group acted out a mock arrest. (Apparently, the acting was convincing: The Denver Post originally reported that Roth himself participated in the ceremony before correcting its story.)
It turns out a John Hickenlooper costume is a pretty simple affair: Fischer wore a suit and a printed mask of the governor's face. But the key lay in mentioning that he was John Hickenlooper as often as possible. Although the real Hickenlooper has yet to make a statement on the subject, Levin says he's aware of what happened.
"Right after we symbolically revoked the degree, 100 students called his office and left a message on speaker phone," Levin says. "I ran into the real Michael Roth, who read me a text that Governor Hickenlooper sent to him defending what he had done at Occupy Denver. It was interesting, and he said that they had been peaceful toward Occupy Denver and been in communication with organizers there. But there are videos proving the first part otherwise."
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Wesleyan's student occupation plans to continue along a similar path of symbolic protest, Levin says, and a number of its members consistently travel to Zucotti to act in unison with Occupy Wall Street. Levin himself was accused of disorderly conduct in the movement's first series of mass arrests, and six others faced the same charge the following weekend.
"It kind of forced me to get more involved on campus because it was a big deal," Levin says. "Just because we're students doesn't make us any different than the rest of the occupation. If we feel the need to stand up and say something, we will."
More from our Occupy Denver archives: "Occupy Denver: ACLU reacts to restriction against recording during court appearances."