As heated Occupy protests were underway in Berkeley and Oakland Wednesday night, an intimate crowd gathered at to discuss the purpose and meaning behind the global movement.
Union City resident and coffee shop employee Jo Oquendo was one of about a dozen gathered at the venue. Frustrated with the education system, soaring tuition and the bleak job market, Oquendo said he supported the movement and echoed many of the sentiments of those protesting at UC Berkeley that day.
“What’s the point of me going to school when I’m going to be stuck waiting?” said the 21-year-old Chabot College student who works two part-time jobs. “It’s hard for people to come up today.”
“If you’re not at the top, you’re screwed,” Oquendo continued.
The idea for Wednesday night’s gathering came from store owner Paddy Iyer after several of his customers told him they wanted to hold an Occupy event in Union City. He said the group wanted to hold a demonstration at the Saturday morning farmers market that’s held at Old Alvarado Park, opposite the coffee shop. He told them such an event would be counterproductive and instead suggested a forum where community members could discuss what the Occupy movement meant to them.
“It’s a faceless, leaderless movement and it's not trying to address the issue of jobs, it's not trying to address the issue of bailouts … What it is is a statement of fact that there is an inequality in society right now,” Iyer told the small crowd before opening the floor to others.
“This current generation is having too much of a burden to bear based on what my generation and what the generation above me have bestowed on them,” he said. “There is a distinct feeling of anger in that generation.”
But not everyone agreed with Iyer or were as furious as Oquendo.
Hussein Mukaled, a 50-year-old manager at an electronics company, said the older generation shouldn’t solely be held accountable for society’s current ills. He said Americans today are fueled by greed.
“The standards have gone astray,” Mukaled said. “People want to make millions now … People used to work 40 years to own a home. Over the last 10 years, people wanted to own four homes and flip it. That’s not right.”
Edgar Mationg, a 28-year-old Chabot student, said that though the situation the U.S. wasn’t the best, Americans are still better off than a majority of the world.
“People need to look at how poor they are compared to the rest of the world,” he said. “I have an iPhone and a laptop. Three-quarters of the world don’t have that.
Though the forum ended at 7:30 p.m., several late stragglers sad to see the discussion had ended took it upon themselves to huddle and speak their minds.
Duncan Paras, a 17-year-old member of community group , has been an active participant in Occupy protests.
Last week, Paras, a senior at , spoke at a rally in Oakland where he aired at his frustrations. He reiterated his support for the movement Wednesday night.
“It’s about what’s right,” he said. “Is it really fair for only a few people to have all that money?”
Paras localized the country’s economic crisis by highlighting cuts to education and afterschool programs here in Union City.
He also said youth his age need to better understand the movement and that media reports of violence have tainted its mission.
“To be a movement that big and have people cause trouble really diminishes it,” Paras said.
Among Nicole Manzana’s concerns were that many Americans are still apathetic to the reality of the crisis.
“A lot of people don’t think they’re affected,” Manzana, 21, said. “If people don’t think nothing’s going around here, I want you to drive around, look at the foreclosed homes and see that there are signs.”