You may have read about them in the news, heard about them from your friends or seen them at Niagara Square. What is really going on and how does it affect our generation? These are the questions that I sought answers to when my father and I spent a night with the Occupy Buffalo protesters several weeks ago.

Upon reaching Niagara Square, my father and I witnessed what is called the General Assembly; the activists gather around the McKinley Monument and voice opinions about what should be done and express ideas about the injustices that occur in our society.

Although some of the protesters might be considered "radicals," there is a wide range of ideas and political stances among the Occupy Buffalo protesters.

I caught up with Curt Rotterdam, an Occupy supporter who was willing to educate me a little bit more about the cause.

"The goal of the Occupy movement is to increase awareness of social and economical injustices locally and around the world," said Rotterdam.

He further explained that at Niagara Square, a direct democracy is exercised, meaning that each person gets a vote on the matters at hand. That includes teenagers as well as adults; there isn't an age limit on the right to express your ideas at the General Assembly.

So why should teenagers be interested in the Occupy Buffalo movement? Rotterdam gave me some more insight into this as well.

"As a young adult, you have to educate yourself," he said. "Be aware of what is going on around you. Question everything!"

It seems many teenagers become too busy watching television, gossiping with their friends and are preoccupied with everything but the future.

"Teenagers need to stop worrying about superficial things," says Rotterdam. "Read and go to school. Find humility!"

I also stumbled upon Michael Miletich, a freshman at Amherst High School. His acumen concerning our government and the routine by which our country is run was impressive, especially for someone so young.

"I believe that our society is in a second gilded age," Michael said. "Corporations have seized economic and military power."

Here, some of the general ideas in the Occupy Buffalo movement are expressed, but Michael goes on to explain the importance of our government.

"Our government is supposed to support the people, but our society is becoming more and more corrosive. They need to stop subsidizing education," Michael said. "As a kid, you're so impressionable. Don't be. Always question your surroundings. Express yourself."

As American citizens, we have the right to share our ideas with our government and elect those who we believe will represent our values the best. We also have the right to be a part of our government, run for political offices, peacefully assemble and sign petitions. Every person has the ability to open his or her eyes, ears and mind and make a difference.

If you'd like to visit the Occupy Buffalo site and learn more for yourself or stay the night, Rotterdam recommends that you ask your parents, and preferably bring them with you. He stresses that no drugs or alcohol are allowed on the site.

As for my own overnight experience? I woke up in the middle of the night to find our tent collapsing onto my head. My dad and I ended up driving home around 5:30 a.m. I guess I'm not really cut out for camping.

What I did learn, however, is that even if you don't agree with some of the reforms that the Occupy movement stresses, the ideas about being a leader rather than a follower and questioning society can apply to a multitude of situations.

We are the next generation. We have the power to make differences, positive and negative. We can stand up for what we believe in, or we can fall behind and be subject to reforms that others impose upon us. The future is at our own discretion.


Erin Sydney Welsh is a sophomore at Clarence High School.