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Students voice their thoughts on the Occupy Philadelphia movement, which stemmed from the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. Related: Topics: Occupy Philly

Credit: Jared McDonald , Sarah Gadsden, Sunny Shen

Brendan Van Gorder, a College freshman from Boiling Springs, Pa., stayed out at Occupy Philly over fall break weekend. As part of an ongoing series focusing on a few Penn community members and their Occupy Philly experiences, Van Gorder shares some of his thoughts on why he went to the protests and what he’s learned from his involvement.

Van Gorder didn’t lose his job and he’s not looking to bring down capitalism — but he did find reason to check out the Occupy Philly protests this weekend.

“Short answer, I came out because it’s really exciting — people are excited about something again.”

Van Gorder believes “a lot of interaction in our civil society today is purely based on profit, purely monetary and that we’re beginning to lose sight of humans in the business deals.”

He isn’t occupying Philadelphia because he’s personally affected by a deflated economy, sinking job market or a housing foreclosure — rather, it’s simply because “I feel like what’s happening isn’t right,” he said.

VIDEO: What do students think of the movement?
LETTER: Penn profs express solidarity with Occupy Wall Street
MAP: The Occupy Philly camp
RELATED: Occupy Philly transforms City Hall into a community

South Philadelphia

Occupy Philly organizes itself into various committees and working groups based on interest. If there’s enough demonstrated need, then a committee will be created. So far, the most prominent committees are food, legal, media, technology and medical — groups that help keep the protests running. Others explore the purpose of the protests at large: homeless outreach and education working groups have also been formed.

On Sunday, Van Gorder went with the education committee down to South Philadelphia. A woman in the committee ran a community garden in the neighborhood and invited the education committee to speak to some of the area’s residents.

“We felt this ‘movement for the 99 percent’ wasn’t understood by the people that were really most affected,” Van Gorder said. “The people that were given a non-living wage job, people that were being foreclosed out of their homes — these people didn’t realize or understand or really feel like it was their movement.”

Van Gorder commented on the common critique about how protesters are mostly unemployed and are wasting their time protesting instead looking for jobs.

But this isn’t true, he said. A lot of the people he’s spoken to do have jobs. They find a way to fit the protests in between lunch, or they come down before and after work.

“If [people are] working a job that’s not really giving the benefits that they [deserve], then I feel like some people will stand up against it … even if they are tired.”

Guarding the Library

One of the most striking memories Van Gorder has of his weekend’s experience is a conversation he had with a homeless man.

The man said he usually had a difficult time sleeping. He had to make sure he wasn’t in an awkward location so that when he woke up in the morning, people wouldn’t be staring or walking up and down past him.

But at Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall, Van Gorder explained, “he felt like he had a much easier time sleeping [because] he felt comfortable around us. Because we weren’t just seeing him as a homeless figure.”

“[People] were there with him, [and] listening to his story,” Van Gorder added. “He actually had a voice. And we realized that he had been made homeless, and he wasn’t just homeless.”

Van Gorder joined the overnighters at Occupy Philly Saturday night. He was sent to sleep in the tent that stored all the free books various people had donated. “I slept in the library. The books were all in the tent, so someone had to watch them.”

On Penn and Occupy Philly

Van Gorder hasn’t seen much Occupy Philly action from Penn students, and he believes he understands why. “It feels like it has no bearing on you,” he said. “But [hearing people’s stories] shows you a real tangible thing that’s happening in this world instead of just stuff you’re reading in the books.”

“You know it happens,” Van Gorder continued. “Not on Penn’s campus, but [just] a few blocks down.”

Fall break offered an opportunity for students to spend time at the protests without worrying about schoolwork. But now that break is over, will students like Van Gorder still stay involved with Occupy Philly?

“[This] doesn’t seem to be like it’s a day-or-two thing,” Van Gorder said. “The Wall Street one’s been going on for a few weeks, so I feel like I can work it around my classes. I feel like if ever there’s a walk out at Penn or something, I would definitely do one as a statement. I think that I can find time.”

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