Occupy Nashville had company come over Thursday night from Vanderbilt University.
Vanderbilt College Republicans brought a message with them: Occupy the White House instead of Nashville.
As advertised, a young GOP contingent of about 20 students from the university showed up during a “General Assembly” meeting of Occupy Nashville, with about 150 of the members on the front steps of Legislative Plaza on a chilly night.
The Vanderbilt crowd chanted: “We are the debt generation!”
Their message was that government must quit giving handouts.
The Occupy Nashville crowd responded to them by saying, in unison, a few words at a time: “We would like to invite you to join our discussion. We love you. We want to hear your voice.”
One man had a large tray of cookies to offer the visitors.
The convergence of the two groups wasn’t exactly a love-in, but there were several friendly conversations, and at one point the Occupy Nashville crowd invited Stephen Siao, president of the Vanderbilt College Republicans, to speak.
“We each have $48,000 in debt — $48,000 on our shoulders,” Siao told them. “The demands you guys are requesting are adding to that debt. You should be protesting the White House, not Wall Street or the Tennessee Capitol.”
When Siao told the crowd, “Tennessee is a leader in job creation,” the Occupy Nashville group dutifully repeated his words but laughter broke out over it. Tennessee’s unemployment rate is 9.8 percent.
But Siao responded, “Look at the statistics and educate yourselves. Tennessee is a leader in job creation. Businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit are the backbone of this country.”
When Siao was drowned out by other chatter in the crowd, the protesters were reminded that the main speaker had the floor, helping Siao be heard.
“So take your protest to the White House, away from here because Tennessee has done nothing to you,” Siao said.
After his remarks, Siao was asked why his group decided to visit the protesters.
“We thank them for welcoming us, but we are against everything they’re doing, because they’re doing nothing but adding to the debt on our shoulders,” Siao said. “They should be protesting the White House, not here.”
He was asked if the plan was to stay and talk more to the protesters. He replied, “We’re not sure. We don’t want to disturb their meeting, so we’ll see where to go. We’re not sure yet.”
Conversations did continue. One Vanderbilt College Republican, John Stephens, a freshman from Orlando, Fla., was seen with an Occupy Nashville button on his jacket.
“I was talking to a man and told him I really like the open forum here,” Stephens said. “I said I’m here to speak my mind, so he gave me a button.”
Sam Adkisson, a Vanderbilt freshman from Springfield, Ill., said, “I’m here because I’m sick of them putting this on our generation, trying to mortgage our generation’s future. We don’t want to see anymore handouts. We’d like to see responsible government.
“We think these protests should be directed at the White House, not at Wall Street. Government isn’t the answer in this case. We don’t need more government intervention.”
One older Occupy Nashville protester, James Martin of Nashville, was found talking to Stephens and another Vanderbilt student, Kendra Osborn, a freshman from Darien, Conn.
“Listen, y’all keep us in your prayers,” Martin said. “We’re on y’all’s side. We’re just on a different divide.”
“Can we agree that America has a problem?” Stephens asked.
“Old folks and young folks got problems,” Martin said. “But you know, problems are just opportunities. What a movement this could make if we got everybody together.”
After the conversation went on awhile, Osborn said goodbye.
“I’ve got an econ exam I have to study for,” she said.