[Marxism] Scholars Pledge Support for Occupy Movement as First Anniversary Nears

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 14 06:49:16 MDT 2012


Chronicle of Higher Education

September 13, 2012
Scholars Pledge Support for Occupy Movement as First Anniversary Nears


By Stacey Patton

As the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street approaches, hundreds 
of scholars have signed a letter pledging to re-energize the movement 
and refocus attention on economic injustice.

Signatories of the letter, which has been circulating on listservs and 
through e-mails, say it's important for them to stand in solidarity with 
the Occupy movement, which has struggled in recent months to keep mass 
dissent going.

The movement, whose anniversary on Monday also is expected to be marked 
in lower Manhattan with several days of protests and other activities, 
began to see dwindling numbers of protesters after mass arrests, police 
expulsions from makeshift encampments, and winter arrived.

Many people have written the Occupy movement's obituary, but academic 
supporters are not ready to declare its death.

Some of the key scholars who have signed the solidarity letter include 
Todd Gitlin, chair of Columbia University's Graduate School of 
Journalism; Bertell Ollman, a professor of politics at New York 
University; Donald Pease, an English professor at Dartmouth University; 
Frances Fox Piven, a political-science professor at the City University 
of New York; and the philosopher Cornel West.

"The movement is dying in the public's eye, but the goals are still very 
relevant," says Elizabeth B. Goetz, a third-year Ph.D. student in the 
English department at CUNY's Graduate Center and an adjunct instructor 
at Hunter College, which is part of CUNY.

Conor Tomás Reed, her classmate, adds: "It feels perverse to mourn the 
death of a moment that's just begun."

"Occupy is far from dead," says Mr. Reed, who is also a Ph.D. student in 
English at CUNY and an adjunct instructor at CUNY's Baruch College. "As 
we've seen with the labor movements of the 1930s, the Civil Rights 
Movement, and other social movements of the 1960s, there's never an 
upward trajectory of struggle."

Just before Thanksgiving of last year, Mr. Reed was arrested when he and 
a large contingent of CUNY instructors and students protested tuition 
increases at the CUNY board's meeting at Baruch. When they tried to 
disrupt the meeting, they were arrested in the lobby. Mr. Reed continues 
to be active in the movement, focusing much of his attention on issues 
of student debt as well as the adjunctification and corporatization of 
higher education.

"Education debt and faculty labor issues have been two of the salient 
protests of Occupy," he says. "We have been showing people how student 
debt is a family and a community issue."

Chad M. Kautzer, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University 
of Colorado at Denver, says that if Occupy Wall Street was dead, "I'd 
have much more time on my hands."

Mr. Kautzer has been collaborating with the Occupy and Educate Denver 
Committee, which holds teach-ins twice a week in Civic Center Park where 
diverse groups of people facilitate discussions on topics including 
immigration, the foreclosure crisis, feminism, civil disobedience, and 
critiques of capitalism.

In New York City, Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural 
analysis at New York University, says that the numbers of protesters 
have decreased, "but the core has been pretty solid and consistent." 
Over the summer he and other academics participated in "debtors 
assemblies" in New York City parks, where they discussed strategies to 
fight back against all kinds of debt.

"It's important for intellectuals to re-engage for the first anniversary 
as one way to demonstrate to the public that there is support for the 
Occupy principles and that a movement like this mutates and matures," 
Mr. Ross says.

Alex Vitali, an associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, 
which is part of CUNY, teaches about social movements. As a faculty 
member at a public university he says he feels something has to be done 
"to push back on the politics of austerity." Professors, he adds, have 
been keeping close tabs on the Chicago teachers' strike and they see it 
as an example of how frustrated educators are "feeling like they've been 
put on the chopping block as sacrificial lambs on the altar of budget 
cuts and tax cuts for the rich."
'A Disconnect'

One reason people might think the Occupy movement is dead is the lack of 
media attention, scholars say.

"There's a disconnect between the organizing that's on the ground and 
the public visibility because the movement has gone more into organizing 
than the spectacles of marching and rallying," says Mr. Kautzer, of 
Colorado.

He and others say that the news media don't always highlight the local 
grassroots campaigns that emerged out of Occupy Wall Street but now 
operate with independent infrastructures and specific goals like 
fighting evictions and foreclosures.

Some professors who may not have time to attend public campaigns are 
bringing lessons from Occupy to their classrooms.

Chiara Bottici, an assistant professor at the New School for Social 
Research, teaches her students about the importance of anger to 
democracy. "If you don't get angry, how can there be change?" she asks.

Ms. Bottici, who is Italian, says that in Europe education is considered 
a right, not a privilege like in the United States. She has pledged her 
support for the Occupy movement because of her students.

"Our students here work four or five jobs and they are falling into 
debt," she says. "I really admire their courage. I feel that as a 
teacher I should do whatever I can to voice my opinion against student 
debt."

Scholars say that as Occupy Wall Street enters into its second year they 
can't predict its future. Those who support it say they hope it gathers 
momentum and grows. What they fear most is that impatience will derail 
the movement's progress.

"I've met new activists who thought things would change one year later," 
says Mr. Kautzer. "Impatience is the greatest threat to social 
movements. We can't let the lack of immediate results demoralize 
activists. This is a long haul."




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