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