This article was originally published in Connecticut College's College Voice.
Now in its sixth week of action, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gained momentum across the globe, in local communities and on college campuses. Focused mainly on protesting social and economic inequity, corporate greed and the impact of finances on government, occupiers span across race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status and location.
Students at Connecticut College have protested both on Wall Street and in New London in solidarity with the movement, and have even formed a group on campus called CC Dissent. According to its Facebook page, the group is “an autonomous student organization dedicated to identifying, analyzing and confronting structures of power in our society. Through student-developed programs and discussions on and off campus, CC Dissent is exploring and reinforcing intersectional communities of activism among Conn students, faculty, staff, New Londoners and NESCAC schools. We are developing teach-ins, live ins, trips and weekly discussions, as well as partnering with Occupy New London to support the protests occurring daily downtown.”
The group uses measures and tactics that mirror those used on Wall Street, including General Assemblies, where committees discuss their thoughts and needs without a formal leadership component, as well as “stack lists,” in which protesters can voice their opinions. Typically, people who are traditionally underrepresented, including women and minorities, are prioritized in the stacks.
According to Eliza Bryant ’12 who is an organizer for CC Dissent, “We recognize the imperfections of a representative democracy and seek to avoid reproducing them in the way that we govern ourselves.”
In addition to protesting, CC Dissent held a dialogue in Coffee Grounds on October 19, discussing ideas for the future of the movement on campus. Using “temperature checks” the moderators of the group were able to gauge how students and faculty felt about ideas, including a campus march, a photo project, returning to New York City and joining forces with other NESCAC schools.
One of the major points of discussions at the dialogue was on the concept of the 99%, which has become something of a mantra for Occupy Wall Street. Professor Ed McKenna from the Economics Department argued that, “if you look at what’s happened with the distribution of income from the past 15 years, what you’ll discover is virtually all income gains that have taken place have gone to the top 1%. In fact, most of the gains have gone to the top one tenth percent of that one percent. So I think what it’s referring to is that, even though there’s been some growth in the economy, it’s going to a very tiny slice of the population. That is not sustainable, societies can’t thrive if everything goes to a tiny percentage.”
Many of the ideas discussed in the dialogue have come to fruition, including occupying New London and supporting the local movement, and beginning to organize students to return to New York City on November 5, which is Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes, as portrayed in the comic book V for Vendetta and later in the 2006 movie, inspires the overthrow of a future totalitarian society. The sinister mask Fawkes wears has become iconic in the movement.
“Our next steps as a group are to organizing fundraising events and teach-ins and discussions on campus as well as a permanent occupation of some place on campus, Zuccotti Park-style. We want to start making a big splash. Stay tuned for a Latin American food night in Coffee Grounds and for an event series featuring panel discussions with professors about OWS as well as documentaries regarding the current state of our society and government,” Bryant said.
CC Dissent also recently appealed to Connecticut College’s SGA at Open Forum on October 27, bringing along over fifteen supporters, including a professor, staff members and New London residents.
According to a member of SGA, CC Dissent wants SGA to sign a letter of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, following the example of multiple peer institutions. Several community members voiced opposition to the letter, stating that Occupy Wall Street demonizes the financial services industry. The CC Dissenters were quick to assure, however, that the intention of the movement was not to demonize the financial sector.
After a short discussion during open forum about how best to address this question, including voting support, holding a student referendum and excluding SGA participation, the group ultimately decided to vote on the measure next week, so that Senators and other SGA members could gather information and viewpoints from their constituents.
According to Bryant, “Personally, I’m not sure if we will get support from either because that would entail the college making a political statement that, if publicized, could affect the school’s reputation. Obviously, support for the movement is not good publicity in everyone’s opinion.”
“Although the movement is gaining traction and generating a following on campus that is difficult to dismiss, it would not be in the wisest interests of our administration to directly endorse Occupy Wall Street,” said Devin Cohen ’12. “Any academic institution should be obliged to maintain a strict sense of objectivity toward any and all political issues. It is not place of Connecticut College to advocate one political view over another, or align itself as an academic institution with any particular political persuasion.”
However, Cohen is not quick to dimiss the legitimacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and believes that while Conn shouldn’t outright support the movement, it does need to be recognized. “It is still the responsibility of the administration to recognize and protect all political beliefs of the student population. As an establishment that prides itself on the production of free thinkers, any decision not to acknowledge Occupy Wall Street as a legitimate movement and ensure that members have the capacity to peaceably assemble and demonstrate would be wrought with inconsistency, and to a greater extent, didactic hypocrisy.”
Beyond the Connecticut College campus, occupiers around the United States and across the globe have suffered as a result of their political opinions. In Oakland, California, police officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse unarmed protesters who had built a camp in a downtown plaza. Among those critically injured in Oakland was a Marine veteran named Scott Olsen, who has become iconic in the region for his activism.
And in China, the government has banned the word “Occupy” as a search term on the Internet, fearing that its citizens will adopt the movement, which has quickly spread around the world through the use of social media.