Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
On Wednesday, November 9, a group of approximately one hundred Harvard students and supporters gathered in front of the statue of the University’s eponymous founder for our first Occupy Harvard General Assembly.
Unfortunately, administrators had decided to close Harvard Yard several hours earlier to all but those with Harvard ID cards, excluding members of the community, worker’s families, visitors and students at Harvard’s Extension School, who are not given official ID cards. In response, we marched around the Yard and then joined those who were waiting for us outside the Yard on a larger march to the un-gated main quad of the Harvard Law School to finally begin our GA, attended by roughly 800 supporters.
Within an hour we’d come to a consensus that those who could access the grounds would Occupy Harvard Yard and we made our way back to campus. As our first line was halfway into the gates, it became obvious that the university police and security guards were outnumbered, when one of them yelled to the others to “Shut it down!” The gates began to close, but the crowd pushed forward, shoving those of us in front literally into and through the gates. While some around me managed to get into the Yard, I was pinned directly in front of a gate while two officers shoved it towards me. At one point, my boot slipped under the gate and all of a sudden my ankle was trapped between the moving gate and the ground. I screamed at one of the guards that I was stuck but he just stared at me while continuing to push the gate towards me. Luckily, someone helped me unwedge my foot and I slipped free. About an hour later, we were able to erect twenty tents, all of which still stand a week later.
Unfortunately, though, Harvard Yard remains a gated community, only a few of its gates open, and all manned by uniformed security guards and police. As part of a deliberate campaign of misinformation, many guards have passed around rumors that Occupiers are violent and unpredictable, that we either need to be protected or contained. Aiding this effort are reactionary members of the Harvard Crimson’s editorial board, who regularly publish screeds explaining the need to protect Harvard students from the “anarchists.”
Nonetheless, Occupy Harvard has not responded in kind with blanket condemnations of the university or its security forces. In fact, many of the current Occupiers (including myself) have participated in a solidarity campaign this fall with security guards subcontracted by Harvard through the international firm Securitas. Further, our attempts to contact the administration have so far been rebuffed, although at our first Yard GA, one of the Deans of Harvard College made a commitment to return to a future GA. We’ve been waiting a week for her to come back.
In the meantime, Occupiers have acted in conscious imitation of those in other cities around the world. We have an info-desk on Harvard Yard, staffed daily by a voluntary group, all of whom strive to engage with passerby, whether they be critical or inquisitive. We have received good wishes and donations of coffee and food from alumni, union supporters, and a group of Protest Chaplains from the Harvard Divinity School, and we have been called cowards by a self-identified professor at the Harvard Business School who promptly turned his back on us and stormed away when we politely asked him to participate in more civil discourse.
Our General Assemblies have attracted growing numbers of undergraduates, graduate students and members of our community, but unfortunately not all of those who would like to be included, since our campus is still in virtual lockdown. Finally, a group of us, including several undergraduates who have braved their peers' taunts and the administration’s condescension, will take steps in the next few days to create our own source of information and discourse, The Occupy Harvard Crimson.
When faced with animosity, lies and the physical metaphor of a campus divided from its outside community, Occupiers at Harvard on the whole have responded with grace, positivity and creativity, and from that we can be sure that regardless of how long this lasts in its current form, we have jointly created and participated in a kind of democratic discourse that is not particularly new, but in its presence in Harvard Yard certainly represents significant change.
Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
Angela focuses on money in politics.
“Colbert Super-PAC Members Flood FEC with Fundraising Comments,” by Rachel Leven. The Hill, Nov. 10, 2011.
After Rove-led Super PAC American Crossroads asked the Federal Election Commission last month to allow candidates to appear in so-called “issue ads,” comedian Stephen Colbert filed a public comment with the commission and, in a hilarious letter, urged Colbert Super PAC members to do the same. (Both statements can be read on the Super PAC’s website.) The FEC has since been barraged with comments critical of the request. It’s hard to deny the educative and awareness-raising value of Colbert’s Super PAC saga, but this may be the first time the comedian has moved beyond simple trolling to put real public pressure on the FEC.
Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.
“Purging Schools of Crime,” by Thelma Mejía. IPS, November 9, 2011.
Explanation: human rights organizations, government officials and former police chiefs are reporting an extensive underground network of rogue police officers in Honduras. These police officers have operated in so-called “cartels of crime,” engaging in extortion of businesses for protection money, car theft, drug trafficking and even murder. The most recent case of the murder of Honduran civilians by police officers involves corrupt cops gunning down two National Autonomous University of Honduras students, one of whom was the son of a former official with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the state repression following the 2009 coup that overthrew Manuel Zelaya. This leads some investigators to speculate that these rogue cops’ actions might sometimes be politically-motivated.
Teresa focuses on “global South” politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.
“Syria’s Revolutionary iPhone App Helps Fight the Assad Regime,” by Babak Dehghanpisheh. Daily Beast, November 16, 2011.
As the Syrian uprising escalates, young and persecuted activists have developed a novel way to disseminate information about the Assad government’s brutal crackdown. “Souria Wa Bas” (“Syria and That’s All”), the movement’s new iPhone app, features links to news, raw video, and interactive maps of opposition hot spots, and provides an alternative to the government-controlled news media within Syria. The app is relatively new, and it seems like only a matter of time before the Assad regime attempts to either block access to it or monitor who’s using it. Thus far, however, it’s been a surprisingly effective organizing tool, and has proven to be yet another example of the ways in which new media can enable revolution.
Paolo follows war, peace, and security.
“Obama takes on the LRA: Why Washington Sent Troops to Central Africa,” Foreign Affairs, Nov 15, 2011.
A strong, multi-layered analysis of the domestic and international political aspects regarding Washington’s deployment of troops searching for LRA’s commander, Joseph Kony. A piece for those interested in keeping up with the evolvement of American foreign policy.
Erika follows the environmental beat.
“Head-Exploding Compilation of Fox News Clean Energy Coverage,” by Stephen Lacey. Think Progress, November 16, 2011.
This week, some entertainment. In the form of Media Matters’s compilation of the most painful moments of Fox’s coverage of clean energy, on Think Progress’s Climate Progress blog. Talking heads call green energy “a fantasy” that “will never work” and “too expensive,” saying the only solution is to “drill, baby, drill.” Media Matters points out that while the right portrays the Obama administration as regulation-crazed and anti–Big Oil, domestic oil production has risen every year under Obama, despite the BP oil spill, and fracking faces little federal oversight. Fox lambastes clean energy as being unable to “survive without government subsidies,” ignoring both the huge subsidies the oil industry receives, as well as the fact that significant technological advances in US history—from computers to nuclear power—have relied upon government support. The blog cites a Deutsche bank report that warns that if the US continues its “climate policy drift,” it will be left in the dust by states like China and Germany that have committed to long-term climate planning.
Josh covers the labor beat.
“There Is Power in Community Allies,” by Jake Blumgart. In These Times, November 16, 2011.
Blumgart reports on an innovative campaign by ACORN off-shoot New York Communities for Change and Retail Wholesale and Department Store/ United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 338 that won a union contract and hundreds of thousands in back pay from Master Food grocery store. Faced with the weakness of legal protections against union-busting or wage theft, workers and allies combined a union organizing campaign and a wage theft lawsuit to maximize leverage against management. It’s a model worth studying, and a strategy which is already underway elsewhere.
Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.
“Occupy Econ 101,” by Kono Matsu. Kick it Over, November 4, 2011.
Last week, students in Harvard economist professor Greg Mankiw’s classroom staged a walkout, complaining of neoclassical bias in his introductory economics course (for which he also made students purchase his own authored textbook at $175—another bone of contention for the class). Beyond the typically debated niceties concerning the protest’s efficacy, the action indicates a growing awareness of the relationship between free-market dominance in the academic discipline of Economics and the inequality-producing policies that have received widespread attention since the Occupy movement began. Kickitover.org, a project of Adbusters that posted a report on Occupy Mankiw, has been hosting a conversation since 2009 among radical, heterodox economists who seek to challenge the neoclassical consensus enforced across academia. The econ 101 section of the site presents a series of postings laying the groundwork for a broader reconsideration of the field.
Collier’s beat is discrimination.
“National Review: Cain Is More ‘Authentically Black’ Than Obama,” by Adam Serwer. Mother Jones, November 9, 2011.
The right continues to come to the defense of Herman Cain as allegations of sexual harassment pile up. The most recent and vexing appeal to Cain came from Victor Davis Hanson of the right-wing publication National Review. The article I chose for this week is a response piece by Adam Serwer of Mother Jones. Serwer maps out all the ways in which Hanson’s piece was just another “cliche of right-wing victimhood, infantile racial identity politics and gender stereotypes.”
Allie follows human rights.
“Opponents begin massive effort to recall Gov. Walker,” by Mary Spicuzza and Clay Barbour. Wisconsin State Journal, November 16, 2011.
Civil unrest from last winter is resurging again in Wisconsin, this time in a flurry of effort to recall Governor Walker. as of November 16, volunteers are able to start collecting signatures that would bring about a recall election. The obstacles are steep—an average of 9,000 signatures a day for the governor and lieutenant governor each!—and the action has little historical precedent. But the fervor with which Wisconsin citizens are seeking retribution for the violation of their rights is hopeful and indicative of the renewed influence of grassroots power.
Jin follows the US’s image in international media.
“Pepsi says Tingyi Alliance Won’t Affect Workers,” by Yang Ning, Chen Xin & Huang Zhiling, China Daily, Nov. 16, 2011.
Thousands of workers for PepsiCo Inc. in several cities in China went on a strike Tuesday to protest the possible laying-off after an acquisition deal between the company and Tingyi, a Hong Kong–based company was submitted for government approval. The company promised that management of the new company would not change for two years, and a lay-off plan has to be approved by the authority, workers, especially older workers, are still worried that (1) they will not be paid adequate severance after termination by PepsiCo and (2) their new deal with Tingyi involves less favorable terms.
Demonstrators packed up tents and disbanded the Occupy Cal encampment early Wednesday morning after police officers forced the encampment’s clearing, resulting in two arrests. At approximately 3:30 a.m., around 50 police officers in riot gear arrived in Sproul Plaza and told demonstrators to begin packing up the tents which were on the Sproul Hall steps.
Police told demonstrators that students would be allowed to remain on-campus but would not be allowed to camp. Non-students were forced off-campus. Demonstrators were told that anyone who camps on-campus would be arrested.
By 4:30 a.m., no tents were left on the Sproul Hall steps. As of 5 a.m., police still surrounded the encampment site and the approximately 35 protesters in Sproul Plaza milled about and shared testimonies via a megaphone. Protesters also tried to rally more support by calling and texting friends.
Two demonstrators, including one UC Berkeley student, were arrested during the encampment’s clearing, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao. Yao said the arrests were “done peacefully.” The arrestees were charged with illegal lodging and failure to disperse when given a dispersal order and transported to Oakland’s Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility for processing.
Protesters gathered for an impromptu mic check as their encampment was disassembled.
“Just like New York, just like Oakland, just like Occupy locations everywhere, we are coming back, we are winning,” said junior James Chang. “Whose university? Our university.”
Junior Jameson Reeves, who was sleeping when police arrived in the plaza, said he packed up and left when police appeared because at that point “there was no reason to be arrested.” “Hopefully (the Occupy Cal movement) stays strong, we have a lot of energy so we will keep trying, keep it going,” he said. “This is just a bump in the road, really.”
Along with the encampment tents, police also removed artwork which had been placed on the Sproul Hall steps, including a 10 foot-tall paper mache T-Rex. “At about 3:30, I looked outside my tent, and I saw what looked like hundreds of police officers coming up the steps (from Lower into Upper Sproul Plaza),” said freshman Aly Maun. “Now they’re tearing down the art, and the art is beautiful. I don’t think this was necessary.”
Around 5:15 a.m., a backhoe and trucks were brought into the plaza to clear the remains of the encampment. UCPD, Emeryville Police Department, Oakland Police Department, Newark Police Department and Union City Police Department officers and Alameda Country Sheriff’s Office Deputies were among the police force in Sproul Plaza, according to Yao.
Students for a New American Politics (SNAP PAC), the nation’s largest student-run political action committee, just announced its first Congressional endorsements of the volatile upcoming election cycle: Representative Chris Murphy (CT-Sen) and New Mexico State Senator Eric Griego (NM-1).
“Now more than ever, it is clear that Congress needs bold progressive leaders like Chris Murphy and Eric Griego who will not just stand up to Republicans, but usher in a new era of progressive solutions,” said Matt Breuer, Executive Director of SNAP PAC. “Chris and Eric are going to be more than just two Democratic votes in Congress - they are going to be bold voices standing up against the Republican right-wing agenda.
“Chris and Eric are both running strong grassroots campaigns against opponents who will happily vote to gut critical programs like Social Security and Medicare against the wishes of their constituents, while offering more and more tax breaks for the wealthy. The American people deserve senators and representatives who are going to defend the vital programs their citizens depend on, and Americans can depend on Eric and Chris.”
Since its founding in 2005, Students for a New American Politics has awarded over 50 fellowships to college students to spend a summer working full-time on Congressional campaigns across the country. SNAP PAC only endorses progressive candidates running in the most competitive races around the country. Instead of donating money directly, SNAP PAC sends paid Organizing Fellows to work as organizers on endorsed candidate’s campaigns. College students can apply online to become a SNAP Organizing fellow at www.snappac.org.
Zuccotti Park, home to the Occupy Wall Street protests for the past two months, were raided by the NYPD late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. Police in riot gear evicted demonstrators to clean the park, citing "health and fire safety" hazards. Protesters were told to leave willingly or they would be subject to arrest.
Though the Supreme Court Justice ruled in favor of the city's orders, claiming that camping in a park wasn't free speech protected by the First Amendment, there were numerous other noteworthy instances of free speech violations.
The Society Of Professional Journalists made a statement on Tuesday condemning the arrests of reporters during the NYPD’s raid of Occupy Wall Street.
“The journalists were either wearing press credentials or explained to police that they were reporters covering the protests,” the statement explained. “They were clearly exercising the constitutional right of a free press...it is clear now that many journalists have been erroneously arrested without cause.”
News of the Occupy Wall Street “media blackout” sparked reactions from sympathetic students across the country.
“Mayor Bloomberg is a billionaire utilizing his office as a way to cut down freedom of speech,” Christopher Cooke of Idaho State University said in a phone interview. “As a student on a college campus, these instances are some of our last fashions of freedom of speech. If we don't claim it and utilize it, then they’re going to keep taking it away.” Cooke is a part of the Occupy movement at Idaho State University and is especially outraged at what he witnessed in New York from afar. “It’s laughable that people camp out for six days to see the next Twilight movie—they’re not being beat up.”
Students at Illinois State University are equally enraged. Ryan Latvaitis of Occupy Bloomington-Normal said in an email, “I find it deeply troubling that the press was ordered away from the occupation when police moved in. Press helicopters were told to ‘stay on the Jersey side’ at the very moment when the country needed an unhindered and independent press the most.” He continued, “But what I find most troubling, most disheartening, is that the country is ignoring these violations of our rights.”
“The point of solidarity with all of these movements and the point of being so upset about the lack of free speech is because of the larger goal to chip away at our rights, and this is the beginning of it,” Natalia Abrams, a University of California Los Angeles graduate and organizer with Occupy Colleges, said in a phone conversation.
“Apparently the press pass doesn’t matter anymore,” Abrams said. “It used to be able to protect you from that type of treatment.”
Protesters post signs atop a University of California at Berkeley building as they participate in an Occupy Cal rally outside Sproul Hall Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
A crowd of about 3,500 packed into Upper Sproul Plaza Tuesday evening, convening a general assembly where they voted overwhelmingly to re-establish an encampment, despite the police violence that marked encampment efforts last week.
The demonstrators gathered on Sproul for the Occupy Cal general assembly, which followed the Open University strike activities and march earlier in the day. The assembled individuals voted on three proposals, the first of which was whether to organize a debate on public education with a variety of public officials, including members of the campus administration, the UC Board of Regents and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Additionally, they voted on proposals regarding whether to send an open letter to individuals including the UC Board of Regents, the CSU Board of Trustees and unspecified education administrators, as well whether to re-establish an encampment.
All three proposals passed with an overwhelming number of votes with margins far exceeding the 80 percent requirement for any proposal to be passed by the assembly.
“I believe we should continue and stay, to assemble and to build on these steps a truly free university,” said Amanda Armstrong, graduate student and campus head steward for United Auto Workers Local 2865.
Efforts to establish an encampment at the protests last Wednesday were met with police actions that have drawn criticism, attracted national attention and elicited public outcry from a wide range of concerned groups and campus community members.
Prior to the assembly’s meeting, campus Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab advised students how to peacefully submit oneself to police in the event of arrest, a statement that was met with jeers from the assembled crowd.
“When the police return to beat us into submission, stand strong,” said UC Berkeley senior Morgan Crawford, at a later point during the assembly. Crawford said he was beaten by the police at last Wednesday’s encampment.
At the end of the meeting, around 15 police officers lingered near the outskirts of the assembled group, monitoring. Legal observers wearing neon green hats were also dispersed throughout the crowd.
Just prior to the assembly, the crowd was joined by around 300 demonstrators from Occupy Oakland and unaffiliated city residents, who were all included in votes to decide the group’s future actions.
“I think this whole Occupy situation is good for our world,” said Berkeley resident Nick Fikaris, who was present at the general assembly. “We need some kind of change. And that’s why I’m here, to see the change happen.”
For each proposal, time was given for small groups to discuss options before the floor was opened up to speakers who had a limited amount of time to present their viewpoints. Afterwards, votes were taken and tallied.
Towards the end of the allotted time for the general assembly, the crowd swelled even further in anticipation of UC Berkeley public policy professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s much-anticipated Mario Savio Memorial Lecture.
The general assembly concluded just after 8 p.m., with facilitators declaring the group’s intention to continue convening at 6 p.m. every day, indefinitely.
This article was originally published in Cal State, Northridge's award-winning student newspaper, The Daily Sundial. Follow the paper on Twitter to keep up with its excellent coverage of the Occupy movement.
College students have risen in solidarity across Southern California and joined the Occupy movement, albeit in small numbers.
“It’s my life right now,” said USC student Alexandra Howland. Howland lives on campus, but has taken up a temporary home outside City Hall at the Occupy LA encampment. She sleeps in a tent on the lawn, wakes up every morning at 6:30 a.m. to drive to school, and comes back in the early evening to protest with fellow Occupiers. She starts homework around 11 p.m., goes to sleep and repeats the routine.
“It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “To have the youth and the American public finally waking up and rejecting the system that’s been forced on us, it’s amazing.”
Ankur Patel, a CSUN graduate student, said this is a time for students to be more aware of their world. “We want people to start paying attention. We want people to know who their city councilman is, who their state assemblyman is, all of their elected officials,” said Patel, a committee member of Students Occupy Los Angeles. “Most people know more about American Idol and the Dodgers than they do about elected officials.”
Occupy CSUN has gathered an average of about 50 students to its weekly rallies, according to student organizer James Ackerman. Those numbers are more than what USC or UCLA have had for their movements.
Howland said 40 students showed up for USC’s first campus rally in late October, but the numbers decreased to about a handful the second week. There aren’t any more currently scheduled. “People got sidetracked with school and with their lives, I guess,” she said.
The Daily Bruin reported UCLA’s Occupy movement has been slow to take off as well. Still, students part of Occupy UCLA participated in a rally that included 200 protesters against tuition hikes on Wilshire Boulevard last Wednesday, resulting in 11 arrests.
Authorities have had to act up north as well.
On November 9 At UC Berkeley, police in riot gear moved in when protesters refused to leave the encampment they had set up on campus. According to the school’s student paper, 39 people were arrested in a demonstration that was reportedly in the hundreds.
At Occidental College, in Eagle Rock, student Guido Girgenti represents his campus in Occupy Colleges, a virtual network working in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. According to Girgenti, about 100 participants showed at Occidental up for the Nov. 2 National Solidarity Teach-in — a protest for campuses nationwide that brought students and professors together in an open-ended discussion about their school’s issues. Girgenti called Occidental’s teach-in attendance “very surprising,” considering its student population hovers around 2,000 and the school generally brings in higher-income students. The website occupycolleges.org had 87 schools registered in the US for the teach-in, including 12 in California, and had helpful guidelines on how to handle to event.
Girgenti cited the financial crisis of 2008 as a reason for any student to take notice. “(That crisis) has made tons of students’ middle-class living standards very precarious,” he said.
At UC Irvine, recent graduate Brendan Rosen attended the campus teach-in and said about 40 students showed up. “Indirectly, we’re protesting tuition increases,” said Rosen, who cited unfair government spending as another problem he and Irvine students have voiced.
The question now is where to go from here. USC and UCLA are not fully mobilized for the time being, and the main hub for students still seems to be downtown LA.
“It’s easier for us to organize off-campus,” Girgenti said.
Patel said different factors play a role in whether certain rallies or marches can be successful for students. “In some places they’re not going to run into police oppression, in some places they’re not going to get their permits,” Patel said. “In some places they’re not going to have enough people.”
A Los Angeles Times article last month quoted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as saying the protest at City Hall “cannot continue indefinitely,” and he has told city officials to draft a plan to find a new place for the demonstration.
Rosen said he feared the long-term status of Occupy LA could be up in the air, so his goal is to further strengthen the campus protests. “There’s a lot of risk that they’re going to get shut down,” Rosen said. “There are a lot of weekly meetings on all the campuses. It might take the movement in a different direction.”
At Northridge, Patel said Occupy CSUN is taking “baby steps.” “No one ever knows how movements are going to end up,” he said.
An American flag flies over the empty Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park as dawn breaks, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Around 1 AM last night, word spread that the NYPD was raiding Zuccotti Park. Sure enough, ominous lines of cops decked out in riot gear appeared on the livestream, proclaiming that protesters needed to get their stuff and leave the park or they would be arrested.
Down at the park, the NYPD cordoned off entire blocks, prohibiting everyone, even press, from entering. Inside, the police cleared out all the tents and supplies, throwing them into large dumpster trucks. They even disposed of the 5000-volume People’s Library. When they were finished, Zuccotti Park was empty.
Outside the perimeter, police threatened marching protesters with arrests. The march was marred by several jarring incidents of violence. The first that we witnessed was at approximately 2:45 a.m., when we saw one Katherine Garuvis beaten and kicked in the back by police outside of the Fulton subway stop. Other notable conflicts occurred at approximately 3:15 a.m. at Grand and Centre Streets, where we saw at least four people beaten with batons, and around 3:30 a.m. at Spring and Broadway, where we were unable to determine the number of protesters involved. The police generally arrested or beat protesters that ran into the street after being told to stay on the sidewalk.
The march crisscrossed Broadway, chugging up from Foley Square through Chinatown and SoHo. It was a surreal sight to see a protester get wrestled to the ground, beaten, and arrested right in front of a Chase bank and Lucky Brand Jeans. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was apparently beaten and arrested around 2:45 a.m.; he is now in Central Booking with the other dozens of protesters arrested last night.
Last night’s march revolved around occupying the middle of the street. Around 2:45, we began moving up Broadway, and once we hit Barclay Street, some four or five hundred protesters began walking in the middle of the road. It was a clever idea, if only for the effect: the voice of every protester boomed against Broadway’s giant buildings, making it seem as though there were hundreds more people than were actually marching. When we walked back down to Zuccotti from Soho at around 4 a.m., protesters once again took to the middle of Broadway and Lafayette.
Throughout the night, the conflict between the protesters and organization was at least as strong as the one between protesters and police. The cries of “mic check!” became progressively less effective as the night wore on—protesters were unsure where to go. At West 4th and Broadway—right next to NYU—the protesters split between walking to Washington Square Park and going back down to Zuccotti. Complicating matters were the loud roars of a few combative assholes, looking to turn a late-night march into a war against cops. Meanwhile, the police took advantage of the protesters’ indecisiveness. On multiple occasions, they blocked crosswalks and directed marchers down alleys in order to split up the protest.
I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a discussion about feminism and the 99 percent movement on Thursday, November 9, sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Syracuse University. My co-facilitator, RisaC'DeBaca, a fellow senior Women’s and Gender Studies major, provided her insight as one of the main organizers within the Occupy Syracuse movement and a longtime community activist.
We talked about the ways the Occupy movement has been depicted in the media and how that representation plays a role in the general public’s perception of Occupy Wall Street and national Occupy movements everywhere.
A number of disparate issues were raised by the participants -- about twenty graduate students, professors, and a few of our classmates and friends.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
Risa smartly argued that a key reason why Occupy Wall Street has swept the nation is because we’re coming off a revolutionary year for political discourse and social change. In 2011 alone, we bore witness to a wide variety of inspiring and enraging social uprisings—The Arab Spring protests, defunding of Planned Parenthoods nationwide, and the execution of Troy Davis to name a few—and the initial Occupy Wall Street protest on September 17 was essentially the icing on the cake for those who accumulated a sense of growing anger and passion.
The general public has speculated on what exactly women’s roles are in the Occupy movement. Why do women care? One professor put it simply when she pointed out that women and children make up the majority of people in poverty in this country, so the issues and demands of Occupy directly affect this group of Americans. Social issues aside, females in the US face economic struggles and hardship greater than their male counterparts—salary and payment inequalities, issues of childcare, and maternal healthcare.
Identifying with the 99 percent majority in the Occupy movement is not limited to a financial bracket or economic income. There are more involved and complex ways that individuals do and don’t fall within the 99 percent category, and it’s important to realize that this logic goes beyond literal monetary reality.
If the Occupy movement is going to continue evolving beyond two months of physical protests, there’s a critical need to occupy other spaces as well. This social movement is not limited to people who opt to sleep in tents in parks and plazas—activists can utilize the Internet and social networking tools to organize and effectively change the status quo, individuals can host teach-ins and educate the public outside of Occupy camps, and writers and thinkers can make the conscious decision to focus on and cover news around the social movement. Everyone can be an occupier and every spot can be "Occupied."
On Wednesday, November 9th, Berkeley undergraduate Margaret Zhou was one of roughly 500 students to link arms around the Occupy Cal encampment as the police vowed to take the tents down. The student activists were beaten with batons, and shoved to the ground when they refused to break the link. After the police tore down the tents, the demonstrators, including students and community members from Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco, crowded onto the steps of Sproul Hall, still refusing to leave, where they were again beaten and told to disperse. Finally, after hours of holding their ground, the crowd was allowed to stay on the steps and hold a general assembly, during which they decided their next steps. A proposal to organize a state-wide strike of higher education that will take place on Tuesday, November 15th, won with a 95 percent consensus. It was also decided that general assembly meetings would take place daily on the Sproul steps at 6:00pm, with the hopes of building and sustaining an Occupy Cal movement. The next day, Chancellor Birgeneau sent a mass email to UC Berkeley faculty and students titled “Letter to Campus Community.” In her response to the letter below, Margaret explains the reasoning behind the Occupy Cal movement and the greater movement for public education in California.
Dear Chancellor Birgeneau,
As a Berkeley student and one of the protestors who peacefully demonstrated on Sproul Plaza on November 9, I am deeply offended by your "Message to Campus Community." Students and professors, not only on this campus but across the UC system, note how you shift the blame for Wednesday night's violence away from your inability to fulfill your role as Chancellor and onto the students who were standing up for the social value of a right to public education, and for all their peers for whom they wish to secure this right.
You and the UC Regents have a responsibility to lobby the State of California on our behalf, to secure state funding for what should be a public university. You have many ways of doing this--from supporting progressive tax policies to opposing the policies that have created an overcrowded prison system that takes so much funding away from public education. There are so many factors that have led to the disaster in public education in California, and there are so many fronts for you to fight on, but we see you fighting on none of them. We see you agreeing to the cuts, and trying to find other private methods of raising money. This is not what we stand for, so there is no exaggeration in saying that you are not representing our interests. Because we did not elect you or the Regents, this so-called "public university" is actually a private and un-democratic one.
In your message, you discuss our wanting to make an encampment as if that was all we wanted out of the university, as if that was our end goal we wanted to achieve from the protests. You skillfully construct that narrative and claim that we have disobeyed your one and only request that we not use tents, making our efforts seem antagonistic and childish. In reality, we would not be putting up tents if the State gave us more funding, and if you and the Regents lobbied state government do so. You are putting the blame for last night's violence on us, and shifting the attention away from your own failure to stand up for our rights, your failure to fulfill his responsibility as Chancellor, and the State's failure to prioritize the social good of public education.
You also make some remarks about the protestors who were arrested that are deeply hypocritical. You write that you and the University honor the fact that these people were engaging in "non-violent struggle" (which in fact was violent, though not on their part, because many of those who were arrested were beaten by police first before being handcuffed). If you and the University truly honored these people, you would honor their requests that you and the Regents DO SOMETHING for them. These people are not asking to be arrested, they are asking the people in power to change the system of indebtedness and inequality that put public education at the bottom. And we are saying to you, to the Regents, and to the State, that if you don't do that for us, we will do everything in our power to do it for ourselves. Looking at the state we are in now, you clearly have no reason to be in your current position of power anymore.
Your final, most insulting remark, is that you ask the Occupy Cal movement to consider the best interests of the larger campus community, those who didn't participate in the protests. This makes it seem as if the protestors, again, were just engaging child's play for their own amusement. We protestors are standing up for the larger campus community more you ever have. We put our bodies on the line; there were times we really feared for our lives (the cops were holding guns with rubber bullets and there were rumors of tear gas). We didn't do it for fun, or just for ourselves. We did it so that students who are with us and those come after us will have the opportunity to public education without a future of indebtedness, for the fundamental right to education in our society. If we don't fight for the public education system which is so quickly being dismantled in front of our eyes, it will be gone before we know it, and all forms of learning in this state will be once and for all privatized. This is our greatest fear, and this is what we fight against. We don't fight against the cops, or the order not to build encampments. Even though that order has no legality behind it and violated our constitutional right to freedom of assembly, in the end that isn't our greatest concern.
The students of the 1960s who fought for our right to free speech at a time when that right was being dismantled, and the students of the 1980s who erected shantytowns on Sproul to get the university to divest from South African apartheid are our inspiration--they fought for the general student bodies of successive generations. It is to them that we, not only Berkeley students but students across the world who are receiving public education, owe so many of the rights we have now. It is once again time for us to uphold those rights and make sure that all the struggles of the past were not won in vain. WE are the university.
UC Berkeley Third Year Student
Comparative Literature Major,
Global Poverty and Practice Minor