This article was originally published in the Bowdoin Orient.
The international Occupy Wall Street movement hit the College Tuesday night when posters advertising "Occupy Bowdoin" appeared in Smith Union. Robbie Benson ’15 is the self-proclaimed "kid behind the posters," the driving force for a group that he hopes will heighten discussion about social class and socioeconomic inequality at the College.
The signs bear phrases such as "PUT PEOPLE OVER PROFIT—Occupy Bowdoin: Join the Peaceful Revolution," and list firstname.lastname@example.org as a point of contact for more information.
Since the first protest on September 17 in New York City, the "Occupy" movement has spread to over 900 cities around the world. It has been described as a revolt against the chasm of social and economic inequality in America that divides the 1 percent of wealthiest Americans from the other 99 percent.
Benson said the Occupy Bowdoin startup was "incredibly impromptu," sparked by a Tuesday discussion with peers over lunch. "We asked ourselves why Bowdoin wasn’t more involved in what we saw as a defining moment in political history," said Benson. By yesterday afternoon, he said the group’s email account had received inquiries from over 30 students.
Benson plans to hold an open forum soon to discuss what about the "Occupy" movement most affects students, and to shape the direction of the organization. He said they also will discuss what to tangibly demand from administrators. "Over its history, Bowdoin has been committed to its Common Good…if it wants to follow through with its commitment, it should open its eyes to what’s happening," he said. "I don’t think we are going to be occupying Hubbard Hall any time soon," said Benson. "I’m just trying to get as many people involved as possible."
Along with facilitating discourse, he expressed interest in organizing a student outing to join larger movements like Occupy Boston. "I went to Occupy Boston over Columbus Day weekend and found the students and professors protesting both articulate and passionate," he said. Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Kristen Ghodsee reached Benson after contacting the Occupy Bowdoin Gmail account advertised on the posters. "Anything that breaks Bowdoin students out of their bubble has got to be a good thing," she said. "We tend to focus on race and gender and religion and disability, and class issues often get swept under the rug." Ghodsee said she was curious to see how the movement would take shape on campus. "If a bunch of Bowdoin students just hang out on the Quad what does that accomplish?" she said. "I’m not sure what there is to be accomplished, other than showing that they are paying attention to what is happening at the national level."
Nonetheless, she mentioned the necessity of young people questioning the status quo. "I understand that for a lot of young people, apathy is cool, it’s a posture…but it hides people’s anxieties about" entering the job market after graduation, said Ghodsee. "Is this the world that we want to be a part of?"
Many students voiced interest in Occupy Bowdoin’s effort to catalyze discussion of socioeconomic differences. "I think it’s a wonderful idea. I know that at Bowdoin we’re trying to become more socioeconomically diverse, but it’s not that easy to do. I’d like to know what ideas people have about it," said Amy Schweitzer ’14.
Nonetheless, some students doubt the "Occupy" movement’s efficiency in enacting change. "I wouldn’t join [Occupy Bowdoin] for the same reasons I wouldn’t join Occupy Wall Street; my time could be better spent elsewhere," said Lewis. Salas ’13. "The targets should be policy makers, not Wall Street brokers."
According to The Nation‘s "Extra Credit" blog, over 10,000 students have protested in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in the last three weeks alone. Occupy Colleges is an offshoot movement organized for students in protest of high tuition bills and a lack of job opportunities after graduation.
One hundred and forty campuses participated in their October 13 "National Student Solidarity Protest," but Bowdoin was not involved. On November 2 and 3, Occupy Colleges will stage student-initiated "National Solidarity Teach-Ins" at campuses around the country.
The aim of the teach-in is to continue this dialogue on campuses, with collaboration between professors, students, and community members. "This is exactly the type of thing we are looking to bring to Bowdoin," said Benson.