This week is OccupyCU’s Student Week of Action. Read on for Bwog resident #Occupier Jed Bush’s report on Day Two’s Open Student/Professor Dialogue on Low Steps, the latest in our ongoing coverage of this week’s events.
Today’s discussion featured a star-studded lineup of professors that included, among others, Todd Gitlin, Christia Mercer, Paige West, and Rebecca Jordan Young, and there was an equally strong student turnout of around sixty or seventy students. The discussion touched on a variety of different topics, from the Occupy movement itself to biased biological preconceptions. Though the discussion gradually dissolved into a soapbox for disgruntled students to air random grievances, the crowd remained engaged and enthusiastic, applauding and cheering on the various speakers for the entirety of the demonstration.
One of the first speakers was Todd Gitlin, Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Journalism School’s Ph.D program in Communications. Gitlin gave a lengthy, politically charged speech that took shots at just about everyone. Some targets in his crosshairs included the B-School and their self-interested leadership, the #Occupy movement, and even the audience, for their short-sightedness and naiveté. Still, he left his most scathing attacks for the corrupt institutions on Wall Street, the target of the documentary Inside Job, directed by his friend Charles Ferguson. He took inspiration from a paraphrased Keynes quote—“Men who believe themselves to be intellectually free are usually the slaves of some dead economist,” before interjecting, “And these days, some of those economists aren’t even dead!”
Bwog spoke with Gitlin after his speech and, while he told us he supported the #Occupy movements and believed having an open dialogue between professors and students was “a magnificent achievement,” he was adamant that much work remained. “These institutions will not be easily reversed, they’ve been in place for the past thirty, forty years, and to overturn them, that’s going to require serious commitments. If this movement is going to succeed, then they need to think of themselves as a movement, not just a season. People need to consider to what lengths they’re willing to go—and urge everyone else not to go home.”
Some highlights of the night included Christia Mercer urging the crowd to use the lessons of Lit Hum to “maintain justice [and] struggle against greed,” and Paige West lamenting the commoditizaton of political activism. She lambasted “3rd party certification” (basically, anything with an “organic” or “free trade” label) as big business masquerading as political activism, which subverted the younger generation while maximizing profits. Other speeches criticized the scientific community’s stance that organisms are naturally inclined to be greedy, the poor communication and coordination between the Occupy movements of the various New York universities, and the Rockefeller-era drug laws, and their role in creating a prison-industrial complex of sorts in the state of New York. Even as it began to rain, the crowd remained strong, and even grew as curious passing pedestrians would wander in and out of the crowd, taking in fragments of the various speeches.
Danny Alonso, one of the leaders of tonight’s discussion, was pleased with the turnout and the discussion that it prompted. “I think it was a marvelous success, especially considering the fact that we were worried a lot of people who supported Occupy Wall Street would have taken part in the retaking of Zuccotti Park tonight, splintering our support.” Indeed, tonight’s turnout was considerably stronger than turnout for yesterday’s rally in front of the Law School and the number of professors that stopped by to speak, many of whom had signed the petition in support of Occupy Wall Street, lent the event an air of credibility.
When we asked about his thoughts on Bloomberg’s decision to forcibly remove protesters from Zuccotti Park, Alonso remained hopeful. “I think this highlights Occupy Wall Street wasn’t just about taking a park, but about opening a dialogue within society, a dialogue that’s critical of society. It’s happening everywhere, and this only proves that it’s resonating with people.” He also noted that, despite over 100 blocks dividing the students from the events at Zuccotti Park, Columbia’s ties to the movement are much far closer than many acknowledge, especially given DSpar and PrezBo’s close ties with Wall Street corporations like Goldman Sachs. OccupyCU hopes to emphasize the connection this Thursday, November 17th, with a mass student strike of all New York universities. The strike starts at noon, setting the stage for a march to Union Square at 2 pm to show solidarity with the greater Occupy movement.