OCCUPY

From a proposal to "occupy Wall
street," a global movement has grown. The
impressive reach of demonstrations is represented in
href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/oct/18/occupy-protests-map-world">this
interactive map provided by The Guardian.

Although the precise nature of each individual,
"local" instance of protest has its
own distinct character, there is no doubt that they
share a common concern: the tremendous, catastrophic
damage that the global financial crisis has unleashed on
already vulnerable populations (the sick, the poor, the
elderly, the un- and underemployed, children), as well
as the newly-created vulnerable (laid-off,
asset-depleted, individuals). One might postulate many
further consequences produced by what Naomi Klein has
called the "Shock Doctrine": measures
taken to re-inforce privilege smuggled in under the
pretext of a state of emergency.

But
just as common, and deep-seated, in the Occupy movement
is a sense of moral outrage—not only at the culprits
directly responsible for the financial melt-down, but
also at the supporting players: civic, political,
academic leaders who have not only not done their jobs,
but have, many suspect, actually gone over to the other
side (in fact, from looking at the boards many of them
serve on, they are the other side).

It
seems both poignant and pathetic that one of the root
causes of the crisis was the exploitation of the "American
Dream" to own a house. Subprime mortgages were
bundled with derivatives, junk, and other high-risk
investments. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall provisions
by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 had years before
already broken down the protective wall between
investment and commercial banks, and allowed the viral
spread of the contagion of bad loans and shifty
financing. It was a perfect storm. For one of the most
complete reports, see href="http://fcic.law.stanford.edu/">that of the
Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

It is a huge and horrible irony then that
another key part of the American Dream—education—is
likely to be the next source of even greater financial
devastation. For one of many studies, see href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/08/the-debt-crisis-at-american-colleges/243777/">this
article in The Atlantic.

The blogs that appear in Arcade are especially
concerned with the recent events on our university and
college campuses, in other words, at precisely those
institutions that are dedicated to the pursuit of
knowledge, the development of critical thinking and
reflection, and the training of tomorrow's leaders. And
let there be no mistake about it—acquiring an education
is also one of the classic means by which class and
social mobility are facilitated. Conversely, taking
access to education away allows elites to remain in
power, it allows the effective reproduction of those
whose vested interests are counter to that of
progressive reform.

In order for
their missions to be met, universities and colleges must
of course guarantee the safety of their communities, so
that debate can flow in all directions freely. Some
carry their beliefs into action in the form of passive
resistance. They can expect (and do expect) to be
legally prosecuted if they violate the law. They take
their right to conscientiously object, knowing the legal
price they must pay. Nonetheless, the methods of "removing"
demonstrators have been, in all too many cases, brutal
and excessive, punitive rather than peace-keeping. Those
that have perpetrated these acts of violence are acting
as not only as law enforcement officers—they are acting
as well as judge and jury.

This
repression has, of course, a terribly chilling effect on
the university's mission. It is not enough to say to
students that as long as they do not demonstrate, do not
even attend demonstrations, nothing will happen to them.
For saying that has the effect, first, of inadvertently
showing the lack of faith those who offer this view have
in the police and, second, of discounting the importance
of the protest itself, or, indeed, acts of conscience.
What is being protested is nothing less than the
crippling of the educational mission of the
university—through the withdrawal of funding, and of
placing the burden for replacing those funds on those
least able to bear it. It is to the credit of these
protestors—students, staff, faculty alike—that they do
not wish to stand idly by and wait for their
administrators to act. I believe they have waited, and
seen what the effect of their patience has been.

The campus protests take these issues as their
most immediate focal points, but they attach these
issues to the breakdown of our nation's commitment to
fairness and democracy, and the global concentration of
wealth and power in the hands of the very few. There is
the overwhelming feeling, globally, that yes, things
have gotten this bad. But what is heartening is that now
more people than ever, all over the world, are speaking
the same language of empowerment and solidarity. They,
we, are not asking for a lot—economic justice, the
restoration of participatory democracy, leaders who have
the best interests of the people in mind. These were the
promises of the great revolutions of the eighteenth
century, and the ideas upon with liberal democracies
were founded, and defended.

These
blogs in Arcade all help us draw on our "local
expertise"—reading literature both for the
truths it yields and the critical capacity to imagine it
exercises; understanding cultural semiotics and
rhetoric; our roles as institutional citizens and
teachers—to understand and act in this historical
moment.

—David Palumbo-Liu,
December 2011

Image attribution

Image: Book on Sproul
Plaza, University of California, Berkeley. href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22663008@N04/6355686997/">Rami
Taibah, November 17, 2011. href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC
BY-NC-SA 2.0.