18 Ways Higher Ed Can Support Occupy and Other Social Justice Movements
Photo Credit: Daryl Lang / Shutterstock.com
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Last month, I attended an event at my alma mater in Vermont which was billed as " Occupy Goddard." Hosted by the college's president, Barbara Vacarr, who wrote an op-ed in December titled, " The Occupy Movement Is Right," it was the first academic conference devoted to the peaceful populist resistance to oppression and economic inequities that is sweeping the nation (and beyond).
The conference brought together local activists with others from Boston, New York and beyond for a day of panels and participation, culminating in the first statewide Vermont General Assembly.
It was a fine first step. Higher education ought to be playing a central part in the Occupy movement, but except for a few activist campuses, it has been relatively invisible. That is not acceptable.
Certainly in comparison to Burma, Syria, Egypt and other repressive regimes, people in the United States have - until recently - enjoyed increasing civil liberties and rights.These rights and liberties have often been hard-won by those who have gone before us, risking much to secure them for the good of all. By the time we get to college, most of us have at least a smattering of knowledge of some of history's peaceful people's struggles - emancipation, civil rights, Gandhi and Indian independence, the anti-apartheid movement - but we haven't necessarily engaged in peaceful actions ourselves because most of these struggles seem long ago and far away.
But this is not our parents' or even our own United States. We are under an increasingly military-style police crackdown. Many activists I know personally have been harassed with increasing regularity in recent months by police/FBI/Homeland Security.
Wake Up and Smell the Tear Gas
As concerned citizens and as campus communities, we must get out in front and take a public stand against harassment, intimidation and violence against peaceful protesters, whether they are campus-based, as in the cases of UC Davis and other universities, or not.
Ten days ago, I sent a message, via blind copy, to several dozen faculty members on my own campus regarding making a public statement against intimidation tactics. I received two responses, one from a colleague ready to join forces and one a tepid "maybe." In the defense of the rest of my colleagues: their workloads are heavy; many of them have major student loan repayments - at least in the first decade or so - and they are pressured to not only teach, but also to perform community service and to conduct and publish research. These stresses come on top of their own life obligations. (On the other hand, they generally don't have to work two or three jobs to keep food on the table, on top of their own life obligations, and they get paid vacations and health and retirement benefits.)
Perhaps they've just been too busy to be aware of the intimidation tactics and violence being unleashed against ordinary people, including students, who are engaged in protesting injustice in various forms.
So, this is for my colleagues and for all people who work in academia around the country,  from preschool on up: If you have been too busy, please take some time to catch up. Your career, indeed, your very future, may depend on it.
Unhealthy, Undemocratic Crackdown
Here are just a few examples, many of them from mainstream media, of a sweeping and terrifying trend in the United States, land of the free and home of the brave, far from Tunisia and Syria, Rwanda and Burma:
- Fracking and Psy-Ops: Empire Comes Home, a report in Truthout.
- Indiana University Peaceful Student Protesters Assaulted at JP Morgan-Chase Event
- MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell's report on unprovoked NYPD police brutality, September 2011
- October 20, 2011 report in AlterNet: Why Are Police Attacking Peaceful Protesters? How OWS Has Exposed the Militarization of Public Law Enforcement
- CBS report on Oakland Attack on Peaceful Protesters, October 25-26, 2011, and a KPFA report on the same attacks.
- November 11, 2011, video in Salon about the beating of students at UC Davis. November 9, 2011.
- Huffington Post report of the pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis on November 18, 2011 and the video by Thomas Fowler of that incident (viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube).
- November 21, 2011, report and videos of police brutality against CUNY students at Baruch College.
- Huffington Post story from December 1, 2011: Protests Heighten Tensions between Police and Media Nationwide
- New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) report from February 2, 2012, on police harassment of Occupy Rochester participants.
- If you prefer to get your news from Stephen Colbert, watch this "The Word" segment from January 5, 2012, about the National Defense Authorization Act, a scary piece of legislation if ever there was one, which Barack Obama signed into law as a New Year's Day present to us all. It authorizes indefinite military detention of anyone, including US citizens, picked up anywhere in the world, based on the president's suspicion that that person was engaged in "subversive" activities. (The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a toolkit to help fight back against this with model state and local legislation and other resources).
- In early March, President Obama signed into law the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 (HR 347, also known as the "trespass" or "anti-protester" or "anti-Occupy" bill). This law rewrote a 1971 trespass law. Now it's an offense to knowingly enter certain areas without "legal authority." These areas include the White House or the VP's official residence and grounds; a building where the president or any other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be visiting (many people nowadays are protected by Secret Service, and visits are not always announced publicly in advance); or a building or grounds restricted "due to a special event of national significance."
Read more specifics here.