Faculty assess ‘Occupy’ protests

Nov. 10, 2011, 3:03 a.m.

In spite of the ripple effect created by the Occupy Wall Street movement, several Stanford professors indicate that they believe the movement, while noteworthy, will not last.

The movement began on Sept. 17 and within days, spread throughout the nation. On Nov. 8, Stanford students showed up as part of the Occupy Stanford movement to protest a Goldman-Sachs recruiting event on campus.

Faculty assess 'Occupy' protests
(OLLIE KHAKWANI/The Stanford Daily)

Despite all the momentum in the movement, history professor David Kennedy ‘63 said he believes the movement will die down.

“Call me cynical, but I believe it will peter out as the weather turns less benign,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, however, said that Occupy Wall Street represents legitimate concerns.

“I think the problems are real enough, especially mounting income and wealth inequality,” he said.

The emergence of the Occupy movement is not surprising. Kennedy noted that the emergence of the Tea Party, in response to the recession, seemed lopsided. He expected another movement would arise to counter the conservative lean.

John Taylor, economics professor and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, said that the rise of both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement can be attributed to similar causes.

“Actually I think the same frustrations with government policy are what got the Tea Party movement going, though the manifestations are quite different, and of course that has already had a huge impact,” Taylor wrote in an email to The Daily.

In terms of the historical context, Kennedy noted that while the Occupy movement is not one-of-a-kind, the movement differs from past forms of social protest.

“Examples that come to mind are the bonus marchers in the 1930s and the anti-Vietnam War movement, but all those had specific, concrete policy objectives,” Kennedy said.

Susan Olzak, a professor of sociology, echoed Kennedy, saying that national news reports were misleading in emphasizing the lack of any distinct organization or leadership body as compared to past social protest movements, such as the Civil Rights movement.

She added that while there may not have been a distinct organization that arose from the Occupy movement, the movement can, to some degree, be broken down into the organizations which largely create it.

“Observers of local movement activity in Oakland and San Francisco suggest that there is a substantial presence of organized labor unions, local community organizations and grassroots activist associations,” Olzak said.

Though riots and violence that have occurred since the Occupy movement began, Kennedy said these acts of violence do not appear to provide any significant benefit to the movement.

“The Civil Rights movement was doctrinally nonviolent, and shrewdly capitalized on the several instance of police violence visited upon civil rights demonstrators,” Kennedy said. “I don’t see anything that sophisticated happening here.”

Kennedy said he is also wary of the comparison some organizers of the Occupy movement make between Occupy and the Arab Spring, a series of recent revolutions that spread through the Middle East and North Africa.

“We have yet to see what season will follow the Arab Spring,” he said.

While it is impossible to predict what impact the movement will have on future events, Kennedy, Taylor and Olzak independently agreed that the movement has the potential to sway the 2012 presidential elections.

“Regarding the 2012 elections, I think both Democrats and Republicans should be aware of this problem and should address it,” Taylor said.

Kennedy offered insight on the movement’s impact on President Barack Obama.

“If it signals disaffection with Obama by a significant part of his base, then it will spell trouble for him in the election,” Kennedy said.

Although the movement’s demands have yet to be resolved, Kennedy and Taylor offered suggestions for the movement in general.

According to Kennedy, taxing the top 1 percent would not provide sufficient revenue to change the United States’ economic landscape. He noted, however, that “as political theater, and as a way to mobilize broad popular sentiment, maybe the focus on the top 1 percent will work.”

“Part of the answer is to remove the ‘too big to fail’ problem in which the government protects the politically powerful at the expense of everyone else,” Taylor said.


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