Occupy movement takes root at Stanford

Nov. 16, 2011, 3:05 a.m.

Occupy Stanford continues to plan protests and rallies despite challenges it has faced in igniting the student body, according to Joshua Loftus, an active member of the organization.

Loftus, a first-year Ph.D. student in statistics, said the group is trying to build momentum from two major events in the past few weeks: a campus-wide walkout on Nov. 2 and a protest at a Goldman Sachs recruitment presentation on Nov. 8. The group hopes these events will inspire more people to join the protest.

“[Goldman Sachs] has been at the center of some of the main problems of Wall Street in the crash that happened,” Loftus said. “You can see Goldman Sachs’ hand at work in pretty much any big financial problem in recent history. It goes back as far as the Great Depression.”

To protest, Occupy Stanford members could R.S.V.P. to the recruitment event through the Career Development Center (CDC), hand out pamphlets to those in attendance and prepare questions for Goldman Sachs representatives. But not all went according to plan.

“They didn’t have a question-and-answer session,” Loftus said. “That just killed the plans of the people who were going to ask [provocative] questions.”

“But then some of the students stayed afterwards at the networking reception and went around to some of the different [Goldman Sachs] employees,” he added.

The disappointment at the recruitment event wasn’t the only challenge the Occupy Stanford movement has had to overcome.

“The week of the alumni reunion, I wanted to do something visible,” Loftus said. “I tried to organize a protest march by the Alumni Center, and it basically failed because only two people showed up. So that was kind of a low point.”

Of all the problems Occupy Stanford has had to deal with, low turnout seems to be most prominent, according to Zach O’Keeffe ’13, a member of Occupy Stanford.

“I’m a bit disappointed,” O’Keeffe said. “I can’t say that I judge a lot of students [for not showing up to events] because I understand that it’s hard. It’s been difficult academically for me, too…but ultimately it is disappointing and I’d really like more people to get involved.”

O’Keeffe said Occupy Stanford faces many unique challenges in rallying support, but a large part of the group’s difficulty has had to do with its fundamental structure as an anti-hierarchical, grassroots movement.

“A lot of people who are working on [Occupy Stanford] aren’t experienced in the way that more institutionalized groups who have organized structures are,” O’Keeffe said. “We’re just kind of getting together and starting from scratch.”

Occupy Stanford’s meetings, the forum in which members decide what and when to protest, may seem difficult to navigate for those interested in the Occupy movement, according to O’Keeffe. These meetings use a general assembly format, where there is no leader and no agenda.

Both Loftus and O’Keeffe commented that none of the members carry titles within the organization.

“It can be frustrating, especially for newcomers who aren’t used to it,” O’Keeffe said. “It may have turned some people off, actually, but as the movement’s been growing, I think it’s gotten a lot more efficient. Every time I go I feel like we’ve accomplished something.”

The Occupiers have also faced questions about the relative wealth of Stanford students.

“But what use is it to be at the top of a pyramid that’s crumbling?” Loftus said. “In the long run, the entire world is going to be worse off if we don’t fix [the problem of the weak middle class].”

Despite the challenges and student skepticism, Occupy Stanford activists said they are finding meaning in the protests despite their organizational difficulties. In particular, O’Keeffe said he felt this larger meaning during a camp-out the organization held in White Plaza last Monday.

“I really got a sense of what these people occupying [at Occupy camps] are really going through,” O’Keeffe said. “I felt for the first time, ‘This is probably what it’s like to be homeless.’”

Chris Herries ’15, another camper, agreed.

“Even though we didn’t evoke immediate social change on the spot, strangers came up to me to discuss the movement,” Herries said. “I think discussion is the most important step towards social change.”

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.

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