Op-Ed: Occupy the Future

Nov. 29, 2011, 12:38 a.m.

Editor’s Note: As a continuation of the conversation The Daily has engaged in by covering aspects of the Occupy movement, we are publishing a series of original op-eds written by Stanford students affiliated with the Occupy the Future group, which formed on our campus. These student op-eds represent part of a series of op-eds by Stanford faculty and students. The complete series will be available on Boston Review online at bostonreview.net . Below is a statement from the group that introduces the overall effort and the student pieces.


The Occupy protests have accomplished a great deal. They have galvanized many forms of public response to the glaring inequalities of wealth and income that now characterize American society. We are in sympathy with those protests. But it isn’t parks or public spaces we aspire to occupy. It is the future of our country that is at stake and that we hope to help shape — to occupy — through our actions. For this broader Occupy movement to grow, it will require other groups outside encampments to mobilize other constituencies, by other means, around other issues.


That is what we, a coalition of faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students operating under the name of Occupy the Future, intend to do at Stanford. We call on the entire Stanford community, together with a host of groups from the Bay Area, to join in a rally on White Plaza on Friday, Dec. 9 from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. We do not, however, mean for this to be a one-time event. Instead, we intend to coordinate a series of activities that point to the future, including numerous opinion articles (appearing in Boston Review and The Stanford Daily), two upcoming teach-in events centered around film viewings, a host of discussions before and an open forum following the Dec. 9 rally.


In undertaking these activities, we are motivated by three main issues.


The first is the deep and growing division between the haves and have-nots. Across multiple areas of life — health, education, income, housing — we see the greatest inequalities the United States has known since at least the Great Depression. “We are the 99 percent” is not a mere rhetorical device. It’s consistent with data showing that over the past decade only the top 1 percent of wage-earners has seen their incomes rise. The next 2 to 5 percent has experienced flat wages, and everyone else has experienced a drop in earnings. The general trend toward increasing inequality has been going on for 30 years, but has now reached unprecedented levels. The top 1 percent has claimed nearly all of the growth in personal income over the past 20 years, with most of that accruing to the top .1 percent. Consider this staggering fact: in 2009 the net worth of the 400 wealthiest households in the United States exceeded that of the bottom 50 percent of all American households; 400 families have more than 155 million Americans.


But extreme inequality is not the only issue. The second problem is that many of the inequalities we see have undone the American Dream of opportunity for all and instead fuel corruption of our very democracy. We claim to be a country committed to a fair contest in which everyone, rich or poor, has an equal opportunity to get a job and get ahead, where hard work and playing by the rules will lead to a decent life, not poverty. But instead, there’s abundant evidence that children born into rich families have much more opportunity than children born into poor families. One third of Americans are in poverty or near poverty while the government bails out rich Wall Street bankers and largely ignores the rest of the country, including the 14 million who are out of work and looking for a job. We look away as CEOs cut sweetheart deals that secure for them extraordinary compensation even as their firms fail.


The gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent has helped to create an environment where state policies are responsive to the rich, not the many; where politicians are responsive to wealthy individuals and corporations, not the many. The upshot is a staggering lack of accountability for those who led us into economic crisis. Meaningful democracy cannot exist when monied interests can buy elections and when lobbyists can buy legislation. More than two-thirds of Americans support increasing taxes on the 1 percent, but our elected representatives in Congress fail to respond.


Finally, there is the issue of finding a way to manage the economy and provide a decent life for all in a way that is environmentally sustainable. No solution to the problems of climate disruption can be found that does not involve the developed world reducing its level of carbon emissions. But special interests — motivated by a desire to protect profits — have continually blocked regulations that seek to accomplish this task and deal with other critical environmental problems. Creating jobs is important, but we must also find ways to make our economy sustainable. We can hardly hope to Occupy the Future if there is no future to occupy.


To learn more about Occupy the Future and the list of events referenced above, please see www.occupythefuture-stanford.org.


Paul Ehrlich
Professor of Biology


David Grusky
Professor of Sociology


David Laitin
Professor of Political Science           


Doug McAdam
Professor of Sociology


Rob Reich
Professor of Political Science


Debra Satz
Professor of Philosophy


Editor’s Note #2:  Per the authors’ request, this op-ed has been amended slightly from its original version to clarify the author’s argument.

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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