Stanford’s Occupy movement continues to evolve

Dec. 7, 2011, 3:03 a.m.

More than one month after the Occupy protests spread to the West Coast, members of the Stanford community continue to be actively involved with the movement. Students, staff and faculty have maintained the “Occupy Stanford” movement while also developing an “Occupy the Future” initiative in hopes of mobilizing the broader University community.

Stanford's Occupy movement continues to evolve
Occupy supporters are currently camping out and discussing issues of inequality around the clock in the 24/7 first-floor study group area of Meyer. (LUIS AGUILAR/The Stanford Daily)


Both Stanford students and law enforcement officers from the University’s Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) have been extensively involved in Bay Area Occupy protests. Stanford sheriffs, along with Palo Alto PD officers, were dispatched to assist Oakland PD in evicting Occupy protestors from a city encampment on Oct. 25. The ensuing confrontation resulted in the use of riot gear and less-than-lethal ammunition by law enforcement, as well as over 100 arrests and critical injuries to a protesting Iraq War veteran.


The first Occupy Stanford general assembly took place on Oct. 14 in White Plaza. Several students have made repeated trips to Bay Area Occupy movements, with some present during the Oct. 25 crackdown in Oakland and a larger contingent participating in the successful takeover of the Oakland city port on Nov. 2.


Police interaction with protestors


In the aftermath of heavily criticized police crackdowns on Occupy protestors at other California universities, ASSU Undergraduate Senate Deputy Chair Dan Ashton ’14 authored a letter on Nov. 29 to be distributed encouraging the SUDPS to avoid violence when dispersing protestors on University grounds and to remain respectful of student dialogue.


“Regardless of the causes of the violence at those schools, protection of student safety is certainly something about which student government should be passionate,” Ashton wrote in an email to The Daily. “I have no reason to believe that Stanford police will react violently to student protests. Laura Wilson, Chief of Police, has done a wonderful job thus far of enabling free assembly, and I see no reason why that won’t continue.”


Wilson confirmed that the SUDPS has met internally and with other University officials to discuss potential responses to situations involving the Occupy movements. She added that SUDPS officers were trained to use – if necessary – a level of force just enough to overcome the level of resistance, and she noted that the use of pepper spray on nonviolent protesters would not be authorized.


Wilson played down concerns about the Occupy movement at Stanford, writing in an email to The Daily that, “so far, the individuals involved with this movement have been respectful of others and have not interfered with the academic mission of the institution. My hope is that this community will continue to engage in intellectual, respectful and peaceful means of dialogue so that police intervention is not required.”


While acknowledging that there is currently no consistent and ongoing dialogue between SUDPS and students involved in Occupy Stanford, Wilson noted that SUDPS and students successfully communicated in advance of the anti-police brutality rally that took place before Big Game.


“Should the need arise, we will certainly meet with students. If students want to speak with us about their plans, we are happy to meet with them as well,” Wilson wrote.

Occupy Meyer


Occupy Stanford has continued to protest on campus, most recently establishing a permanent presence in the lobby of Meyer Library. Occupy Meyer, where the movement has also held General Assembly meetings, was developed – according to participants – as a means of emphasizing Stanford’s ongoing relevance to the Occupy movement. The movement currently mans a table in the library lobby around the clock.


“The symbolism of occupying an academic place is important,” said Zach O’Keeffe ’13. “We want to open up a space for intellectual dialogue, to discuss problems and solutions in a very academic way. [At Occupy Meyer] there’s the fission of the intellectual and academic with the activist and progressive nature of the Occupy movement.”


O’Keeffe added that the group chose Meyer instead of Green Library in order to minimize disruption to students. Joshua Schott ’14 noted that occupying Meyer also gave the movement the ability to reach more students in an area which is heavily trafficked.


Students involved with Occupy Stanford highlighted other efforts being undertaken by the movement. Current initiatives include investigating the disbursement of Stanford’s endowment to ensure that all expenditure is conducted in a socially responsible manner, protesting recruitment events for firms deemed to have acted in a socially irresponsible manner and supporting anti-inequality groups on campus.


Schott said that Occupy Stanford is currently in the process of forming a working group to develop more long-term initiatives, such as creating a major or even a think tank to advance the cause of reducing inequalities in the political and economic arenas.


“Occupy Stanford is a lasting movement,” Schott said. “What’s happening now is just the beginning.”


Occupy Stanford participants acknowledged that the movement has received mixed feedback from the Stanford community.


“I think we haven’t been able to reach out to the Stanford community,” Schott said.


He claimed that the movement has suffered from both skepticism that Stanford students could identify with the issues of “the 99 percent” and from negative portrayals of Occupy protests by the media. Schott added that the movement needs to demonstrate that Stanford is both affected by issues affecting the broader world and will be part of the solution to those issues.


“I think the people voicing opposition have done so more strongly,” O’Keeffe said. “But most people recognize that there are legitimate grievances. There has been a surprising amount of backing from the ASSU and the faculty.”


Members were largely optimistic about Occupy Stanford’s success thus far.


“I’m prouder to be here after seeing all the progress we’ve made,” O’Keeffe said. “I’m hopeful for the future and sure that [the movement] will continue to grow.”

Occupy the Future


Partially in response to and inspired by Occupy Stanford, a coalition of students, staff and faculty developed the Occupy the Future movement. The initiative, which will put on a teach-in, rally and public forum on Friday, Dec. 9, was developed independently of Occupy Stanford, but the two movements share many common personnel and objectives.


“We see Occupy Stanford as part of a broader movement,” said Douglas McAdam, professor of sociology. “We’re very sympathetic, but we wanted to pursue the same goals by different means.”


Some Occupy Stanford members expressed concern about Occupy the Future, viewing it as driven primarily by the ASSU, faculty and the University administration, although most still praised the initiative’s concept and willingness to address real issues.


“I’d like to see them work more with the students,” O’Keeffe said. “I worry that it’s a top-down approach as opposed to the grassroots approach the rest of the [Occupy] movement has thrived on.”


“The University has been broadly supportive,” McAdam said. “You have to work with a whole lot of University offices to gain various permissions, and everybody’s really committed to ensuring we can put the events we want on.”


Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman described Occupy the Future as an exclusively student-driven initiative. Occupy the Future organizers credited Occupy Stanford with providing the impetus for the University community to develop Occupy the Future. However, they described Occupy the Future as a more enduring means of advancing the cause of the Occupy movement and a potentially more appealing method to the Stanford community.


“Most of the people within the Stanford community who I have talked with have been incredibly supportive of the Occupy the Future idea,” wrote Haas Center for Public Service Executive Director Thomas Schnaubelt in an email to The Daily. “I wouldn’t have gotten involved in Occupy the Future if I didn’t believe that there is a good chance for something long-lasting to come from it.”

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.

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