Why Should We Occupy Stanford?

Posted by at 1:15AM

Protesters are not only Occupying Wall Street, they’re occupying Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, Boston, and more college campuses than I can even list.  Citizens of the United States have finally reached a breaking point and are finally pouring out their frustrations with our financial industry on a steadily growing national stage. I think this is a brilliant moment for the 99%.

But I think it’s a hypocritical one for Stanford. Our students are currently in the works of creating Stanford’s own Occupy demonstration.

I think Teryn Norris and Eli Pollack stated the student body’s best way to support the movement when they said “Stop the Wall Street Recruitment.” If we are truly angry with our financial institutions, then we need to boycott their recruitment. We need to show that they are uninvited on our campus. But we’re smart people – we know that dismissing the financial sector entirely would be ridiculous. A good way to make change in these corporations is internally. Waving around signs isn’t going to do much unless we use leverage the ideals Stanford imbued in us to make a change in the way that these corporations are run.

Besides, I do think it’s a bit contrived to jump on a national bandwagon. If job security and the wealth disparitywere a large concern here, I think our outspoken students would have spoken up already. Why Occupy Stanford when we can bolster the more sustained protests happening right next door in Palo Alto? Why should we Occupy Stanford itself? I know that this is in support of of the other movements but we need to acknowledge basic facts about ourselves before we form a picket line.

1. Not only do the majority of students get jobs a few months after graduation but they’re pretty well paid as well.
2. We may be upset about monstrous loans but our college does everything it can to prevent us from getting into major debt.

Stanford supports its students. Thanks to our university's generosity I think we're distant from the Occupy movement's issues in ways beyond mere geography.

3.Our school is on a Billionaire University list. We’re not all going to become billionaires but we have the means and support to find financially stable careers post-graduation if that’s what we choose to do.

Also, one of the first things we need to do before we start lay the claim to being part of the “99%” is actually start a conversation about socioeconomic status at this school. Besides the fact that we can’t connect as well to the protests happening nationally while we’re insulated in our bubble, we need to actually learn to be comfortable and talk about the struggles of the students around us. We’re willing to support the financial woes of others across the nation but we aren’t ready to have a serious discussion about what it means to be poor at our own institution? We can do better than that. While Stanford works fiercely to broaden its socioeconomic diversity, it remains one of the least talked about concerns on this campus.

We can choose to add solidarity to the movement be staging in a protest on our campus. But staging a protest is just that- for show.  Yet, unless we actually change our view of financial institutions we’re not doing anything other than adding (understandably useful) publicity to the movement with our big name school. My underlying issue with this entire protest is the question of what happens afterwards? I think this has the potential to show that Stanford students can pick up a sign, stand around White Plaza for an afternoon and then go back to their classes and career fairs the next day. We can make big flashy displays about wanting change but unless we follow through with it, our actions will be hollow publicity stunts. Here’s your chance, Stanford. Prove me wrong.

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14 Responses to “Why Should We Occupy Stanford?”

  1. Joshua Loftus says:

    You agree that we should do something about financial recruiters on campus. You agree that it’s a good thing to show solidarity with the protesters in other cities, schools, and across the country. And you agree that there are issues right on campus related to the things that the rest of this movement is protesting- things like economic hardship faced by some students.

    Protesting and demonstrating is a big part of how we can address those issues. It always has been. Activism changes things- people working on the inside sometimes accomplish insufficient, incremental change, and sometimes they even make things worse; for example, see how much Change our Great Hope of a president accomplished once he got into the white house.

    You are bothered about the hypocrisy. Stanford is a rich school. Many of us probably come from 1% families or will become part of the 1% after graduation, right? I agree. It makes me feel a bit awkward to be a “far left” type on such a capitalistic campus. Many of my classmates want to, and almost certainly will, work on Wall Street after graduating. It’s a little weird, kind of like how Yeezy showed up at Occupy Wall Street the other day wearing tens of thousands of dollars of jewelry… http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/11/idUS277321529320111011

    To deal with this discomfort I remind myself that those top 1% are, in a strong sense, just ordinary people like the rest of us. They don’t *want* to ruin the economy for the rest of us. They don’t *want* to create huge inequality. They don’t *want* to destroy democracy. Each one of them is still just a small insignificant part of the huge number of people that make up the 1%. It’s just like how none of us *want* to destroy the environment with our over-consumption, and each of us only plays a tiny insignificant role in that process.

    How can this end? Ultimately, by the 1% joining our side. Why would they do that? Basically the bandwagon effect. We’re social creatures. We get excited by things like this. That’s why I want to be a part of the protests, even though I’m not poor or struggling. When thousands of people across the country are publicly demonstrating their enthusiasm and desire to address the biggest problems our society currently faces, it becomes easier for everyone else to also get excited about trying to change it. Rich politicians can get political capital by supporting this, rich businesses can get involved in order to be perceived as socially conscious, etc.

    Of course it doesn’t *end* with some privileged students holding signs for a few hours on their elite campus. And, like you, I’d be happy to see more of us getting involved with the off campus protests too! Really, come to the Palo Alto ones and you’ll meet people who have been activists since the Vietnam war- learn some tips and tricks from the old masters. It will take a huge amount of collective time and effort to fix our (one party) democracy. I think it’s counter-productive to isolate people engaging in any one of those steps and say that they’re not doing enough- at least they’re trying to do something.

  2. g2011 says:

    Umm remember the the top 1% pay 40% of the taxes that support the financial aid that 59% of Stanford students receive. Oh and btw drop all your capitalistic corporate toys (*cough APPLE ) at the door before you go off to protest!

  3. Joshua Loftus says:

    Addendum to my previous comment:

    Crystal, all of my points were ones that you almost made! I feel like you could easily turn your post into an argument about why we SHOULD be involved in Occupy Stanford. Here’s one more point that you almost made: not all of us here are privileged. I’m a first generation college student. I started out in community colleges, worked and paid my way through undergrad with the help of Pell grants, and finished this sentence without actually LITERALLY patting myself on the back (don’t scoff, it was difficult).

    And I have a lot of personal reasons for wanting to be involved in the Occupy movement, including the uncertain future of my parents (who may never be able to retire) and my nieces and nephews (who might not get the same educational opportunities that I had: http://chronicle.com/article/Pell-Grants-Face-Cuts/126807/ ). I’m sure there are plenty of other students here who are a lot like me and who would also want to be involved in this movement. Should we withhold our support just because we got into Stanford?

    And for that matter, what about privileged kids or newly rich entrepreneurs who also want to live in a more fair, just, and democratic society? Should they keep quiet and be apologetic? No, because this isn’t really about an “us and them” dichotomy between the rich and poor, 99% and 1%. That would be silly, because 1% is just a symbolic and arbitrary cutoff point- why not pick 5% or .04%?

    This movement is not just about denying and rejecting things that came before, it’s about creating and trying new things. Have you heard about “General Assemblies?” It’s participatory, direct democracy. Any of the issues you feel are important on campus you can come and bring forward at the assembly tomorrow.

    Re: g2011

    A cursory googling shows you didn’t bother to fact-check yourself: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/apr/18/michele-bachmann/michele-bachmann-says-top-1-percent-pay-40-percent/ Awkward!

    As for your second sentence:

    * Not all “Occupy” protesters are against capitalism or all corporations. In fact, they have been pretty specific in targeting (1) the large banks that crashed the world economy, privatized profit and socialized risk, and (2) corporate money in elections (e.g. the “Citizens united” SCOTUS ruling).

    * Even if we were all Marxists, it would not follow that we shouldn’t buy or use products made by large capitalist corporations. Even Lenin said, “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Maybe some of us want to boycott large corporations, and I think that’s a perfectly reasonable decision to make. But it is by no means required of us by logic or internal consistency.

    * Protesters are easy targets. Many of us are earnest (see my “personal reasons” above). There are lots of handy tropes like “get a job!” which require no thought to use. But at least we’re putting in actual effort–doing something outside of the everyday norm–for a cause that we think is important.

  4. Crystal says:

    @Josh

    I actually understand your situation more than you think. I’m a low income student as well. I’m here primarily on scholarship and I was raised in a single parent home. I’m not first gen, just second. I understand the grievances of the cause, which is why I applaud the movement. Out in New York, it was a spontaneous act of rebellion. I’m not entirely sure what will change due to their actions but I was impressed with their ability to rally together regardless of the consequences.

    Yet, I still don’t see the point of Stanford students protesting. I’m glad the Occupy movement is causing the wealth disparity to enter the student body focus. I just don’t trust our student body’s commitment to this issue since it took a random movement to bring it to light. We can start protesting tomorrow but will that end the second the other protests around the nation end? Or will we actually use all the resources and our varied life experiences to try to help others?

    Stanford students take the crown for over committed. And in all honesty I think we’re over committed to a million different causes. There are a few major public service/activist groups around campus (SPOON, etc) but most of the other groups are small portions of the campus taking a crack at a certain social issue in between problem sets. I genuinely think this will also be put on a back burner the second the national fuss dies down. I may be wrong. But I also may be right.

    That’s why I agreed that we need to examine how we interact with the financial institutions who recruit on campus. That’s why I think we need to start a conversation about socioeconomic diversity within our own campus community for this issue to stick.

    I can see how protest can be useful as a tool on the precipice of change but what’s happening across the country doesn’t seem to have the right timing. It’s not unfounded but it is a random protest. I see tomorrow’s assembly as a protest for protest’s sake.

    “Ultimately, I think if they want to make a real difference, they [have] got to do exactly what the Tea Party did, which was to go from public protests to organizing and supporting candidates in next year’s election,” Lieberman said.
    http://thehill.com/video/senate/186729-sen-lieberman-says-occupy-wall-street-should-copy-tea-party-tactics

    We don’t necessarily need to start a political party on campus but we need to hear more about Occupy Stanford’s actual goals as a group. I would like to see more than quippy remarks about the “arbitrary cutoff point” of 99%.

    I would be less skeptical if the emails I’ve been sent asked more than what side we’re on and what our fears are concerning the job market. How hard is it to give a more substantial reason to join this cause rather than propaganda?

    The cynic and the dreamer in me do hope for more. It may seem unreasonable, but that’s just how it is.

  5. Joshua Loftus says:

    Clearly we agree on a lot of things. But I still disagree about your main point. I don’t think the biggest problem about activism in our generation (or even more specifically among students at this school) is that those of us who do participate are too flaky. To me, it is by far a much bigger problem that those of us who participate are just a small minority. Our large, “modern” societies have tremendous alienation and disconnection built right into them. It’s hard enough to get any of us to participate at all. If we say that we don’t want people to participate unless they’re going to commit long term, or unless they’ve already been committed to the cause for some time before the protest began, then we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot.

    If there are people at the protest today just for the sake of protesting, people who have not been following these issues or feeling strongly about them before they saw a large group already gathered, then today will be a great opportunity for them to learn about these issues and to start caring. Movements can’t grow if they don’t welcome people like that.

    I should also point out that many of these same criticisms were voiced about the OWS movement while the NYC protests were still young or in the planning phase. People said, “why now and not earlier?” and “it won’t stick” and “they don’t have specific goals,” etc. And yet, it has clearly been successful.

  6. g2011 says:

    “It’s true that 99% of Americans do not enjoy the special benefits of crony capitalism. Crony capitalism is very different from real capitalism. In crony capitalism, government hands out special favors and protections to politically well-connected businesses.

    “The TARP bailouts, Solyndra, and the military-industrial complex are all facets of crony capitalism.

    “Libertarians love free markets and hate crony capitalism.

    “Unfortunately, hypocritical Republican politicians have taught a lot of Americans to think that ‘free markets’ means freedom for government and big business to engage in crony capitalism.

    “That’s not what free markets are. A free market is where the government leaves businesses alone, does not attempt to pick winners and losers, does not stifle competition, does not hand out corporate welfare, and does not absolve businesses of liability for their actions. Most of our economy today does not resemble a free market at all.

    “It’s unfortunate that so many businesses today go to the government begging for handouts and special treatment. I wish they wouldn’t. But the real problem is the politicians who choose to give those favors to them, at everyone else’s expense.

    “I hope the Occupy protesters will start to direct their anger away from Wall Street and big businesses, and toward our government, which has done so much to destroy free markets and entrench crony capitalism.”

  7. Josh says:

    Let’s not also forget examples right at Stanford in which the driving forces behind the protests are very relevant: the way Stanford treats its low-wage employees, such as the janitorial services staff. Stanford has repeatedly exhibited questionable treatment towards these workers–many workers do not make ‘living wage’ and the switch last year from ABM to UNICCO janitorial contractors paved the way for workers to lose their seniority and benefits. Thus, just because Stanford is an elite, and extremely wealthy, institution, it does not mean that the central issues of the protest are irrelevant on campus.

  8. g2011 says:

    Quit drinking the kool-aid Josh!

    UGL Services® started as a small, community-based business more than a half-century ago. We take very seriously our role as a community leader, and we actively seek opportunities to give back to the communities where our customers and our employees live and work.

    Our goal is to create educational and economic opportunity, particularly for people who are economically disadvantaged. To this end, we provide philanthropic support to a wide array of charitable organizations, through both corporate-level programs and through local community efforts.

    We also strive to be a good neighbor. That is why we developed our GreenClean program, which is aimed at using environmentally-friendly cleaning methods to help maintain a safe and healthy environment for our customers, employees, and communities.

    American Heart Association
    Avon Breast Cancer Walk
    Boys & Girls Clubs of America
    Crohns & Colitis Foundation
    Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
    Habitat for Humanity
    Junior Achievement
    Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
    Leukemia Society of America
    Multiple Sclerosis Society
    Muscular Dystrophy Association
    National Building Museum
    Ronald McDonald’s Children’s Charity
    September 11 Victims Memorial
    Special Olympics
    The Jimmy Fund
    Toys for Tots
    UGL Services Scholarship Fund
    United Way (numerous chapters)
    Zoo New England

  9. 05Alum says:

    Everyone living in university housing already “occupies” Stanford.

  10. Joshua Loftus says:

    “Occupy” protesters are absolutely opposed to “crony capitalism.” But there are two sides to crony capitalism, the government and the corporations. The reason why the Tea Party has abysmal approval ratings compared to the OWS movement is that they completely ignore one side of the story. They pretend that government is the only problematic part, and that corporations are just minding their own businesses, trying to create jobs and bring us high quality products, etc.

    Look at the demands of the OWS movement. They want to change the government, not just corporations. They want to put an end to the market failures caused by the revolving door (regulatory capture) and broken campaign financing and so forth. They aren’t just focusing on corporations and pretending that government is all good. None of us would be out there protesting at all if we approved of our government. In fact, I’m highly certain that if you polled OWS protesters you’d find our average approval for the government to be below the national average.

  11. Zach O’Keeffe says:

    I completely disagree with you, Crystal. I am a poor student (my single mother makes around $40,000 a year) and I only attend Stanford because it’s actually cheaper for me to go here than even a community college (due to Stanford’s generous financial aid). I constantly bring up socioeconomic issues with friends and in every one of my classes. You may be right about a large percentage of Stanford students–since overwhelmingly they are the extremely privileged who most likely go here in the hopes of obtaining a high paying job. But that is *exactly* the reason why this movement is important on this campus. There are plenty of students here who don’t fit that mold, and even if they enjoy a more privileged lifestyle than most, they still find the destructive greed of Wall Street and the corruption of politics appalling. Many of my well-to-do friends are quite progressive and would like to see more wealth distribution in this country. And as for myself, I don’t plan to make much money at all. Most likely I’ll make more money than the average citizen, but I’m not attending Stanford to make money–I’m here because I want to make an impact on the world, which is why I feel so strongly about this very movement.

    Indeed, while Stanford does many great things, it has its own dark side. Of course it has a long history, starting with Stanford himself, of ignoring and exploiting the lower echelons of society. We see this today with its treatment of its custodial staff, its groundskeepers, its Hospital staff, etc. Plus, it does have those unfortunate connections with some of the worst corporations in existence, which Stanford allows to recruit its students at various fairs. Stanford should be doing more to support justice in the world, both as a university and through its student body. I think there are plenty of students who feel this way, and even though we might not be able to make it to other larger Occupy movements on a regular basis, like the one in San Francisco, we can certainly proudly represent our campus on the Occupy Colleges movement.

  12. Zach O’Keeffe says:

    Also, it looks like we have UGL UNICCO employee here to spread disinformation and protect the company from exposure. Thanks for the input, g2011. Maybe you should actually talk to the workers and start attending SLAC and WSC meetings to see how your wonderful company actually operates.

    And g2011, while it is thanks to donors for my ability to be here, that doesn’t discount the fact that the majority of the wealthy don’t contribute to society as much as they should, and even the ones who do do so selectively. While I’m thankful that I’m able to be here, I don’t feel that I owe anything. I should be able to attend Stanford because I’m an extremely hard working and intelligent person (excuse the self-flattery, but I don’t see the point in feigning humility); it isn’t my fault that I was born into relative poverty. If our society didn’t have the extreme wealth divide that it does, it wouldn’t be an issue to attend a great school like Stanford.

    You mentioned Apple. Indeed, I’m strongly against Apple’s treatment of its workers. And that’s one thing I would like to see Apple change–I’ve signed many a petition and written letters in the hopes that they will remedy the situation. However, I still purchase Apple products because the company treats its customers well and its products are superior to the majority of PCs. Many PC companies suffer from the exact same fault; I don’t think abstaining from purchasing electronics is going to accomplish much, however. You can point out every little bit of hypocrisy if you’d like, but you have to realize that we have to choose our battles.

    And Crystal, we don’t have clearly articulated goals yet since we only just had our first general assembly. As the movement grows and continues we hope to have more demonstrations, more actions, and more demands. If nothing else though, we want this kind of conversation. If you, or anyone else, feels that the “99%” cut off is arbitrary (which it is) we can certainly use different wording. It’s a difficult movement to define, but one of the main ideas is that our country is controlled by a very select elite who tends to ignore the rest of society and work for its own gain.

  13. g2011 says:

    Why O’Keefe you petulant little Communist. Please stomp your foot while you complain about your free 60,000 dollar free ride to Stanford while deriding the university for all their evil practices. You are a hypocrite and probably here with lower scores just because your po’!

    Move to Cuba with all your whiny give me give me give I deserve I deserve I deserve typical I want what you have lefty friends.

    And oh actually you really don’t represent most of America now do you? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637082965745362.html
    From the article. OWS–>”Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.

  14. Zach O’Keeffe says:

    g2011: I got a near perfect score on both the ACT (35) and SAT (2300) and received a 43/45 in the IB program. But go ahead and assume such things if it makes you feel better about yourself. You’d be surprised–the wealthy aren’t as smart as they like to think. They are lucky and privileged, nothing more. The majority of people do not have access to the same education or opportunities in general. Imagine working two jobs to support your family while attending school at the same time.

    It’s not a $60,000 free ride either. I receive about $48,000; the rest I pay for myself (which includes travel expenses, books, etc.). I imagine you don’t know anything about financial aid though, do you? And even if I do receive aid, does that exempt me from criticizing the university? If so, that’s a sad state of affairs. It’s obvious from your statements, however, that you don’t think the less privileged in society deserve a voice.

    In general I don’t trust the Wall Street Journal, but it doesn’t surprise me that you cite a conservative newspaper that favors the rich.

    Also, please double check spelling. My last name is O’Keeffe, with two f’s. You also meant to say “just because you’re po’”. Note the contraction. I also find your use of the term “po’” offensive. You appear racist when making that reference to ebonics. While this is besides the point, I’m caucasian just so you know. Too bad you can’t pull the “race card” to insinuate I’m only here because I’m a minority.