By now, Occupy Wall Street is not really news. You have read about it, seen footage of it, and may even have gone to one of the protest sites.
Why does Occupy Wall Street seem to resonate so strongly with Wesleyan students?
To answer this question, I started by attending the University’s Conversations on Controversy event last week—a moderated community discussion about the movement. During the discussion, many students expressed the fear that we as college students are preparing for a world that may not offer the employment opportunities we have learned to expect.
According to one participant, there seems to be very little hope for current college students if the economic situation does not change drastically in the near future. Another student said that she was terrified by the prospect of leaving college and entering an unfriendly new world. However, she found relief in knowing that people were uniting over the same fears.
Cesar Chavez ’15—who has participated in the Occupy protest in Manhattan—said that Occupy Wall Street calls attention to problems in the educational system as a whole.
“The American educational system forces people to take out loans that, chances are, they won’t be able to pay back,” Chavez said. “Students are therefore forced to take jobs that only pay the bills.”
According to Chavez, Occupy Wall Street gives people a place where their grievances can attract the attention of government officials, who depend so much on the support of the people.
Students have expressed a range of opinions on whether Occupy Wall Street’s notable lack of specific demands is detrimental or beneficial to the movement. Chavez believes that the generality of the protest is a good thing.
“Rather than bringing one single agenda that could be considered left-wing or right-wing, Occupy Wall Street is transcending [that],” Chavez said.
Some members of the discussion group agreed, including one student who said that the current financial system is too big and powerful to be overthrown by any sort of demands from a movement. Another noted that the lack of specific demands forced media attention to remain focused on the protests, awaiting some form of outcome.
Other students disagreed.
“The lack of specificity has been absolutely hurting the movement,” said Alex Levin ’12. “Without a leader and without demands, who is to say what they are protesting? Of the tens of videos that I’ve seen, not one person gave the same answer. Even when I ask Wesleyan students, they are either unsure or give different answers.”
In Chavez’s view, the lack of specificity has been conducive to diversity among the supporters. For him, Occupy Wall Street is something many people could relate to.
“There are homeless people, people who have lost their jobs, and families, all protesting together,” Chavez said.
Others who have watched the progress of the movement over time noticed the shift from mostly white and middle-class participants to participants who actually represented a good sample of the public. Many have noted that those with nine-to-five jobs cannot afford to spend their days in Zuccotti Park, but Chavez said that protesters participate in order to represent those who are unable to be there.
Levin said that he thinks most Wesleyan students are enamored more by the spectacle of the protests than the issues at hand.
“I think Wesleyan students identify with it because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do at the moment for liberals,” Levin said. “Wesleyan students tend to jump on the bandwagon for anything that’s gets them off campus to yell and scream for no reason at ordinary people just trying to make it through life.”
Chavez admits that he was hesitant about the movement at first. When the tents popped up on Foss, he felt generally apathetic.
“Why should I join a movement when it’s impossible to win?” Chavez asked. “The U.S. government will always win. Corporations will always win.”
But another student in the Occupy Wall Street discussion offered a more optimistic outlook .
“If the movement were to end now, I feel like it would have been a success,” he said.