From Wall Street to the Main Mall

Zoya Waliany

Waves of protests spread across the globe over the last year from Egypt to Greece, demonstrating the strength of the human spirit. Refusing to be outdone, the United States began participating in this new-age movement of empowering the common man and fighting for social justice through Occupy Wall Street. Most recently, a new movement, Occupy Colleges, branched off of this upheaval. Though we have not started our own Occupy UT movement, many UT students can relate to the struggles these movements are protesting.

While similar to Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Colleges has its own distinctive message: Students will no longer stand for the increasing level of debt they are accruing from college loans and poor job prospects. Students from low-income families, students from the upper class and university professors aiming to focus the movement in an effective direction are participating in these protests. These forces are gathering together to contend the 9.1-percent unemployment rate for 2010 college graduates, which is among the highest levels in history. The Project on Student Debt, a research and policy nonprofit organization, claims that class of 2010 students graduated with an average of $25,250 in debt, a 5-percent increase from 2009.

Various universities are addressing Occupy Colleges through differing methods. For instance, many schools have been staging peaceful protests, only to be interrupted by police forces donned in riot gear. University of California, Davis students most recently faced police attack in the form of mass pepper spraying. Similarly, 39 University of California, Berkeley protesters, including an associate professor, were brutalized and arrested.

Conversely, Harvard University’s protests aim to revamp the Harvard name, changing its reputation of pretention and nepotistic exclusivity to one of equal opportunity and meritocracy. An article in the Harvard Crimson called upon the university to abolish tuition in place of a legally binding agreement that students will “devote a small share of their future earnings to the University.” Through this method, students will feel free to pursue the career of their dreams, irrespective of salary, without fear of burdensome tuition loans.

Regardless of method, however, the importance of this movement is the solidarity shared between colleges. Across the country, students are rising up together to fight for a cause they believe in. Some commentators find similarities between Occupy Colleges and the Civil Rights Movement. Obviously, the purposes of both movements differ greatly, but it is noteworthy that the Civil Rights Movement’s methods of student-led nonviolent protest are carrying into our generation. Our nation sees important change actualized through these methods, demonstrating the power of peaceful protest and giving hope to Occupy Colleges protesters nationwide.

UT does not have an Occupy movement of its own, likely because of varying forces such as Austin’s relatively better economy and UT’s persevering success and growth despite budget cuts. The multitude of opportunities and connections offered at a college of this size prevents us from feeling the effects that many students nationwide are currently reeling from.

However, with our nation’s tumultuous economy and job market, UT students, too, could potentially experience the same student debt worries and lack of job opportunities, which is why we must support the Occupy Colleges movement. Despite our somewhat more fortunate circumstances, our peers are fighting for their voices to be heard, even braving an intensification of police crackdowns, and we must support their struggle.

Brown University history professor Robert Self noted that, “There hasn’t for a long time been a single issue like the civil rights or the war in Vietnam that brings a whole generation together.” Occupy Colleges forges camaraderie among universities nationwide and is once again demonstrating the power of peaceful protest. University-level activism of this scale has the power to be more effective than smaller scale protests, and for this reason, university students should support this movement.

Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.