Although Occupy Dartmouth’s visible presence has decreased after the movement’s Jan. 7 dismantling of its encampment, the protesters strove to reaffirm the movement’s relevancy at a panel in Collis Common Ground on Thursday night.
The panel, titled “Occupy Dartmouth: Voices Crying in the Wilderness?” and sponsored by the United Campus Ministers, was a discussion of the sociopolitical factors that motivated the protest, the accomplishments of the local and global Occupy movements and the challenges protesters face as the months-old movement gains maturity.
Participants in the panel included Stewart Towle ’12 and Nathan Gusdorf ’12, both of whom are heavily involved in Occupy Dartmouth; English professor Jeff Sharlet; history professor Annelise Orleck; Economics professor Andrew Samwick; and the Rev. Dr. Guy Collins, the campus Episcopal minister. The panel was moderated by Rabbi Edward Boraz, another campus minister at Dartmouth Hillel.
Speaking to an audience of approximately 50 community members, Towle said that “engaging in dialogue” is a central tenet of the Occupy movement, which he said needs to become a greater part of the modern political landscape.
“Our dialogue doesn’t have to be just one person at a time,” Towle said. “We’re creating a space where one can actively listen and engage with the speaker at any given time without interrupting them.”
Towle described the movement as entering a “second phase” in which Occupiers will attempt to educate the campus and the Upper Valley community about the movement through conversation.
Collins, the next panelist to speak, outlined three theological ideas related to the Occupy movement, including how the protest is akin to the prophetic tradition of many religions.
“Prophets don’t predict the future they see the inequality in the present and get mad and shout about it, and that’s essentially what’s been happening with the Occupy movement,” Collins said.
Samwick’s statements focused on the movement’s repercussions on public policy. One of the protesters’ most significant achievements was increasing the national awareness of contradictions inherent in the United States’ current political system without focusing on just one particular policy, according to Samwick.
“You could tell me a story about how it’s important to bail out failed financial institutions because it would endanger their creditors,” Samwick said. “You could also tell me that fiscal considerations prevent aiding those in need the unemployed, the uneducated or the simply unfortunate, but you can’t tell me those two stories simultaneously.”
Samwick also addressed the movement’s need to increase its presence in the political system in order to accomplish its goals. He explained how the Tea Party successfully evolved from an extreme group of protesters to a tangible political force and noted that Occupiers will not achieve their goals without similarly enmeshing themselves in the political process.
“There’s been more of a reluctance than I expected to do what’s necessary to make an impact on the political system,” Samwick said. “Half of the House and a third of the Senate is up for reelection, and we can have an impact there. We need to recruit, field and sponsor our own candidates to have an impact in Congress.”
Orleck discussed how the Occupiers are often criticized and stigmatized by people who are “comfortable” and refuse to acknowledge the validity of their protests against inequality. She discussed how the Occupy movement is part of a larger tradition of protest in the U.S. and gave insight to the economic hardships facing Upper Valley residents.
“They need to stop seeing this as a movement of kids who don’t know where they’re going, but as something we need to take seriously,” he said.
Gusdorf, the final speaker of the panel, narrated how living in the Occupy Dartmouth tent for two months made him even more aware of the level of inequality that permeates daily life. He discussed how some institutions are “nominally egalitarian,” but are in fact based on hierarchy. Gusdorf advocated a radical transformation of the nation’s mindset in order to question typical modes of interaction.
“We believe that politics is about problem solving, but what we think is political is in fact not,” Gusdorf said. “It keeps us complacent, and it keeps us from seeing what’s truly wrong in the world.”