Last week, some faculty members signed a statement of solidarity to declare support for occupiers and their demands.
The voices of the Occupy movement have been heard throughout the world, and Temple has not fallen deaf to the spreading dialogue. Students took up signs and brought their voices to the Bell Tower two weeks ago, both in support and in protest of the movement. Now, some professors have joined the conversation by signing a statement of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Along with the demonstrators we are demanding an end to the extreme inequalities that structure our society,” the statement read. It continued to list in greater detail the problems facing the 99 percent, including diminishing access to education, high unemployment, low worker’s wages and other threats to social and economic justice.
“For me, the movement is important because it has started to change the questions being asked about our government and economic systems,” history professor and signee Kathleen Biddick said.
Biddick said that she admires the movement because it is bringing issues and people who have long been ignored by the established press to light.
“They are questioning the strategies of the mainstream media,” she said.
According to Biddick, the media is deeply entangled into the corporate and elite world. She said that it spreads collective fantasies of the American dream and takes part in the same collective avoidance of the big problems facing the country that politicians are engaging in.
For example, in the New York Times, the phrase “corporate greed” occurred in 29 different articles from Oct. 4 to Nov. 1. However only five other articles mentioned the phrase in the nine months preceding the birth of the Occupy movement, which, according to Biddick, indicates that the movement is succeeding in bringing new issues to the attention of the media.
“I like the way that [occupiers] are doing it,” she added. “It is not by sound bytes. I realize that this might hurt them in the mainstream though because they want sound bytes.”
Political science professor and fellow signee Dan Chomsky agreed that this lack of a unified-and-sound-byte-friendly message could eventually hurt the movement.
“The protesters need to promote specific issues that the American people will readily adopt,” Chomsky said. “Now, they have resisted this in the hopes of democratic participation, which is admirable, but to have real significance they will have to make decisions and offer proposals.”
Chomsky said he has hope that the movement will be able to achieve this because it has already touched a very salient nerve in the public.
“The political climate is favorable to them,” Chomsky said. “An enormous amount of the population is dissatisfied [with the government].”
According to an October Gallup poll, 13 percent of Americans are currently satisfied with the state of nation. This approval rating is one of the lowest on record, with the majority of people citing unemployment, the economy and dissatisfaction with the government as their main reasons for this malcontent.
Even though the protesters have brought to light issues that large portions of the population agree with, changing the status quo will be difficult. Similar to professor Biddick, Chomsky said he realizes that the main problem facing the movement is the reason that the protesters have been forced to take to the streets, as opposed to the polls or political fundraisers.
“They are there because their voices weren’t being heard in the first place through the traditional political process,” Chomsky said. “It is hard to have the perseverance to force society to pay attention. They need to be out in the streets.”
In signing the letter of solidarity psychology professor Sherri Grasmuck said she recognizes the movement’s significance in giving a voice to those who are traditionally silenced.
“It is sad that these people are completely without hope that the standard solutions to problems are going to help them,” Grasmuck said of the occupiers who decided they have a better chance of being heard by camping in public spaces than by voting.
According to Grasmuck, one of the biggest reasons the critiques put forth by the Occupy movement have been ignored for so long is that they “raise fundamental critiques of the status quo.”
One of these critiques is the growing divide between classes, a topic both the media and politicians have been wary to touch, Grasmuck said.
“Talking about economic class has become a taboo in this country,” Grasmuck said.
The ideal of the American dream and the great American middle class has been espoused for so long that the truth is often ignored. This has led many Americans to falsely believe they are middle class.
For example, a Gallup poll released last April reported that 7 percent of people who earned $250,000 or more each year believed they paid too little in taxes. However, of those same people, 30 percent claimed that upper-income earners paid too little in taxes.
What those people might not have realized is that by making $250,000 a year, they represent the top 20 percent of income-earning Americans. This lack of awareness about class is just one of the long ignored issues that Occupiers have pushed to the top of the agenda.
One of the major criticisms to emerge from the signing of the letter of solidarity by a few professors is that it reveals their partisan liberal nature and contributes to the trend of increased liberalization of universities.
According to General Social Survey data collected from 1996 to 2008, professors are more likely than any other profession to identify as liberal.
However, Professor Steven Newman said he does not see it as a partisan issue, but rather as an opportunity for him to support his students whose voices have long been ignored.
“It’s a mistake to think that faculty shouldn’t speak out when they see something that is affecting their students and the mission of the university,” Newman said. “I think that there is a mistaken set of priorities in this country about how wealth is spent and for whom and in whose interests.”
Newman recognizes that budget cuts to public education combined with the increasing costs of attending a four year university are hurting his students and in signing the letter only hopes to support them. He also explains that he, “can walk and chew gum at the same time,” and would never let his political views influence his teaching.
In signing the letter of solidarity, professors said they aim to support those voices and issues that have long been ignored in this country, writing that, “only by identifying the complex interconnections between repressive economic, social and political regimes can social and economic justice prevail in this country and around the globe.”
Amy Stansbury can be reached at email@example.com.