Over 100 University of Massachusetts students gathered yesterday for the first Occupy UMass Teach-in, in which a collection of professors discussed the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been spreading across the country.
The speakers, political science professors Dean Robinson and Jillian Schwedler, economics professors Gerald Friedman, David Kotz and Stephen Resnick, art professor Max Page and sociology professor Millicent Thayer told the audience why they care about Occupy Wall Street movement, and why it is important for students to get involved for it to continue gaining momentum.
Students filed into the Cape Cod Lounge at noon and listened as the professors analyzed and expressed their impressions of the movement so far. The professors all had positive attitudes toward the movement and some even compared it to historic moments in history, like the civil rights movement.
Resnick commented that the last time he saw such a grouping was in the 1960s and 1970s. He referred to what is going on in America right now as a “class war”, saying it is a war of the rich against the poor.
Page spoke about student debt, and expressed his opinion that public higher education should be free.
The professors who spoke were not the only ones who expressed positive views of Occupy Wall Street. Though student involvement during the teach-in was limited, senior and political science major Ben Taylor had a lot to say after the teach-in was over.
“The Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the most important movements in generations,” said Taylor.
He said that Occupy Wall Street is something that people from his and other generations are increasingly getting involved in, and that it is “really striking a cord.”
According to Thayer, 67 percent of New Yorkers support the Occupy cause, and, Thayer said, both students and professors agree that the Occupy protests are getting the younger generation interested in politics.
“Be open to new ideas,” said Kotz. “The younger generation must discover for themselves why this system has been so bad for the American people.”
The system, he said, is a free market form of capitalism, which he said has been very good for the top 1 percent of Americans, but bad for everybody else – the often referenced “99 percent.”
Robinson was the first professor to speak, explaining his view of the Occupy Wall Street movement as “major forms of social protest,” saying that all the major revolutions in history started with people getting involved. He compared this movement to the civil rights movement, saying it wasn’t only about Martin Luther King’s speech, but also the march on Washington.
“One thing I would really love to see in the future is student voices up front,” said Taylor. “We need to see more and we need to continue to educate the student body and people in the community in this issue.”
“We are experiencing a global revolution,” said Schwedler during the teach-in.
Concerned about the state of the Democratic Party, Robinson said, “Policies in the U.S. have moved so far to the right, moving even a little to the left would be a good thing.”
The sentiment during the teach-in was that being active is the only way to make a difference during the movement.
“When politics is reduced to voting and liking pages, it dramatically limits us.” said Schwedler.
Steffi Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.