This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Occupy Wall Street protesters march across the Broolyn Bridge in New York City. Photo courtesy Danielle Falzon '12.

Vassar Students Occupy Wall Street

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has grown, Vassar students—no strangers to protests over the course of the last century—are once again in the mix. Later this month, on November 13, Vassar will host an Occupy Wall Street teach-in, a day-long event designed “to teach students, faculty, administrators and other members of the Vassar and Mid-Hudson Valley communities about … this major movement.” The teach-in is scheduled to take place one day after a nascent Occupy Poughkeepsie movement holds a rally and march. The on-campus event offers an opportunity for attendees to go beyond participation or observation, to go beyond solidarity or disagreement with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and to approach the Occupy movement from an intellectual perspective.

“There’s a lot of curiosity on campus regarding how to think about the Occupy movement; what it is and isn’t about,” says political science professor Katherine Hite. Hite will join other faculty members from the departments of political science, history, urban studies, and sociology, as well as faculty members from Bard College and Dutchess Community College, as panelists for the Occupy Wall Street teach-in at Vassar. Sessions will include “Direct Action, Direct Democracy, and Democratic Theory” and “U.S. History, American Government, and Social Movements,” among others.

At the teach-in, some students will also have a chance to share their personal experiences as members of the movement. Dozens of students—some associated with three campus-based organizations: Rebuild the Dream, Vassar Greens, and Democracy Matters—have joined the Occupy movement. Gabe Dunsmith ’15 is one of them.

Dunsmith had joined small-scale protests in and around his hometown of Asheville, NC, including a vigil at a contaminated Superfund site. But he had never done anything this big, never anything on the magnitude of Occupy Wall Street. As a freshman this year, though, he joined Vassar’s Rebuild the Dream chapter, founded by Jonathan Bix ’14.

Rebuild the Dream (RTD) is a nationwide coalition of more than 80 organizations. RTD argues that the classic American dream has collapsed and needs rebuilding. Its goal is “to find jobs, to afford to go to college, retire with dignity, and secure a future for our children and our communities.”

That message resonated with Dunsmith, who was drawn to RTD’s “progressive political action.” Bix had similar motivations for getting involved with Occupy Wall Street. Several participants have cited the influence of the documentary film Inside Job (Anna Moot-Levin ’07, associate producer).

On September 17 a group of Vassar students traveled to Wall Street for the opening day of the Occupy protests. Dunsmith, Bix, and others marched from a subway station to Zuccotti Park in what was still a small, disorganized movement.

By the time a Vassar contingent returned to Occupy a second time, on October 1, things had changed. This time, they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of demonstrators. “It was an amazing experience to be a part of that,” Dunsmith says. “That second time, it was good to feel like we were behind some common goals.”

As the movement has grown, the Vassar students have remained involved. During fall break in mid-October, Dunsmith returned to Manhattan for his third round of demonstrations. Spencer Resnick ’15—who’d been part of the initial Occupy Wall Street events—spent part of his fall break participating in Occupy Boston. And they weren’t alone. “Lots of students have been down to Zuccotti Park or to local Occupy actions in their different cities over fall break,” notes Hite.

With the Occupy Poughkeepsie movement slowly growing in kind, students, faculty members, and alumnae/i have increased their participation locally, in Vassar’s backyard, as well. Some—mostly students associated with Vassar’s Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics—have spent one or more nights, sleeping at Poughkeepsie’s Occupy “home base” at Hulme Park. Others have spent hours there during the day, expressing solidarity with the full-time demonstrators and lending a hand where they can. Maya Casilda Acevedo ’10—who first joined the Occupy movement for the march over the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1—helped shovel snow and pull together donations for the Poughkeepsie protestors, to help them ride out the recent surprise Nor’easter.

Meanwhile, Bix has participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests four times, and he doesn’t plan to stop there. “I’m hoping to spend at least part of my winter break at the protests,” he says.

While the final outcome of the Occupy movement remains uncertain, Bix says it has already been a success: “It has empowered hundreds of thousands of individuals who were disenchanted with politics, and showed them that they can not only impact American politics, but also culture.” Adds Resnick: "I feel like my voice is being heard." ­–Peter Bronski

November 2011

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