Widgets Magazine

Faculty assess ‘Occupy’ protests

In spite of the ripple effect created by the Occupy Wall Street movement, several Stanford professors indicate that they believe the movement, while noteworthy, will not last.

The movement began on Sept. 17 and within days, spread throughout the nation. On Nov. 8, Stanford students showed up as part of the Occupy Stanford movement to protest a Goldman-Sachs recruiting event on campus.

(OLLIE KHAKWANI/The Stanford Daily)

Despite all the momentum in the movement, history professor David Kennedy ‘63 said he believes the movement will die down.

“Call me cynical, but I believe it will peter out as the weather turns less benign,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, however, said that Occupy Wall Street represents legitimate concerns.

“I think the problems are real enough, especially mounting income and wealth inequality,” he said.

The emergence of the Occupy movement is not surprising. Kennedy noted that the emergence of the Tea Party, in response to the recession, seemed lopsided. He expected another movement would arise to counter the conservative lean.

John Taylor, economics professor and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, said that the rise of both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement can be attributed to similar causes.

“Actually I think the same frustrations with government policy are what got the Tea Party movement going, though the manifestations are quite different, and of course that has already had a huge impact,” Taylor wrote in an email to The Daily.

In terms of the historical context, Kennedy noted that while the Occupy movement is not one-of-a-kind, the movement differs from past forms of social protest.

“Examples that come to mind are the bonus marchers in the 1930s and the anti-Vietnam War movement, but all those had specific, concrete policy objectives,” Kennedy said.

Susan Olzak, a professor of sociology, echoed Kennedy, saying that national news reports were misleading in emphasizing the lack of any distinct organization or leadership body as compared to past social protest movements, such as the Civil Rights movement.

She added that while there may not have been a distinct organization that arose from the Occupy movement, the movement can, to some degree, be broken down into the organizations which largely create it.

“Observers of local movement activity in Oakland and San Francisco suggest that there is a substantial presence of organized labor unions, local community organizations and grassroots activist associations,” Olzak said.

Though riots and violence that have occurred since the Occupy movement began, Kennedy said these acts of violence do not appear to provide any significant benefit to the movement.

“The Civil Rights movement was doctrinally nonviolent, and shrewdly capitalized on the several instance of police violence visited upon civil rights demonstrators,” Kennedy said. “I don’t see anything that sophisticated happening here.”

Kennedy said he is also wary of the comparison some organizers of the Occupy movement make between Occupy and the Arab Spring, a series of recent revolutions that spread through the Middle East and North Africa.

“We have yet to see what season will follow the Arab Spring,” he said.

While it is impossible to predict what impact the movement will have on future events, Kennedy, Taylor and Olzak independently agreed that the movement has the potential to sway the 2012 presidential elections.

“Regarding the 2012 elections, I think both Democrats and Republicans should be aware of this problem and should address it,” Taylor said.

Kennedy offered insight on the movement’s impact on President Barack Obama.

“If it signals disaffection with Obama by a significant part of his base, then it will spell trouble for him in the election,” Kennedy said.

Although the movement’s demands have yet to be resolved, Kennedy and Taylor offered suggestions for the movement in general.

According to Kennedy, taxing the top 1 percent would not provide sufficient revenue to change the United States’ economic landscape. He noted, however, that “as political theater, and as a way to mobilize broad popular sentiment, maybe the focus on the top 1 percent will work.”

“Part of the answer is to remove the ‘too big to fail’ problem in which the government protects the politically powerful at the expense of everyone else,” Taylor said.


  • Your headline is misleading, at best. Only one of the faculty is quoted saying anything about the movement not lasting. And then, hidden inside the article, far from the headline, “Kennedy, Taylor and Olzak independently agreed that the movement has the potential to sway the 2012 presidential elections.”


    “…BUT all those had specific, concrete policy objectives”

    indicates that Kennedy was alluding to the supposed lack of specific goals of this movement.


    “Susan Olzak […] echoed Kennedy, saying that national news reports were misleading in emphasizing the lack of any distinct organization”

    indicates the exact opposite. By “echoed” did you mean to say “completely disagreed with”?

    One last suggestion: if you want to interview faculty about the movement, why not talk to some of the faculty who have actually been involved in it? Perhaps they may be less impartial, but they are probably better-informed about it as well.

  • Zachary O’Keeffe

    I echo everything Josh said, and I use echo in the traditional sense of the term.

    I’m not surprised John Taylor doesn’t think taxing the top 1% is a worthwhile cause. Taylor is a free-market, neoliberal economist. He’s defended corporations and the wealthy time and time again while bashing unions and taxes. While I can’t claim to know his personal finances, given his fame and book revenue, I wouldn’t be surprised if he himself belongs to the top 1%–and even if he doesn’t, he’s certainly rather close.

    Kennedy is right that the Civil Rights movement was predominantly nonviolent; however, he fails to recognize that this movement is as well. The media has overplayed the part of vandals, some of whom have been identified as agent provocateurs. The vast majority of people involved in the Occupy movement do not condone violence and vandalism. If he wants to nitpick, then I’d like to add that there were several race riots during the Civil Rights movement. You can’t condemn an entire movement based on what a select few do. I would argue this movement is also doctrinally nonviolent. Kennedy is a sorry professor of history.

  • “I believe it will peter out as the weather turns less benign”

    As much as the physical presence of protesters has galvanized the movement, the Occupy movement is not about camping out. It’s about restoring justice to our economic policies. I am amazed and heartened by how much the movement’s point of view is already shaping the public debate. Politicians and pollsters are talking about economic inequality as an actual problem in US society.

    As others have commented, it’s not surprising that John Taylor dismisses raising taxes on the top 1%. If people think it is effective, they might do it, and he wouldn’t want that. But it is a good idea, not because it solves the entire problem–I don’t know anyone in the Occupy movement, of which I consider myself a member, who thinks it would–but because it is fair. Believe me, Prof. Taylor, we want to make more substantial changes than merely tweaking the tax rate.

    By the way, if Prof. Kennedy predicted the rise of a movement such as Occupy, as the article implies, perhaps Mr. Ding could cite where? A quick websearch of “David Kennedy” and “Tea Party” is not turning up any such prediction.