Widgets Magazine

Occupy movement takes root at Stanford

Occupy Stanford continues to plan protests and rallies despite challenges it has faced in igniting the student body, according to Joshua Loftus, an active member of the organization.

Loftus, a first-year Ph.D. student in statistics, said the group is trying to build momentum from two major events in the past few weeks: a campus-wide walkout on Nov. 2 and a protest at a Goldman Sachs recruitment presentation on Nov. 8. The group hopes these events will inspire more people to join the protest.

“[Goldman Sachs] has been at the center of some of the main problems of Wall Street in the crash that happened,” Loftus said. “You can see Goldman Sachs’ hand at work in pretty much any big financial problem in recent history. It goes back as far as the Great Depression.”

To protest, Occupy Stanford members could R.S.V.P. to the recruitment event through the Career Development Center (CDC), hand out pamphlets to those in attendance and prepare questions for Goldman Sachs representatives. But not all went according to plan.

“They didn’t have a question-and-answer session,” Loftus said. “That just killed the plans of the people who were going to ask [provocative] questions.”

“But then some of the students stayed afterwards at the networking reception and went around to some of the different [Goldman Sachs] employees,” he added.

The disappointment at the recruitment event wasn’t the only challenge the Occupy Stanford movement has had to overcome.

“The week of the alumni reunion, I wanted to do something visible,” Loftus said. “I tried to organize a protest march by the Alumni Center, and it basically failed because only two people showed up. So that was kind of a low point.”

Of all the problems Occupy Stanford has had to deal with, low turnout seems to be most prominent, according to Zach O’Keeffe ’13, a member of Occupy Stanford.

“I’m a bit disappointed,” O’Keeffe said. “I can’t say that I judge a lot of students [for not showing up to events] because I understand that it’s hard. It’s been difficult academically for me, too…but ultimately it is disappointing and I’d really like more people to get involved.”

O’Keeffe said Occupy Stanford faces many unique challenges in rallying support, but a large part of the group’s difficulty has had to do with its fundamental structure as an anti-hierarchical, grassroots movement.

“A lot of people who are working on [Occupy Stanford] aren’t experienced in the way that more institutionalized groups who have organized structures are,” O’Keeffe said. “We’re just kind of getting together and starting from scratch.”

Occupy Stanford’s meetings, the forum in which members decide what and when to protest, may seem difficult to navigate for those interested in the Occupy movement, according to O’Keeffe. These meetings use a general assembly format, where there is no leader and no agenda.

Both Loftus and O’Keeffe commented that none of the members carry titles within the organization.

“It can be frustrating, especially for newcomers who aren’t used to it,” O’Keeffe said. “It may have turned some people off, actually, but as the movement’s been growing, I think it’s gotten a lot more efficient. Every time I go I feel like we’ve accomplished something.”

The Occupiers have also faced questions about the relative wealth of Stanford students.

“But what use is it to be at the top of a pyramid that’s crumbling?” Loftus said. “In the long run, the entire world is going to be worse off if we don’t fix [the problem of the weak middle class].”

Despite the challenges and student skepticism, Occupy Stanford activists said they are finding meaning in the protests despite their organizational difficulties. In particular, O’Keeffe said he felt this larger meaning during a camp-out the organization held in White Plaza last Monday.

“I really got a sense of what these people occupying [at Occupy camps] are really going through,” O’Keeffe said. “I felt for the first time, ‘This is probably what it’s like to be homeless.’”

Chris Herries ’15, another camper, agreed.

“Even though we didn’t evoke immediate social change on the spot, strangers came up to me to discuss the movement,” Herries said. “I think discussion is the most important step towards social change.”

About Edward Ngai

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.
  • A few comments: I just wanted to point out that the failed “protest” during the alumni reunion was entirely my doing. The Occupy group didn’t organize that, it was just me sending an email out that day asking if anyone else wanted to go. Also, while it did fail as a protest, it was actually pretty useful/fun in that the two of us met some very supportive alums who spent a long time talking to us and were very happy to see Stanford students being politically active.

    Also, the self-interest argument for getting involved (that being at the top of a crumbling pyramid is not really a good position) is true but misses the main point: it’s just flat out wrong to ignore the suffering and hardship of others. If I just passively watch as my peers across the bay are beaten by police, and as so many problems weigh down so many people and I do nothing in my power to help them, then I may be in the top percentiles of privilege but I’m far from that when it comes to being a good person.

    Last, a plug: this Saturday, 2:30pm at Arrillaga there will be a “Big Game Solidarity March and Rally” to show support for the Berkeley students and disapproval for the excessive use of police force against them . Over 300 people have already RSVPed to the facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=243997198989563 wear black, bring signs if you want.

  • Visitor

    Josh, organizing protests against recruiters of Goldman Sachs is like protesting your mom because you’re angry about the Vietnam war. What’s your argument? Goldman Sachs is greedy? Okay. And? Are you going to protest other greedy people? Kanye West too?

    Actually, that’s unfair. I’m not trying to belittle your views. You see pain in the world and you see people getting rich in a way that seems unfair. But how much do you know about investment banking that isn’t written by Matt Taibbi? How much do you know about economics? If you’re concerned about the causes of inequality and poverty, learn what they are first. Realizing that you don’t know should motivate you to realize that throwing a protest is just you emoting your feelings and doing nothing productive. Learn about how the stock market helps people too. Read serious policy scholars who debate with each other on the causes of the financial crisis. They’re paid to make people like you understand.

    Why is protesting counter-productive? Because the only time you’re wasting is your own. You’re paying for your school (quite a bit). You have access to limitless educational resources. Now’s not the time for you to “Be Heard.” People are heard all the time. They say stupid things. Ann Coulter gets heard — do you like her? Rush Limbaugh gets heard. Do you think Michael Moore, who gets heard, represents your views, or do you think he’s an idiot too? Because at your age, you have the potential to know a whole hell of a lot more and get some nuance to your worldview. You can avoid being the cliche protester on a college campus who Just Wants To Do Something, and you can actually be the person that does the hard work.

    Oh, I hear you. “I also do my schoolwork and work hard. So this is something I can do at the same time.” So you’re choosing to spend your free time carping about something about which you know little? I’m all for bludgeoning others with ignorance, friend, I’m all for testing out bad arguments and getting them rebutted. But you know who needs your voice? People in soup kitchens who haven’t heard a compassionate word while they live on the streets. People in clinics who just need someone to cry to.

    Yeah, I hear you. You want to make a political change. You just don’t want to clean up the mess in your own back yard. If you’re serious about being a citizen, it means you participate in your community. Ever volunteer at daycare? Ever read to a kindergarten class? Ever spend time with an elderly woman at a retirement home, where her family has abandoned her? Go and do that if you want to be selfless. Because at the moment, you’re just trying to make sure it’s *your* voice that gets heard. Congrats. You’re just one of the many selfish people. Except you’re not after money. You’re after attention.

    Protesting is easy, friend. Especially when you don’t have much to lose. Maybe you should spend time around people who really have lost everything.

    Here’s what I’d love to see. I’d love to see you spend as much time organizing your friends to go to a soup kitchen and work there on a weekly basis. That “weekly” part is for you — it’s to give you the sense that what you’re doing is a regular commitment. It’s not a fad. It’s something where you give your time and put it in. If you don’t think it matters, look at the people there and see if it means something to them.

    I just want you to realize that when you have Thanksgiving next week, where ever you are, there are people out there who desperately wish they could have something as normal. You can give it to them yourself. Or you can protest that someone else give it to them.

    Do it right. Start with you.

  • I won’t argue that I shouldn’t be doing more to help people. You’ve got me there.

    You jumped to the conclusion that I am uninformed about finance and economics, seemingly based only on the fact that my view on those subjects is different than yours. I’d be happy to have an in-depth conversation on those topics with you (it can be private if you want, just email me at jooftiiuus@stanford.edu (with no repeating vowels)). I’ll begin by saying what I said to the senior Goldman Sachs employee at their event: There are many money problems in the world, and solving those problems is a very important service that banks can provide. However in the last few years, the money problems that Goldman Sachs helped create far outweigh the ones that they have solved.

    If you want to know specifically why we were protesting a campus recruitment event, there are lengthy explanations here http://www.stanforddaily.com/2011/10/11/op-ed-stop-the-wall-street-recruitment/ and here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/brain-drain-college-grads-wall-street_n_1069424.html the short version is the idea in the title: “brain drain” by the finance and consulting industries is wasting valuable human resources and inflating already-bloated and problematic sectors.

    Finally, your point about protesting being useless emoting: have you read any news lately? There is a massive global protest movement now that’s accomplishing more things than anyone can keep track of. A number of large cities (Seattle, LA, SF, Buffalo) have passed resolutions as a direct result of their local Occupy protests. We are changing the public conversation (or culture or zeitgeist or whatever you want to call it) and providing political capital for the passage of important and difficult reforms. There is a long, proud history of activism and protest leading to social change…

  • Zachary O’Keeffe

    Certainly it doesn’t encapsulate the entirety of being homeless, but freezing and lying on concrete certainly is something many homeless people go through. That was partly my fault for being ill-prepared, to be fair. I didn’t mean to understate the experience of homelessness. When I said that, I meant to highlight the sacrifices made by the occupiers but at the same time recognize that people suffer even more than that every single day of their life. I brought the issue of homelessness up because many homeless have been attracted to the camps, and the rampant homelessness in the US is a sad result of a system that leaves people behind and fails to help the most vulnerable in society.

  • Acata

    I know your reply was directed specifically at Josh, but I’d like to speak from my own perspective.  I am someone who did in fact volunteer at a daycare (at a domestic violence shelter) and serve food at food kitchens, and spend time with people at retirement homes.  Actually, I find it kind of amusing that I just happen to have engaged in almost everything you listed.  I’ve also worked toward English language learning and literacy for the children of immigrants. 

     I spent years doing these things.  6 in fact.  And now I’m here; at Stanford.  And I can look back on that time and say “yes, I helped individuals.” But, I can also say that there are ways to help whole groups of people at once.  And some of those ways involve policy change. Some involve fighting a broken system. Some involve protesting.

    Protesting is sometimes an end unto itself, especially when the goal is to start a dialogue.  As Josh says, Occupy has done that.  Many more people (I wont say most) are discussing the issues raised by the movement than were 3 months ago.  But protesting is sometimes not the end all, and in that I agree with you.  Sometimes more needs to happen.  But change takes time. change requires us to alter the momentum of the country.  If you think that action is the solution, I invite you to initiate action, or volunteer your time and energy with some of the action activities that are being planned, that you do agree with (aka: not protests).