Around 20 students staged a protest and walkout at J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs recruiting events held on campus Wednesday and Thursday. The demonstrations were part of the Occupy Princeton movement founded this fall in response to the national Occupy Wall Street campaign.
The Occupy the Info Sessions protests consisted of directing pointed questions at the recruiters throughout the events’ Q-and-A periods.
Both demonstrations concluded with a "mic check," in which one occupier known as the "point person" stood up and addressed the recruiters and audience with a prepared speech attacking the supposed malpractices of the represented firms.
The remaining protestors followed their lead, repeating each line of the speech to create a call-and-response effect throughout the room.
“Our goal is to open up a discussion at the University level,” said Luciana Chamorro ’12, who attended Occupy Princeton’s first General Assembly held on Nov. 17. “The idea is that it will spread.”
Other participants in Occupy the Info Sessions shared a similar objective.
“My personal goal is to raise awareness,” occupier Robert Joyce ’13 said. “We’re young. These are some formative years. We’re around very smart people and this is our chance to challenge our views.”
Joyce is also a member of The Daily Princetonian's Editorial Board.
In their mic check speech, the protestors repeatedly referred to Princeton’s motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations,” claiming that the actions of investment bank and securities firms violate Princeton’s motto through unethical behavior.
At the J.P. Morgan event on Wednesday evening, the protestors cited lending practices that “helped crash our economy,” eviction of “struggling homeowners while taking their tax money” and support of “mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which destroys our ecological future.”
At the Goldman Sachs event on Thursday, the occupiers modified the mic check speech to pertain to Goldman Sachs specifically, including condemnations of “imposed commodity markets” in 2007 and 2008 that “contributed to the global food crisis with a quarter million people starving” and paying a “mere $14 million in tax” in 2008 “while making a $2 billion profit.” They also blamed the company for trying to "mask Greek debt."
Additionally, the occupiers concluded the speech by addressing the audience of students rather than the recruiters. “Deciding on a future career path is difficult. It deserves serious introspection. When you came to Princeton as wide-eyed freshmen, you probably didn’t dream of working at Goldman Sachs. What happened?” asked Sandra Mukasa ’12, the Goldman Sachs event point person, in the mic check.
The protestors ended the speech by inviting the students to attend the movement’s next General Assembly, tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday. This addition was intended to induce a continued conversation, responding to a criticism the protestors received after the previous J.P. Morgan event, in which the line was not included.
“I think there might be a silent group of students waiting for a group to take action, and this will help them to get involved,” Joyce noted.
The occupiers said they gathered for pre-action meetings both days before the recruiting events in the basement of Campus Club, where they finalized the logistics of the protest, the wording of the questions and the details of the mic checks, including phrasing and execution.
Protesters filed into the information sessions under the pretense of prospective applicants and interested students, dressed in business attire, providing their names and emails on sign-in sheets, picking up pamphlets and chatting with recruiters who approached them.
Once in the room, participants scattered their seating so that they blended into the audience. At every opportunity to ask a question, they raised their hands.
At the Goldman Sachs event, students independent of the movement responded with booing and other calls for the speech-making to stop.
Once the protestors had left the room, many students in the audience apologized to the recruiters for the performance oftheir peers. Both J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs representatives declined to comment.
“I feel like they’re targeting the wrong people,” said an attendee of one of the events, a junior in the Wilson School who asked to remain anonymous. “The people at these events are ones who are obviously interested in working for these companies. They aren’t going to be receptive.”
“It sounds like they’re protesting the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent, and there is some merit at looking at the trends,” said another student who asked to remain anonymous. “What I’m worried about is the young generation that’s protesting and going to have to put upwith the [economic] consequences in their lifetime anyway. There is an importance in the efficient allocation of capital that I think some people don’t understand.”
“I agree that being vocal is an essential part of their purpose,” said one graduate student, who also agreed to speak on the basis of anonymity. “They’re trying to be vocal and visible by stepping into this exclusive event. I don’t know if this is a proper tactic. If this is the best way they thought up, I found it quite disappointing.”
After the conclusion of the mic check, the protestors immediately left the room. The walkout, in the case of the J.P. Morgan event, left less than 50 percent of the original audience remaining.
“Walking out was a strong, theatrical move,” said Derek Gideon ’12, a facilitator of Occupy the Info Sessions, who added that he considered the demonstration a big success.
“We are obviously not going to convince all of the info session to agree with us,” Gideon said. “But we did present an alternate view that will hopefully change the culture on campus.”
While the movement aims to change a campus culture that, organizers claim, presents Wall Street as the next prestigious step in a Princetonian’s career, both Occupy the Info Sessions participants and prospective Wall Street professionals doubt the movement’s ability to reverse this perceived phenomenon.
“I’m not presumptuous enough to think that we can disengage such an engrained relationship,” Joyce explained, though he said he will continue to participate in hopes of reshaping Princeton’s reputation as a “politically apathetic” campus.
“We’ll be better able to fulfill Princeton’s motto later if we’re engaged at a young age,” he said.