Everyone, from Princeton students to Fox News analysts, has attempted to read through the rhetoric to find the true purpose of Occupy. The protestors themselves have no set ideological bent, so at the moment it seems fruitless to do so. Instead, Princeton students should focus on the common theme to which Occupy has committed and which Geronimus referenced in her article: Occupy Princeton’s claim that through its General Assembly it has provided an opportunity for open political discourse for “all voices to be heard.”
But, in my opinion, Occupy Princeton has done everything but allow for open political discourse. At the actual Occupy Princeton General Assemblies, the structure of the proceedings and the human microphone employed by the movement’s leaders prevents the expression of multiple ideas and does not accord dissenters the opportunity to speak. This attitude is reflected in informal discussions on campus as well. When I have tried to discuss Occupy Princeton with my friends affiliated and unaffiliated with the movement, at the first sign of a critique I am met more often than not with, “Oh, of course, you just want to go make money on Wall Street,” “Don’t you care about the economy at all?” or my favorite: “You’re so politically apathetic — how Princeton of you.” Are we all suddenly politically apathetic if we don’t support Occupy Princeton?
When Princeton students are asked for their thoughts on Occupy, they mostly respond with passive agreement because it represents the first instance of political activism on campus in decades. How many times in my short three months here have I heard the phrase “Princeton is politically apathetic”? Sure, by no means are we UC Berkeley, but saying we “only care about our Orange Bubble” is, by and large, a cop-out. There are plenty of political organizations on campus representing a variety of views. For example, the revitalized DREAM Team is creating a petition, signed by hundreds of Princeton students, that asks President Tilghman to publically support the DREAM Act. To be fair, most political organizations do not march on Frist North Lawn or mic check a J.P. Morgan information session, but they definitely do exist. To say that you support Occupy Princeton simply because it is a movement is a disservice to the Princeton community and the main Occupy Wall Street protestors.
Further, the methods of Occupy Princeton don’t exactly encourage open political discourse. Whether you are in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement as a whole, mic checking an information session should be discouraged. The students that attended the information session simply wanted to obtain more information about the company. A group interested in creating a forum “for all voices” would have tried to encourage potential J.P. Morgan internship applicants to rethink their decisions by engaging in a constructive debate in which both sides were on equal footing. During the mic check, the Occupy participants did not engage in a debate but simply imposed their views on those present. What if a potential J.P. Morgan internship applicant were to come to a General Assembly meeting and start talking loudly about commodity risk management? Without a doubt, this would be considered rude, yet the J.P. Morgan mic check has almost universally been hailed as a political triumph or, at a minimum, “something cool.”
My most significant issue with the Occupy Princeton movement is its monopoly of Princeton’s unofficial motto, “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Since Occupy has come to Princeton, a student planning to work on Wall Street is “in the nation’s disservice,” is simply another hamster on the proverbial wheel. Occupy Princeton is, of course, entitled to its numerous opinions, but I ask whether they have ever considered the possibility of Princeton students planning to change Wall Street from the inside. Many of us do agree that the wealth gap in our country is a serious issue, and one that is related to the financial market. To that end, many are working toward their diploma and their Wall Street positions in an effort to learn how to execute reforms. Implementing change may actually be a lot more difficult than protesting against the system.
Though Occupy Princeton has given us all something to talk about, it has not fostered any productive political debate. As Aaron Applbaum ’14 discussed in his article on Jan. 9, Occupy Princeton has the potential to modify its tactics so that it can become a powerful but respectful political voice in the upcoming elections. Yet, Occupy’s actions to this point have not been directed toward that goal. Occupy should be more understanding of different views and more willing to hear the other side in formal and informal settings. From its scattered perspective on numerous issues to its “civil disobedience tactics,” Occupy Princeton has made political activism at Princeton just as polarized as its primary slogan. “Either you’re with us or against us” didn’t work before, and I doubt that it will work now. Instead of opening the door to “all voices,” it has effectively shut it.
Elise Backman is a freshman from Sea Bright, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org