“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win,” American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and political activist Chris Hedges said of the pattern of various movements in American history, including the recent Occupy Wall Street movement.
Invited to speak to a crowd of Occupy Princeton supporters gathered Tuesday evening at Campus Club, Hedges commented on the Occupy movement across the country. A supporter of and activist within the Occupy movement, Hedges started off by discussing the history of radical, socialist and populist movements in America. He then mentioned the current status of Occupy movements, especially the protests in Zuccotti Park, as he has first-hand experience protesting in New York City with the Occupy movement.
Full of anecdotes regarding the Occupy protests, Hedges told the crowd that in Zuccotti Park, the central location for Occupy protests in New York City, “the fastest way to tell if someone is an undercover cop is that they always ask protestors, ‘Who’s the leader?’ ” The police department has done a very thorough job of infiltrating the movement with undercover officers, he added. Further, Hedges said the national government’s deployment of Homeland Security officials to all Occupy movements across the country was “very chilling.”
Hedges also discussed the corporate world that the Occupy movement has targeted. He specifically mentioned a corporation called K-12, a for-profit company that is funding charter schools. “Anytime hedge fund managers become interested in education, they don’t actually care about education but only about the amount of money it will earn them. Very cynical,” Hedges explained.
In addition, Hedges commented on the current environmental issue the United States is facing, as “we are held utterly captive by the fossil fuel industry,” he said. “What are we thinking? We’re sitting here allowing companies to poison our water supply. All of the type of false promises coal companies make is exactly the same language that was sold to those now living in broken coal camps. The only route we have left is civil disobedience.”
Soon after, the talk turned toward the Occupy Princeton movement, with Hedges discussing large educational institutions such as Princeton University. Although Hedges has taught courses at the University, he noted the University’s shortcomings frequently throughout his talk. Among his comments, he said, “Most of the people who sit on boards of universities such as Princeton, half of them probably should sit in jail. The president is paid so much and only based on how much money that is brought in to the University.”
Speaking of his experience teaching at the University, Hedges noted that one of his main frustrations was that at an institution like Princeton the students were far too deferential to the system of authority. “It is heartbreaking to see my students go into the financial sector, because they do not take the freedom to be their own person,” he said.
Furthermore, Hedges noted that the Princeton atmosphere is unique in that “this is the pool by which corporations draws its class of system managers, people who function to perpetuate its system.”
“It’s why you get Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan coming to recruit at Princeton,” he said. “But what you are going to end up being is some mid-level system managers who never see sunlight, who look broken physically and psychologically. That is what institutions are like. They haze in Goldman Sachs. If you have read about the culture of Goldman Sachs, it’s like a fraternity house hazing to winnow out anyone with a sense of autonomy.”
Hedges also fielded questions from the crowd. Full of Occupy supporters, the crowd consisted of a wide range of people from town residents to graduate school students. One Occupy supporter, Polly Korbel ’13, who mentioned that she was a member of the Ivy Club, noted that she was probably the only person in her eating club who supported the movement and asked Hedges if he thought Occupy Princeton should try to grow in numbers.
Noting that Princeton will never be a particularly hospitable place for the Occupy movement, Hedges’ advice to Occupy Princeton members was that “for all of you who are involved in the Occupy movement, don’t get dispirited by numbers. It doesn’t take that many people. You are in the epicenter of privilege and power. For you to stand up with the voice of conscience, it reverberates outward.”