When Gandhi began his 100-mile march to the sea at Jalalpur, only 74 people set out with him. But when he reached his destination and broke the salt tax law, he stood with 60,000. “With this I am shaking the foundation of the British empire,” he said.
At Occupy Providence’s Teach-In on the Occupy Movement last night, Vazira Zamindar, associate professor of history, compared Gandhi’s march to this historical moment, noting that students were the first people to join Gandhi.
“Numbers matter for non-violent civil disobedience movements to work,” she said. “As a historian, let me tell you that it’s been done before, and you can do it, too.”
The organizers sought to bring faculty into the discussion through the event, which filled Solomon 101 with students, community members and Occupy Providence protestors.
“Professor Zamindar and I received emails from two separate students talking about Occupy Providence and asking ‘Where are all the professors in all this? What do they have to say about it?’” Naoko Shibusawa, also an associate professor of history, told The Herald before the event.
“There is amazing synergy between students who reached out and faculty who came forward,” said Zamindar before the event.
Professors from departments including economics, history, sociology and political science spoke at the event, each lending their own expertise to contextualize the movement. After each set of speakers, there was a question-and-answer session.
Mark Blyth, professor of political science, asked “What do the riots in London, the uprising in the Middle East, the financial crisis in Greece and the Occupy movement have in common? They’re all the same thing.”
Blyth went on to explain, “The banks are too big to fail and they know it — and they know I’m there to bail them out.”
This system prevents the proper handling of financial downturns, he said. “It’s good to fail. That’s how we learn.”
Francoise Hamlin, professor of Africana studies and history, said her “head was spinning at the correlation between this and the civil rights movement.”
She read a passage from “Warriors Don’t Cry,” a memoir written by one of the “Little Rock Nine,” the first group of black students to attend Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
“Their Goliath was white supremacy,” she said. “We have the opportunity to take down our own.”
There were also speakers who brought a different kind of expertise. Kevin Barry GS, a former police officer, discussed police brutality. “Above anything else, the primary mission (of the police) is reaffirmation of social order through force,” he said.
Though police have a continuum dictating what level of force is appropriate, “an officer does whatever it takes to overcome resistance and uses the continuum after the fact as justification,” Barry said. He added that police officers often skip levels, escalating from “verbal commands to lethal force.”
Community members — such as a member of the Rhode Island Anti-Sexism League and representatives from Occupy Providence — spoke last at the event, which lasted over three hours. By the end of the event, the auditorium was half-full.
Other speakers at the event included Professor of Africana Studies Barrymore Bogues, Professor of Economics Ross Levine, Associate Professor of History Robert Self, Associate Professor of Africana Studies Corey Walker, Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media Lynne Joyrich, Professor of Sociology Michael Kennedy, Assistant Professor of Theater Arts and Performance Studies Eng-Beng Lim and Professor of Sociology Patrick Heller.
“I think it’s awesome that teachers are involved, but I got the most out of the community members,” said Emily Doyle ’13. “They’re the ones who have seen what’s happening in Providence and are motivated to change it.” She said she thought it was a mistake to schedule community members to speak last.
Wendy Holmes, a retired professor from the University of Rhode Island who was in the audience, said she was “very encouraged to see young people taking the lead.”
“I’m sick of being one of the 20 white-haired people in the crowd with a sign,” she said. “My friends and I are very hopeful about this movement. We won’t camp out, but we’re willing to provide support.”
Occupy College Hill will hold a meeting today at noon on the Main Green.