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Park '12: Why we need an Occupation on this campus

Brown, as sorely as Wall Street a month ago, needs to be occupied. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even next week, but soon.

When I express this sentiment both on and off College Hill to students and non-students, many of whom I consider political allies and friends, I am frequently asked a simple question: why?  

So, why an occupation and, more specifically, why here?

"Why occupy?" is best answered by pointing to what is different about the occupations of today compared with those of the past. Previously, occupations have been disruptive forces seeking to satisfy a particular set of demands. As disruptive as some elements of the present global occupations are, that is not what is most significant about them. They don't merely interfere ­­— they also do precisely the opposite.

In a society that has been structured to interfere with people's ability to come together outside controlled spaces, limiting political participation and economic interaction, these interventions are creating spaces where people can assemble to discuss and address needs great and small that are not being met by our societal institutions.  

People are beginning to speak their minds and talk to each other about their needs publicly and persistently. They are practicing solutions daily. Marshall McLuhan's old adage applies: "The medium is the message." As people talk and take action together, they are increasingly cohering around collective needs and demands.

Many readers sympathetic to the movement will have read this and not see what it has to do with Brown. Aren't Brown students already incredibly privileged? What else do they need?

To me, there are three problems with these questions. I'll address the less controversial one first. Let us all remember that students are not the only members of our community and that some of those members ­— most particularly those who work to keep this place functioning and our students fed — have nowhere near the sort of privilege the rest of us do.

In a community in which some members are privileged and some are not, those with privilege need to work toward exercising that privilege away from its expansion and preservation, while collectively and voluntarily redistributing it to all. These conversations are too frequently held without the participation of those without privilege. But what these occupations show is that, regardless of our position, we all need to work together toward a new society, and we are capable of doing so.

The second problem is the tacit assumption that the already privileged have no role to play in creating a new society. While there is a lot of wonderful work happening at Occupy Providence in Burnside Park, there are far too few students involved. But to assume that the way to attract students is to complain that too few are involved is ridiculous. It traps us in the same problems the left has faced for decades. We need to reach out to everyone on their own terms. For full-time students used to their privilege, this means slowly bringing them in. One way we could do that is by bringing an occupation into this community in active solidarity and communication with Occupy Providence. We need to play up the joy of this process — including the excitement of breaking rules — to attract people who would otherwise not be interested.

The third problem is this idea that the privileged, and, in particular, privileged students, do not have needs or that their needs are not valid. Some of us who are committed to creating a new society have very specific needs, many of which are not exclusive to the privileged. We need to have opportunities to work that do not contribute to already existing social problems — something that jobs at investment banks, consulting firms and well-intentioned but shallowly-executed community service programs like Teach for America do. We need to know that our tuition dollars are not going toward the sorts of investments that produced the financial crisis or aid in the production of arms or the destruction of our planet. We need to see our University playing an active and positive role in Providence, and we need to facilitate that.

I am not interested in predetermining or prejudging anyone's needs. I just think that everyone needs to be recognized as a real person with real needs. Many of us, but not all, have our material needs satisfied, at least while we are still in school. I do not say this to reassert the already over-valued desires of the privileged, but rather out of recognition that if this is going to be a democratic movement, it needs to make room for and recognize the needs of everyone.

Brown needs to be occupied, and tonight at 7:30 p.m. you can join us on the Main Green for a one-night stand.

Julian Park '12 is just trying to occupy himself. He can be reached at



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