AASHE's 'Higher Education Occupation' Project
The connection between the Occupy Movement and the establishment of a just and sustainable society is sometimes clear and sometimes foggy. To better help us all understand the relationship, AASHE solicited the thoughts of the higher education community. We asked: "What does the Occupy Movement mean to you in the context of higher education sustainability?"
Here are their answers.
"At the core of this new society must rest equal access to higher education for all, no matter what their background or wealth."
Justin Mog, Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives, University of Louisville
The Occupy Movement should give true sustainability advocates reason for hope. Sustainability isn't just about cleaning up our environmental act, but about building a new society that respects people and planet. Sustainability happens when Earth justice meets social justice. At the core of this new society must rest equal access to higher education for all, no matter what their background or wealth. Occupy the so-called 'Ivory Tower!' Demand publicly-funded, affordable education.
Photo credit: Nathan Gardner/The Louisville Cardinal.
"If we do not educate civilization about the critical need to change how people treat each other and their life-support systems, the likely result will be a dramatic collapse."
Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies and President, Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University
Neither higher education nor our society is sustainable today, and will not become so without dramatic changes in the structure and scale of the human enterprise. If we do not educate civilization about the critical need to change how people treat each other and their life-support systems, the likely result will be a dramatic collapse. A social movement is critical if such dramatic change in attitudes and behaviors is to be accomplished - we clearly cannot depend on those on top to generate system change. I hope the Occupy Movement represents the start of such a movement toward greater equity and environmental sanity. For more, go to mahb.stanford.edu.
"We need the boldness of the youth to call out the dated values underpinning the economic and public education systems, to navigate uncharted waters, to innovate and write sustainability into new systems."
Natalie, Sustainability Education Program Coordinator
I once heard it said that colleges and universities must be watchdogs over governments or counterweights to them. Similarly, a professor once instructed me to speak truth to power. Occupy means facing the fact that the current economic system is incompatible with social and environmental justice. But the alternatives are little understood, controversial and largely absent from mainstream media. We need the boldness of the youth to call out the dated values underpinning the economic and public education systems, to navigate uncharted waters, to innovate and write sustainability into new systems. We need to be communities focused on this agenda.
"The expansion of Occupy serves as an important case study in uniting seemingly disparate constituents under a common purpose and working together to forge a better future for all."
Simran Sethi, Associate Professor, journalism
Occupy is a reflection of many facets of sustainability including social equity, consumer protection, environmental stewardship and economic justice. In teaching my journalism students about reportage on socio-economic class and the growing chasm between rich and poor, I highlighted Occupy as a powerful example of citizen journalism and detailed the ways in which the locus of storytelling - and legitimacy around said stories - has changed. We compared conventional news reports about the movement to the stories that were told from within (from tweets to livestreams to blog posts) and talked about the power of the stories we tell and the ways in which narratives impact engagement. This directly relates to my scholarship on sustainability and the critical role of communication in helping people make sense of and activate around sustainability issues. The expansion of Occupy serves as an important case study in uniting seemingly disparate constituents under a common purpose and working together to forge a better future for all.
Photo credit: Simran Sethi.
"...hope for our future."
David Smith, student
It has meant hope for our future. It is about time that the rest of the country is educated of the wrong-doings in this nation. Occupy movements may be the solution to educate others on environmental topics. After Occupy Earth in Washington D.C., I actually believed that as a nation there is hope to stop our environmental atrocities.
David is pictured above marching at the White House on November 6, 2011.
"Higher education should foster life, liberty and happiness..."
Peter Buckland, Ph.D. student and Research and Sustainability Assistant, Pennsylvania State University College of Education
Occupy makes me reflect on America’s founding documents: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' Higher education should foster life, liberty and happiness by helping us live 'of…by…and for' the Creation. We need clean, equitable and convivial cultures made for living consonantly with Nature – including us. Invite the Creation to occupy us as individuals, communities, institutions and our technology with modesty, intelligence and cooperation. Down this path life, liberty and happiness thrive.
Peter is pictured above speaking at Marcellus Protest 2011: Power to the People, Not the Corporations, held at Pennsylvania State University Park on November 18, 2011.
"What neither the Occupy Movement nor many educators are emphasizing enough are the actual ecological limits and the fact that they necessitate for economies and populations to shrink, not grow."
Alex Lautensach, faculty
The Occupy Movement expressed three major agenda or concerns. All three tend to resonate with anybody who is concerned with educational efforts to achieve sustainable modes of living.
First, most Occupiers expressed their dismay at the growing disparity between the world’s rich and poor, caused by the poor getting poorer (in real terms, which means anything but money) and the very rich growing richer (by any standard) at a rate and into dimensions that can only be described as obscene. The middle classes see themselves balancing on the cutting edge of the blade and largely teetering towards the poor side. These trends render the transition to sustainability more difficult as both extreme affluence and extreme poverty create unnecessary environmental impacts and harmful trends that will be difficult to ameliorate. For education, the trends provide useful illustrations of ecological overshoot and of the connections between sustainability and justice.
Second, the Occupiers were particularly concerned about the roles played by banking institutions in the global recession, in the growing disparity, and in the demise of the middle classes while the richest remain well buffered. More than any other non-government institutions, the banking industry contributes and perpetuates unsustainable economic policies and global ecological overshoot. Educational efforts towards sustainability must empower learners to relocate their economic capital away from large banks and towards more local, community-based financial institutions.
Third, the Occupiers protested against government complicity, compliance and inaction in the face of the above wrongdoings. This includes the deliberate delay, distortion, denial and disparagement of information that highlights our overshoot, and the marginalization of critics. Addressing these issues also lies at the heart of education for sustainability.
What neither the Occupy Movement nor many educators are emphasizing enough are the actual ecological limits and the fact that they necessitate for economies and populations to shrink, not grow.
"Occupy UCSC combats the methods of privatizations of our university including tuition hikes, budget cuts and disenfranchisement of communities of color."
Gabi Kirk, student, University of California, Santa Cruz
The University of California, Santa Cruz has a vibrant history of political activism. Occupy UCSC combats the methods of privatizations of our university including tuition hikes, budget cuts and disenfranchisement of communities of color. We are also concerned about new development in the Upper Campus forest, and believe we cannot build more buildings when we cannot afford to pay teachers to fill them. On November 9, we held a rally with speakers powered by a bike generator and performances from the student Mexican folk dance troupe Los Mejicas. After, we marched through our beautiful campus to meet up with Occupy Santa Cruz. I have been involved with both sustainability organizing and the Occupy Movement since September 2009. Both movements have shaped my training and identity as a student activist.
Photo Credit: Jasmin Avila.
"...that the monopoly that the infinite planet model has on our economic (and political) thinking and practice is being broken. It will be easier now for students - and policy makers - to find ways to step outside that outmoded idea system."
Eric Zencey, Fellow, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and visiting Associate Professor, SUNY Empire State College
The Occupy Wall Street Movement had its origin in the pages of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn's "culture jamming" magazine published in Canada. As a reader and sometime contributor to the magazine, I was surprised and delighted to see his call for a Wall Street Occupation take root and grow; it turns out that ideas, critical ideas, can still have influence in the world. Those ideas include a sweeping challenge to neoclassical economics - not from the traditional Keynesian position, but from a more thorough-going critique grounded in the recognition that the planet is finite. Neoclassical economics - the reigning idea system of our day - systematically ignores that simple truth. To me, the Occupy Movement means that the monopoly that the infinite planet model has on our economic (and political) thinking and practice is being broken. It will be easier now for students - and policy makers - to find ways to step outside that outmoded idea system. For me, participation in the movement is a direct extension of my efforts to clarify and communicate what a finite-planet political economy must look like, deal with, acknowledge.
Photo credit: Kathryn Davis.
"[Sustainability and Occupy movements] share a sense of awareness; a willingness to challenge an obsolete paradigm with innovation; a common enemy; and, sadly, a rational sense of desperation and great uncertainty."
Only a few weeks after September 17, the Kent State Sustainability Collective (KSSC) voted unanimously to support any local Occupy effort. There are many ways to describe the connection between both [sustainability and Occupy] movements. A simple way might be to look at the components that give life to both, that is, the people involved. And how are the people of Sustainability and Occupy connected? In many cases they are one in the same. The collective concious of the movements share a sense of awareness; a willingness to challenge an obsolete paradigm with innovation; a common enemy; and sadly, a rational sense of desperation and great uncertainty.
Says Karch about the above photograph: "Occupier Laurie Beekman, our secretary for KSSC occupies her tent in front the local natural foods co-op. Our Occupy demonstration took a different form in Kent. In consideration of Kent's historical context, we developed a strategy called Tent the Town, in which we offered the idea of Community Based Economics as a positive goal-oriented solution to consider. Instead of densly occupying the public space of things the movement is against (big banks and mega corporations), we introduced ourselves to the community by occupying the public sidewalks with a single tent in front of things the movement ought to be for such as local, independent businesses that keep the community's money within the locale. In many ways this strategy let us engage the community in a positive discourse, inject a sustainable idea into the community concious, and a create an effective presence depsite our relatively low numbers."
"On a college campus, you often don’t have to look beyond cafeterias and food courts to see where inequality and sustainability meet. Next to walls lined with posters about 'sustainability,' the workers behind the counter have a different story to tell."
Kyle Schafer, staff, UNITE HERE
At its heart, the Occupy Movement is about inequality. On a college campus, you often don’t have to look beyond cafeterias and food courts to see where inequality and sustainability meet. Next to walls lined with posters about “sustainability,” the workers behind the counter have a different story to tell. Consider these facts:
The annual median wage for food workers on campus in 2010 was $17,176, substantially below the federal poverty level of $22,050 for a family of four (Bureau of Labor Statistics, adjusted for hours).
22% of workers in food preparation and serving-related occupations live in food insecure households compared to the national average of 15% (2010 Census Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Survey).
Ed Childs, a Harvard dining worker (shown above), helped lead a fight for sustainable food and sustainable jobs on his campus. Kellyn Lewis (shown above), a student leader at Northwestern University, led a Living Wage Campaign on his campus. They are just two of many bringing the spirit of Occupy to the movement for sustainable dining on campus.
"Occupy Wall Street confronts the entire institution of the Master of Business Administration, raising deep questions about wealth, social responsibility, managerialism and leadership..."
Ralph Meima, Program Director, Marlboro MBA in Managing for Sustainability
On the evening of Friday, September 30, I happened to read about “The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.” Until then, I had not paid Occupy Wall Street much attention. I was astounded by the breadth of the Declaration’s grievances. Corporate personhood, wealth concentration, debt, the Fed, health, energy, war, environment…exactly what our MBA students and faculty were concerned about. I immediately posted them to an open, public Google doc with an invitation to add ideas for action to the list. This American People’s New Economic Charter, publicized over Occupy livestreams, grew through feverish crowd-sourcing from two to 80-plus pages over three days as hundreds collaborated to express their concerns and hopes about our economy.
Occupy Wall Street has remained relevant for our program’s mission, with several visits to Zuccotti Park, the launch of OccupyMBA.com, and debates about the critical issues raised. For me as a business educator and MBA director, Occupy Wall Street confronts the entire institution of the Master of Business Administration, raising deep questions about wealth, social responsibility, managerialism and leadership - pointing, I believe, toward profound future changes in the way our society will conceive of and do business.
Ralph is picture above with protesters at Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, October 6, 2011.
"The access to education at all levels, the steep increase in student loans for higher education, and the ability to find work upon graduation due to the current state of economic affairs are of great concern to me."
Andrea Louise Cadwell, graduate student, environmental studies, Antioch University New England
The Occupy Movement in the U.S. grew out of social movements and revolutions worldwide including the revolution in Iceland that generated a new constitution and banking system. Followed by the occupation of Madrid’s town square in April 2010, the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt in February 2011 and the occupation of Jantar Mantar in Delhi in April 2011. It was at Jantar Mantar that I began my participation in the worldwide Occupy Movement with activist Anna Hazare. In September 2011, I helped to organize an affinity group in New Hampshire for Oct2001.org, the ongoing encampment on Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and shortly thereafter, I went to Boston to help build the Occupy encampment there. In October 2011, I organized Occupy Keene as part of worldwide Occupation day.
I see higher education as an integral part of the economic and social justice issues being raised by the Occupy Together movement. The access to education at all levels, the steep increase in student loans for higher education, and the ability to find work upon graduation due to the current state of economic affairs are of great concern to me. As Robin Cook so aptly puts it: “Education is more than a luxury; it is a responsibility that society owes itself.”
Higher education serves to generate new pathways in technology, medicine, law, environmental science and ecology, human rights, the arts and so much more. Discourse gives birth to ideas that shape the world we live in. This year in March, Oct2011.org will host NOW, the National Occupation of Washington. Teach-ins, workshops and lectures will be held over the course of two weeks at this time. Academics and students from around the country will join in the effort to reform the structure of student loans and to increase access to higher education for all US citizens. I plan to participate in this event in the hopes that my education will open the doors for others to do the same.
Andrea is pictured above in Jantar Mantar, Delhi, India, "listening to Kiran Bedi announce to the the fasters and crowds that Prime Minister Mohaman Singh and the parliament at large have agreed to the demands of the fasters and the general public: governmental reform that will help to remove corruption in all facets of government."
"...the continuing encroachment on civil liberties is chilling the dialogue that should be surrounding national economic choices and the Occupy movement. We believe that endless war and enormous income disparities are inherently unsustainable."
Susan Jennings, Director, Office of Campus and Community Sustainability, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
The UMass Dartmouth Sustainability Initiative believes that for sustainability to continue to be a vital and relevant force, we must deepen and broaden our conversation to include matters that concern us all. We recognize that Peak Oil and other resource limits are contributing to international economic woes. We also recognize that the continuing encroachment on civil liberties is chilling the dialogue that should be surrounding national economic choices and the Occupy Movement. We believe that endless war and enormous income disparities are inherently unsustainable.
As educators we believe that we should take a leadership role in open dialogue. Our weekly Sustainability Almanac draws from both traditional and untraditional sources to present a balanced and multidisciplinary view of the news. During the upcoming semester, we are also co-sponsoring, along with several other campus entities, a series of discussions and speakers called "Waking Up: Finding our Voices." Our speakers include Naomi Wolf, author of "Give me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries." We will also have discussions about campus free speech zones, as well as ways that students can become involved in issues that concern them.
"We have students graduating with outrageous debt, while big time athletic coaches pull in millions. What’s wrong with this picture?"
Terry Link, former Director of Sustainability at Michigan State University
Income inequality is the most unattended higher education issue related to the Occupy Movement. We have students graduating with outrageous debt, while big time athletic coaches pull in millions. What’s wrong with this picture? It’s time for honest discussions on campuses about establishing a reasonable wage ratio from bottom to top. Can we have a sustainable future with growing inequality?
To get the conversation going we could start here: National minimum wage is only $7.25/hour or roughly $15,000/year. If we think that no one should make more in one year than the lowest makes in a lifetime, then a maximum salary given a 50-year working life would be $750,000. Feeling more generous? The median household income is just under $50,000/year (and falling). A 50 to 1 ratio would cap salaries at $2.5 million. If you want to pay more, you must raise the floor, too! Hire a football coach for $4 million, then minimum wage at the institution should be $80,000/yr.
Successful companies do very well with much lower ratios: Ben and Jerry’s was 8 to 1; Whole Foods was 19 to 1. CEO to average worker ratios are recently estimated at 100 to more than 300 to 1.
"I've had a few people unexpectedly tell me that The Swarm is the best thing they've ever been involved in in their life."
Katherine Ball, student, Portland State University
We got the eviction notice for the camp three days in advance. An emergency general assembly was set up where we broke up into affinity groups and brainstormed a multitude of strategies that we could use to fight the eviction. One group came up with the idea to do an all night bike ride and march around the camps - and it hit me like a wave: The Swarm! This was an action I participated in in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Change Conference.
About 30 people showed up which grew into 125 over the night. Led by a tall bike, we biked in circles around the camp from 11 at night to 8:30 in the morning...weaving our way through the traffic and zipping right next to the cops. The cops hated being sandwiched between us bicyclists and the crowd in the camp, so they retreated to the opposite side of the street with the spectators...everytime we would go past the crowd they would cheer and we would cheer back at them. We would re-electrify each other, like dumping a bucket of water over and over on exposed powerlines...
At 5:00 am, the cops had dwindled so they were single file blocking one intersection, and this kid named Billy riding a classic Schwinn with slicked back hair and a jean bike club vest like he had biked right out of the 40s said: 'Let's bike through them.' So we turned the corner and started towards them, chanting, 'Look who's blocking traffic now! Look who's blocking traffic now!' and the 5,000 person crowd picked it up and we were all chanting in tandem: 'Look who's blocking traffic now!' Everyone went wild as we crossed the finish line.
I've had a few people unexpectedly tell me that The Swarm is the best thing they've ever been involved in in their life. Since then, The Swarm has become a full fledged action group that cycles in solidarity with marches and demos and has even started to organize its own actions.
Photo credit: The Oregonian.
Didn't have a chance to share your voice on this topic? It's not too late! AASHE will include the Higher Education Occupation project in its upcoming 2011 Higher Education Sustainability Review. We welcome more entries here until March 15.
Also check out AASHE's new Affordability & Access page in the Resource Center!
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