Salvation, like democracy, is an uncertain gambit. As pundits are often fond of reminding us, “democracy is an inherently messy process.” They mean, of course, that as much as we may try, we cannot control or predict its outcome. Yet, if we give up on the process and abandon our faith in everyday people, all hope for our collective salvation in these troubled times may be lost forever.
With this in mind I feel compelled to express my profound disappointment with the cynical, callous, and utterly inconsistent decision by the University’s Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Organizations (ORCSA) to deny the Occupy groups on campus their rightful place as a Recognized Student Organization (RSO). ORCSA gave three main reasons in its November 9th email response for taking this action. First, they believe that Occupy demonstrators are “in line with a temporary political movement,” which is not “sustainable.” Second, they told Occupy members on campus that they could simply network with “Southside Solidarity Network, or similar groups.” Third, they instructed campus Occupy groups that they could petition them on an event-by-event basis from a non-RSO status because, supposedly, they are “very flexible in working with groups (without RSO status).” If any of these excuses/reasons fails to satisfy you, then “you are the 99%.”
Given how comical this ruling is, it seems appropriate to borrow from an old Tina Fey sketch where she famously asks her audience: “Really?” The worldwide Occupy movement is “temporary” and “unsustainable?” Really? How could anyone possibly know that? True, we no longer have a Whig party or a Progressive Party in America but how could anyone have predicted that when they were first emerging? As Wall Street itself reminds us, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. In this way, all political movements are bound to be temporary. Are the Democrats and Republicans somehow less temporary and more sustainable going forward because they have been around longer, and we can never imagine them as one day folding or being replaced by something better? Really? I thought our campus was the home of big ideas.
It baffles the mind that the University’s ORCSA would so flippantly presume that a global movement taking place simultaneously in over 2,400 cities across the globe, whose participants are committed to permanent action, must somehow be a fleeting fad (like, you know, rock and roll, hip hop, personal computers, etc.). The systematic and coordinated crackdowns currently taking place against demonstrators across the nation betrays the fear that Occupy is here to stay and that the powerful want them gone.
A simple inquiry to the Occupy groups on campus (with over 100 registered members across two known listservs which are expanding every day) would have informed ORCSA that participants certainly do not think of what they are doing as a temporary set of activities or some fleeting ideology. To borrow a quote from Slavoj Zizek in his recent article for the UK Guardian, the truly unsustainable ones “are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are.” The system itself is unsustainable. Environmentally, economically, socially, and, indeed, politically, we are ‘always-already’ approaching an end. Things cannot go on like this forever.
ORCSA’s second claim was that Occupy should simply network with Southside Solidarity Network (which, by the way, it is already doing). This implied that such an arrangement would negate any need for the funding, resources, etc. that RSO status provides. Such an argument is also a non-starter. Couldn’t this equally be argued for any applicant or group on campus? As I was quoted in the Maroon on November 11th, this is just as silly as telling “the karate club [which is not an RSO] that they should work with the aikido club [which is an RSO].”
Perhaps more analogously to the Occupy movement, what if students wanted to start a mixed martial arts club? Would they be denied and told to just be happy with the aikido club? Sure, there might be some crossovers but these are two totally separate systems with two totally different philosophies that cannot be neatly reduced to one another. Just as mixed martial arts is an eclectic umbrella organization that draws on a number of different pre-existing models, so too Occupy is a unifying movement that hopes to bring people together who are often already participating in other socially conscious projects to form an entirely new, all-encompassing mass movement. In this way, the Occupy movement might best be thought of as the mixed martial arts of social activism and the hip hop of political mobilization, sampling, cutting, and remixing old forms to create something new.
ORCSA’s final objection is perhaps its most absurd. Couldn’t every group on campus operate from a non-RSO status if they had to (just as Occupy is now)? Why do we even have RSOs to begin with if not to forge institutional links within the larger campus community and provide funding for all the different student groups who are interested in thinking, playing, and acting together within small autonomous collectives? The University’s funding for student extracurricular activities is a very important part of our campus community and should not be taken lightly. Recognition does matter. ORCSA has already attracted criticism from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nationwide non-partisan civil liberties organization, which publishes The Torch and sent a letter of condemnation to President Zimmer on Tuesday regarding the Occupy RSO decision.
Yes, the Occupy groups on campus will continue to act with or without University support. When Condoleezza Rice and Henry Paulson eventually decide to reschedule their event, Occupy will surely be there, whether the University recognizes them or not. But does the campus really want to risk being on the wrong side of history in what has already become the most widespread political movement in America since the Civil Rights struggle? The Zombie Readiness Task Force, which I regrettably referred to as the “Zombie Task Awareness Force” in my November 11th interview (respect due), is funded by the University for the valuable work it does in keeping our campus safe from Zombie attacks. Certainly the University can also fund the Occupy movement to help protect us all from the ideological zombies walking around campus (Paulson) who eat the living and turn them into the walking dead in pursuit of a religious devotion to laissez-faire imperial capitalism. Which is really the bigger threat to our campus and our democracy? Really.
Guy Mount is a Ph.D. student in the history department.