NGARMBOONANANT: Show protests some respect

On Saturday night, a number of Yale students raided Occupy New Haven. I don’t need to explain how outrageous it is that these Yalies raided the Green. It’s disrespectful and childish and intensifies the protesters’ resentment toward our school. Sure, it’s college, and we sometimes do stupid things. But it’s frightening to me that we can have such disregard for a movement, so much disdain for the Occupiers, that we go out of our way to harass them.

By no means should our entire student population be blamed for the theft. But I think a sense of disregard, even contempt, for grassroots movements of change is pervasive in many parts of our student body today.

How many times have you heard someone say that Occupiers are stupid or that their movement consists of homeless people and pot smokers? How many times have you walked on the other side of College Street just to avoid passing by the protest site? Many of us, including me, have said or done these things. But if we inspect what we’re doing closely, we’ll come to realize that these attitudes are dangerous. They cause us to judge people instead of debate ideas worth discussing.

In general, we have a tendency to think that protest movements are extremist or naïve. We chuckle at Occupy’s “End the Fed” signs. They’re uneducated, we think to ourselves. We ridicule the fact that they’re camping outside in the cold to advocate for something that Congress would never pass. When someone mentions the Tea Party, we automatically prepare a quick, standard retort to what they are about to say: Is the Tea Party actually serious?

These protesters — as uneducated as some of them may be — at least have the audacity to go out and fight for what they believe in. We may not think their views are entirely correct, but they do have a worthy point to make. If we truly believe the Occupy protesters endure living in tents in freezing conditions simply to smoke pot — or Tea Partiers rallied in thousands simply to boost their own egos — then we are the ones who are naïve.

We can’t live in our bubble forever. Regrettably, many of us would rather get good grades and excel in extracurriculars than join protests we can’t put on a résumé. We just don’t feel obligated to speak out anymore. We then caricature protests as places where we, college students, don’t belong. This is the attitude many of us share — perhaps the same mindset of the students who raided Occupy.

This isn’t how it used to be. Forty years ago, Yalies were called to demonstrate against a foreign policy they disagreed with, rallying against the Vietnam War. They marched together and created change. Back then, colleges were centers of solidarity where people who believed in a cause could gather and demonstrate together freely.

Today, in many places around the world, college students still do so. They are the first to create new ideas for resistance. We have some of these people here at Yale, but we need more. I’m not saying you should feel obligated to join a protest group. But if you believe in something, act. If you feel strongly about AIDS prevention, join the ongoing protest to end the ban on federal needle exchange. If you disagree with Occupy, try talking to them.

When Occupy New Haven began last fall, a few suitemates, my freshman counselor and I visited the Green. The Occupiers were in the middle of a daily meeting. They were grouped in a large circle, chanting and yelling. We walked around the outside of the circle and discussed why the Fed was so important in our financial system.

Two teenage Occupiers overheard us and confronted us. They told us to go back to Yale and that our ideas were stupid. They came even closer and yelled in our faces that the Fed was a corrupt organization, that corporations and banks had been cheating them for years and that society was unfair. They told us to take our elitism elsewhere.

Then an older man appeared. He was almost bald, with a grey beard. He extended his arm between us and said softly, “Wait, stop. I want to hear. Why is the Fed important?”

We had to leave the Green because those two teenagers were starting to throw insults at us. But ever since that day, I’ve wished we had the time to explain to the man the role of the Fed in our financial system.

The students who raided the Occupy protests last weekend stole from that old man. But they didn’t just steal signs. They stole from us the ability to have a constructive, civil dialogue, to safely ask questions and to have our outlook on the world respected.

Geng Ngarmboonanant is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at wishcha.ngarmboonanant@yale.edu.

Comments

  • yale13

    awesome article, and i definitely agree with you.

  • Devaghost

    Let’s see…your parents probably hadn’t met when I took Economics. You wanna explain to me…slowly, in small words, because I didn’t go to Yale…why we need the Fed? While you’re at it, could you explain how the WTO works an mibbee the werld bank.

    ‘Scuse me…you’ve got ivy in your teeth. Right there. Here, have a toothpick. Sorry it’s wood and not gold.

  • Devaghost

    “These protesters — as uneducated as some of them may be”

    “They told us to take our elitism elsewhere.”

    Ahem…

  • disneyguy

    Yeah, I appreciate the idea that Yalies all too often dismiss protestors, but that anecdote about your experiences with Occupy New Haven is one of the most patronizing things I’ve seen. Sounds like you have a strange idea of respect.

  • Quals

    Have you noticed the spray painted graffiti imploring “wake up america” and “anarchy” around Silliman that has appeared since occupy showed up?

  • River_Tam

    Not all human beings earn respect, but all should be accorded it.

  • new_haven_raised

    I feel what a lot of you guys are saying in the comments about Ngarmboonanant’s patronizing attitude towards the Occupy protesters. I think you’re missing the main point, though. This whole article is against Yailies being patronizing of others. If anything, the critique I would raise with him is the idea that everyone can dialogue and discuss our ideas openly and honestly. (And also the fact that two teenagers ran him and several friends off a public space.) However, I think what the article really gets at if you give it a close read is that the Occupy protesters are dedicated individuals who should be listened to for the very fact that they give so much to their cause. In other words, anyone who cares that much deserves a baseline level of respect — whether it’s the Tea Party or Occupy movement or Syrian protesters. It’s true that Ngarnboonant says he wished he could “explain” the role of the fed to the old man rather than “discuss with” but I think a certain level of respect for the old man is implicit in his argument and it’s probably poor word choice/editing rather than a huge sign of his elitism.

    • Devaghost

      or elitism so deeply ingrained that no matter how hard he tries…

  • RexMottram08

    I object to the “kiss-in” and I object to stealing property from the Occupy vagrants.

    C’mon, Yale.

    • phantomllama

      Agreed. Manners maketh man.

  • ncfed

    You know, I disagree with stealing signs, however I take offense with the notion that Occupiers deserve and measure of respect. Geng is right in saying that they are uneducated, but I would go so far as to say that they are uncivilized and deserving of eviction.

    They are “occupying” a public area and costing the city thousands of dollars and resources that could be put elsewhere (like police). They are also mostly poor and thus don’t pay taxes, so they are just draining our cities money so that they can go camping. We should respect them why?

    • ihaveahammer

      You know what else doesn’t pay taxes? Yale.

      • ncfed

        Yale gives millions of dollars to New Haven. Occupiers give fleas and dirt. Yale goes out of its way to accept unqualified New Haven students. Occupiers apparently can’t even go out of their way to hold a conversation.

      • River_Tam

        Yale does pay taxes. Voluntarily too.

      • Quals

        And Yale pays for its own shit. These folks get their police protection, bathrooms, and garbage removal paid for by the city. Big difference

        • yale13

          they’re living outside in order to make a statement. quit being an idiot.

    • edm2012

      OMG. so many wrong things with this comment. You’ve never met an occupier, I bet, so you do not know for certain that they are either uneducated, poor, or that they do not pay taxes. And even if all of this were true, they’re still people, they deserve some measure of respect, it’s not like they killed someone…

      • yale13

        agreed.

    • Devaghost

      You know, I disagree with stealing signs, however I take offense with the notion that Occupiers deserve and measure of respect. Not every human being does, you know? I mean, what prep school did they go to? What investment bank does their father work for? Respect is something that parents earn fro their children. Geng is right in saying that they are uneducated, and I should know because I employed the time tested scientific method of making an assumption. I would go so far as to say that they are uncivilized and deserving of eviction and placement in a reeducation camp.
      They are “occupying” a public area as if they had a fundamental Constitutional right to do so and costing the city thousands of dollars and resources that could be put elsewhere (like police to keep those other people who are not deserving of our respect out of East Haven). They are also mostly poor, unlike me and my Daddy and thus don’t pay taxes, just like me and my Daddy so they are just draining our cities money so that they can go camping. We should respect them why? They don’t even wear plaid, sleeveless sweaters.

      • Devaghost

        Gee. I’m sorry. I just realized that I made a whole bunch of negative assumptions about you based on nothing but my preconceived negative assumptions about you. That’s just sooooooooooo wrong! Then again, I didn’t go to Yale and am therefore woefully uneducated so you can’t really expect anything better from me.

  • s2004k1993

    Some of the above comments imply that not only do the occupiers do not deserve respect or indifference, but that they deserve our contempt, the very point which Geng argues against in this editorial. I don’t how if everyone deserves a baseline of respect, but none of these (lack of education, how much one pays in taxes or using public space in accordance with the First Amendment) oblige our contempt. One may need to earn respect, but another needs a very good reason to hold one in contempt.