The Occupy New Haven encampment has been having a hard time. Reports of infighting and crime on the Green coincide with city efforts to dismantle the site completely. On Monday, city workers took down the wooden barricades surrounding Occupy, calling them a fire hazard. Not to worry, though: Quinnipiac to the rescue!
Not the school, though. I’m talking about the Quinnipiac Native American tribe. Recently, a Quinnipiac chief imprisoned in Texas for charges of rape and kidnapping told the New Haven Independent that he supports the Occupy movement. Furthermore, this chief, Iron Thunderhorse, claimed that the city does not have the authority to evict Occupy from the New Haven Green, as the land truly belongs to the Quinnipiac tribe – and has for as many as 10,000 years.
This doesn’t sound like such a good argument. Occupy doesn’t need the help of QPac. It needs support from Yale! Yalies should fight to help the last remaining Occupy outpost in New England.
At this point, I expect vehement protests from many a reader. I would try to list all of their arguments here, but I would surely be lambasted for missing a great deal of them. Here’s my attempt at a summary: Occupy New Haven is an eyesore; it doesn’t stand for anything; it is rife with crime and bickering; it does not have unified goals; what is it accomplishing anyway? If Occupiers are so worried about economic inequality, why don’t they do something about it? Occupy Wall Street — that was so six months ago!
At first glance, these concerns appear to be valid. Yes, Occupy New Haven has been there for a while, its members — being human — don’t all agree on every point and there have been crimes committed at the site. (It is worth noting, however, that Occupy New Haven has its own security teams to prevent crime.) But no matter what they’re saying, the important point is that New Haven residents are still saying something about Occupy.
The same cannot be said for New York — or most of the rest of the country. A few months ago, the Occupy movement was all anyone could talk about. And in talking about Occupy, people began talking about the broader issue: economic inequality. Nowadays, Occupy has been displaced by Trayvon Martin — which in turn displaced “Kony 2012” — as the issue du jour. That is, except in New Haven.
This country has just emerged from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with levels of income inequality we haven’t seen in decades. While the upper class has been exploiting tax loopholes and influencing elections in unprecedented ways, countless Americans are barely surviving without jobs and without ways to feed their families. This is a problem — one we should be talking about.
Which brings us back to Occupy New Haven. If it goes, we might talk about it for another week or two. But then it will be gone as a matter of public discourse, and so, I fear, will income inequality.
Even if you fundamentally disagree with Occupy, you might agree that everyone in this country should be able to make enough money to put food on his table. You might agree that wealth should not be so concentrated among the wealthiest few individuals. To say that Occupy does not have clearly defined goals or that it seems to lack direction obscures the national movement’s larger significance: They were expressing frustration, and, for the first time in a long time, we were listening.
Even Mitt Romney, the crown prince of the 1%, said, “I look at what’s happening on Wall Street and my view is, boy, I understand how those people feel.” Now that Occupy is no longer on Wall Street for Mitt Romney to look at, will he still sympathize? And, more important, will he still talk about this sympathy in public? Will economic inequality still be as much of an issue in New Haven?
I doubt it. In our culture, advocacy becomes a fad, and without a daily visual reminder, we forget issues as quickly as we embrace them.
This is why Yalies should support Occupy New Haven — we still need it there because there is still so much more to say about the frustration Occupy exemplifies. If the encampment is dismantled — as is looking increasingly likely — I hope that Yalies will continue to talk about what Occupy was trying to accomplish.
Scott Stern is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.