Occupy New Haven will not fundamentally change the fabric of American society and government, but at least it is making people talk. It is undetermined, but it has captured enough energy, anger and frustration to shape our political discourse. This protest should make us consider what it means to be Yale students.
To learn from the events on the Green, we must realize that Yale is the 1 percent. We do not all come from wealthy backgrounds, nor will we all be rich after graduation. But Yale has produced presidents and titans of industry and — for better or for worse — we are expected to continue that tradition. Our matriculation here has made us part of the 1 percent. We cannot ignore that identity. Nor can we ignore how it shapes our relationship to these protests.
Protesters are calling for more separation between business and government. Most of us will hold jobs in one of those two fields.
Protesters are calling for less inequality of wealth. Our studies are subsidized by some of the world’s largest fortunes.
Protesters are despairing over the demise of the American dream. Others are calling for its rebirth. We know that dream is not dead because many of us live it.
We have to make sense of those three complaints and their place at Yale. We are university students. Our minimum wage is $11.50 per hour. We spend our time in castles reading Rousseau while they try to live out his theory on the Green. We can go out and protest with the Occupiers and try to act on their demands. Action feels good. But it might not get us anywhere.
Our unique privilege gives us access to the resources we need to better heed the call of the men and women sleeping on the New Haven Green. If Occupy lacks proposals for real solutions, our task is to look for them. Occupy is a call for action— we just don’t know yet what sort of action should follow.
The protesters do not either, and they acknowledge as much. But they know they are angry. We have to remember that this anger exists, and with reason. Everyone, no matter his or her opinion on Occupy New Haven, can grant that this anger is well founded. Many of us are bound for jobs on Wall Street or Capitol Hill, and those careers are legitimate and rewarding. But although those jobs may distance some of us, they do not grant us a license to threaten to Febreze protesters on our way to Goldman interviews.
Instead, we have to consider the root of that anger. It’s based in part on a poor education system, in part on the role of corporations in public life and in part on a host of other factors. When the protests fade, the anger will not all disappear with them. It is our job to remember the distance on Saturday between the Freshman Barbeque on Old Campus and the first Occupy protests across the street on the Green. Neither group could hear or see the other, and the students did not see the young girl on the Green who sat on the ground, holding a sign that read, “LOOK MOM NO FUTURE.”
It is our job to think to the future and ensure that it exists for everyone. Our direction as students isn’t quite clear yet. Nor are the demands of the protestors. But it is the job of a student— and the job of a citizen—to listen to all that frustration and start trying to create a cohesive narrative.