Apathy or Wisdom?

The Occupy America movement has reached Stanford, like most college campuses, and already people are tired of hearing the words “occupy” and “Wall Street” in the same sentence.  It’s all over the news and it is the main activist event happening at Stanford these days.

Not surprisingly, nothing seems to have come of it, despite the ferocious efforts of the protesters who even went so far as to spend their afternoons sitting in a circle and sharing their testimonies of the age-old story of the atrocities of big business.  Did this handful of students and professors, and the larger portion of the crowd that came from Occupy Oakland, really think they would start a campus-wide movement which would spark other campus upheavals, to the ultimate benefit of the entire nation?

The failure to spark a movement larger than thirty-odd activists has been repeatedly attributed to a general apathy of the student population.  They claim that we simply do not care about the movement, or at least do not wish to get our hands dirty.  What does not seem to occur to them is that the student body may in fact share different views about the Occupy movement.

Unfortunately, the Occupy Wall Street movement is no longer just focused on Wall Street; it has become a protest against big business in general.  Stanford is a very pro-business university and is famous for its top-tier Business School.  In fact, last year 36% of Stanford GSB students were recruited by Wall Street.

If you ask the average Stanford student, you will discover that she is determined to use her well-earned Stanford degree to lead a successful career and a happy life.  She had to work hard to get here, and she wisely takes advantage of the opportunities Stanford provides to help her reach the next stage in her life.  Stanford students understand the value of success and that it is a worthy goal.  The idea of punishing successful businesses does not resonate with Stanford students.

Now, there are many issues surrounding the Wall Street fiasco, and I am not trying to claim that most Stanford students approve of what Wall Street is doing.  But the Occupy Wall Street movement does not take a structured approach in proposing and agenda for change. Fortunately, Stanford students seem to understand that protesting is not the way to go about fixing Wall Street.

At a time when the economy is in bad shape and jobs are hard to come by, it seems like a rather inopportune moment to protest the very businesses which are providing so many jobs in this country.  Perhaps better conditions for the workers are in order, but condemning these businesses as stereotypical “evil corporations” is not going to fix the economy.  Here is where the wisdom of Stanford’s student body kicks in.  We understand that protesting and condemning is not an effective way to bring about reform; instead, we seek to reform through constructive means.  Trying to punish the successful is a recipe for failure.

Interestingly, the student government has played one of the most prominent roles in the Occupy Stanford movement, despite the lack of activist participation in the protests by the Stanford student body.  The ASSU held a round table event discussing “Stanford’s role in the Occupy movement” and “steps for Stanford’s involvement in and contribution to existing efforts.”  What business do they have getting involved with something that the main student body does not support?  This just goes to show how ideologically driven the movement has become.

Indeed the purpose of the protests is as yet unclear.  No one seems to want to say what the purpose is and I am not sure they could tell you their plan of action if you asked.  It is as if they are protesting for the sake of protesting.  Newsflash for the valiant occupiers of this noble institution: we no longer live in the sixties.  The ASSU is misrepresenting the people it is supposed to serve; if Stanford students are not on board then the ASSU has no business getting involved.

The protesters may have the best of intentions, but they do not know how they plan to fix Wall Street or attack the evil corporations.  They just stage a protest because it is the thing to do when they see an injustice.  Or at least, it used to be the thing to do.  The Stanford student body knows, however, that change comes about through constructive means, and not through protests which often prove to be an utter waste of everyone’s time and energy and a general nuisance to the community.  Far from being apathetic, Stanford students simply know when protesting has its proper time and place.

Kenneth Capps is a Junior majoring in History. Please email him with questions or comments at kcapps@stanford.edu.

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