Occupiers on panel discuss goals, misconceptions, motivations

The Junior Class Council last night hosted an “Occupy Boston Discussion Panel,” a forum where panelists discussed the Occupy movement, describing their personal involvement as well as the goals and message of the protests.

The panel featured Professor of Physics Gary Goldstein and graduate student Romina Green as well as five undergraduate students: freshman Spencer Beswick, juniors Anne Wolfe, Rachel Greenspan and Matt Mclaughlin and senior Alex Weiss.

Weiss shared his take on the goals of the Occupy movement with the audience.

“It’s about taking back our democracy and making it more horizontal and making voices more equal,” Weiss said. “It’s about social justice and economic justice and having policies that actually cater to the majority of Americans.”

Wolfe explained that the movement was focused on eliminating the social and economic disparities between the upper echelons of society and the rest of the world.

“People talk about things like taking the money out of politics and dissolving corporate personhood and making the inequality gap smaller, and I think that’s all built into the idea of working on bringing the top 1 percent and the 99 percent closer together,” Wolfe said.

Panelists emphasized that their primary frustration is not directed toward specific individuals holding powerful positions in government and the financial sector, but toward the system that panelists said allows these people to attain such great power and legal immunity.

They listed concerns including military spending, veterans’ benefits, student debt and cutbacks on “safety net” programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare as sources for their frustration with the current government.

Many of the Occupiers’ demands are far from new to the American political scene, Weiss explained.

“Everything that we’re fighting for is really an extension of the battles that have been fought on class lines … since the beginning of this country,” he said, citing labor and civil rights movements as examples.

The key distinction between Occupy and social movements of the past, Greenspan and Weiss said, is that Occupy strikes at the root of the problem, rather than at specific issues that arise from it.

Goldstein views the Occupy movement as long overdue.

“I wondered when the American public would start protesting … why Greeks were out there protesting, and Italians were out there protesting, and nothing was happening in this country that the media noticed,” he said.

Wolfe voiced a desire to dispel misconceptions about the Occupy movement and its participants. Panelists acknowledged that many of the protesters lean toward the liberal end of the political spectrum, but they asserted that this political ideology is not inherent in the goals or structure of the movement but rather a matter of outreach thus far.

“It’s not just a discourse for radicals, or anarchists, or homeless people, or jobless people … It’s a lot of really normal people who are trying to see how they could make this world better,” Wolfe said.

Members of the movement are trying to bring the messages of the Occupy movement to Tufts, applying its framework to issues within the community, according to Weiss.

“We’re planning on … bringing this horizontal forum to the Tufts community in order to foster a Tufts−wide discussion … about Africana studies, for example, or the controversial issue of potentially offensive language in the wake of the recent sexual assaults,” he told the Daily via email before the event.

Goldstein expressed optimism regarding the future of the movement, citing recent changes in the public and political discourses and the increased media emphasis on issues of social inequality as reasons for the movement’s positive outlook.