My Portuguese class is advanced grammar and conversation with Brazilian cultural content. Today we streamed Occupy São Paulo on the Internet to listen to Portuguese and see how much everybody could understand without subtitles or a written script. Then we discussed Occupy in general; here is what the students said, along with some demographic information about them.
♦ 2 graduate students in another Romance language, both 22, 1 American and 1 foreign: Not aware of Occupy.
♦ 1 graduate student in English, African-American woman, 30ish, non elite background but upwardly mobile although Alternative: It is nice but it is very middle class. Its issue is falling out of the middle class; other people were never in that class in the first place. This makes it a little hard to take seriously, but it may have potential.
♦ 1 non matriculating graduate student, taking class for fun but IRL in the workforce, white male, 30ish, very poor background, currently a weekend Occupier: True, but many people my age really are struggling; I was able to save for college by working and got Pell grants; the same is not happening for my younger siblings; it was always hard to be poor and/or Black but it has gotten noticeably worse recently.
♦ 1 senior 24, middle class white male, has job gotten through middle class connections but is supporting self on said job, fellow traveler of Occupy: It may be middle class, but if you are going to have capitalism you need a middle class or the markets will fail. Furthermore, I come from a very policed and exhorted generation: my parents, who are in their 40s, threatened me with doom if I did not do everything just right, so I honored them, repressed my true interests and did everything “just right,” and I face doom anyway, so I reject the conservative advice of my 40something parents. And what is distinctive about me and people my age is not that we are digital natives, it is that we have seen women working and in positions of power since birth, and we have had friends of all races and sexualities since junior high. And the Democratic Party does not accept it but I am to their left in every way, and I am here, and I will be heard, and when I and people like me are older and are in power we will not be quailing to pragmatism and prudence the way people in their 30s and 40s are now.
♦ 1 senior 22, Brazilian-American woman, European appearance, middle class, has job and scholarship and help from parents: Occupy has good goals but nobody is ever going to understand the non hierarchical structure, so they should dump it for strategic reasons. It also leaves them open to infiltration from the FBI and makes them more vulnerable to police repression. Defining a program more clearly and having a more generally comprehensible organizational structure would help to protect them and also to propel them forward. Another advantage of a more traditional organizational structure would be the ability to dissociate themselves from the ignorant, who give them a bad name and confuse the public.
♦ Non matriculating graduate student, from above: The ignorant and the police are risks we are taking. Individual groups are not disorganized, although the organizational structure does not look traditional. It is important to maintain the autonomy of the individual groups. Our reasons for “leaderlessness” have already been published and I refer you to these documents, so as not to take up too much time here.
♦ Professor Zero: I am concerned about the FBI issue. And I get bored with the concensus process; it is one of my failings. But I see many advantages to not having Presidents and so on. As far as the ignorant — perhaps I am not concerned enough about this. I am oversensitive to many things but oddly sanguine about dealing with the fringe elements from the Spartacus Youth League, and the random “power to the people” types who also always gravitate to venues like these. I just identify them and bracket them, and help the group Just Say No to their weird proposals. Perhaps I should be more concerned about them.
♦ 1 senior 38, Spanish American national, US resident, lower middle class background and economic status here, returning student, graduate school bound in Latin American Studies: If Americans understood their own Civil Rights movement better, or had any knowledge of Latin American social movements; and if anarchism were not so stigmatized here and people were able to wrap their minds around it a little better, they might be able to relax and realize that this is just a first wave and that it need not define a specific agenda at this time. Groups may form from OWS which do a variety of different things, including writing model legislation and other “within the system” activities, but the movement itself is a social movement, not a political movement; if people understood this distinction they might be more accepting.
♦ Non matriculating graduate student, from above: Wouldn’t you say, though, that it is political by its very nature?
♦ American graduate student 22, from above: Don’t you think, too, that the rich are just always getting richer? I mean, it is kind of a fact of life, isn’t it?
♦ Professor Zero: Well, what strikes me as far as the situation of being a college student of any socioeconomic class is that I went to what is considered a very elite university for college but in the year I started it had an acceptance rate of 77%, which I consider accessible. And it was inexpensive enough that a year’s tuition could be earned in 200 hours of minimum wage work — that is, during the summer you could work five weeks and make tuition for a year. If you then worked five more weeks you would have rent for the academic year, and in another two you would have books. That meant that during the year you only had to work enough to pay for food, utilities, and clothes. So if you had parents of good will who were willing to put you up during the summer, or if you had a Pell grant, or a scholarship, you could get a degree from this really good university without working so much during the academic year that you could not make a graduate or professional school-worthy GPA, and/or going into so much debt that you were not in a position to go to graduate or professional school.
♦ 1 junior 38, white woman, working class background and income now: Well, as far as generational attitudes go, I am in Generation X. We were supposed to be the ones who slacked because there were no opportunities. People Professor Zero’s age worked like the devil in school because they knew they were on the tail end of the opportunity train, and you had better finish your degrees and get a job before it crashed. People my age slacked because we knew things were hopeless, although some got really conservative and self serving so they could get ahead. What I am noticing now is that fortysomethings are the really conservative ones. People in their thirties are half and half. The “millenials” are much more progressive and they have affinities with people raised in the sixties/seventies and earlier for that reason. I disagree that they are more “entitled” and “spoiled” and are greater beneficiaries of the “system.” I find them to be less compromised with older concepts of patriotic citizenship, less nationalistic, and far less sexist and heterosexist. I don’t think that “having Black friends” is sufficient as antiracist work, but I do think the racial dynamic is far less fraught in this generation than among older people, and I think that is an important difference.
♦ Senior 24: I don’t want to give up. I would rather be sympathetic than pragmatic. I don’t want to give in. My parents are apologists for the status quo and I don’t want to be that.
♦ Spanish American senior: Professor Zero said in another class that these neoliberal policies and plans were drafted in the seventies and progressively implemented, but I think the current set of problems stems from 9/11/20o1. That is when civil liberties were cut and surveillance and torture legalized, and it is when we started spending these outrageous amounts of money on two wars. That changed the country and ruined its economy and the world’s. That is the country, and the world we have given to the “millennials,” and that is why they are angry now.
And then it was time to leave. I do have thinking students.