The Occupy Movement, or whatever is left of it, has been characterized by a series of ideological near-misses. Protesters accurately identify a problem – Wall Street cronyism, the rising cost of healthcare, the lack of quality jobs – before demanding more of the intervention that accelerated those problems in the first place. Short-term social justice always trumps long-term solutions.
The University of Michigan’s own Occupy group, “Occupy UMich,” is no different. I got excited when I saw their banners; they seemed to echo what I have been saying since I came to campus. Raise hell not tuition! Right on! Let’s show those fat cat administrators!
Then I went to their website. Their mission statement told me everything I needed to know:
We, the true motor of the university, have two options: either continue to be passive consumers of a product that should not, cannot, and must not be for sale; or, reclaim the university as a public space whose true owners are the students, the faculty, the staff, and the community members who make it run. In solidarity with our peers across the country, we opt for the latter vision. We will not stop until we realize it. We are Occupy U of M and we are the 99%!
A stirring manifesto, to be sure. It’s certainly more than one can expect in the age of flash-in-the-pan Facebook protests. And on the surface, Occupy UMich has a lot going for it; generally, any group that is willing to take a jab at Mary Sue Coleman is getting at least something right.
But any time I see the word “solidarity,” I know there’s trouble ahead. Occupy UMich’s righteous fury over tuition rates is used to back up some truly ludicrous policy proposals: the movement’s most explicit goal seems to be converting universities into giant co-ops, which would presumably kept afloat by the enforced generosity of taxpayers. Never mind that attempts to make higher education more accessible through grants and guaranteed loans is fueling the college affordability crisis.
Like the rest of the Occupy Movement, Occupy UMich’s attempts at activism have fallen well short of the mark as well. So far, its members have spoken truth to power by using their generous semesterly student print allotment to post largely incomprehensible fliers everywhere (though I’m not what exactly Rush Limbaugh has to do with the challenges of higher education). The few hand-painted banners I saw today are, at the very least, a nice nod to Vietnam-era activism.
Still, given their utter lack of understanding of the issues facing higher education, it is perhaps not such a bad thing that Occupy UMich has failed to have an impact on campus after all.