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As Occupy movement quiets, it finds new channels at Tufts, nationwide

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 08:02

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Lizzy Robinson / The Tufts Daily

Last year’s Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square has been replaced in practice and spirit by different activist campaigns.


A movement to define a generation, some called it. Yet after all the media buzz about Occupy Wall Street and its fight for social and economic justice last fall, the movement has a substantially lower profile now. This is also true in the Boston area, with the closure of Occupy Boston encampments and the crackdown on Occupy Harvard last winter.

Professor of Physics & Astronomy Gary Goldstein became involved in the Occupy Boston camps last year and served on a panel at the camps discussing the importance of the movement. Goldstein named several reasons for Occupy’s slowing momentum.

“As far as I’m concerned, there was a major effort in this country to stop the Occupy movement ... sometimes people were pretty violently attacked with clubs and spray,” he said. “Then the winter came. Between the winter and the hostility that was growing from city administrations and police, it got dampened during that winter.”

According to sophomore Nate Matthews, who was active in Occupy protests, the closure of almost all encampments last winter has forced the movement to decentralize into separate causes.

“While Occupy was centered around the camps, it was about people getting together and practicing consensus−based decision making and trying to run a community the way they wanted to see the world,” Matthews said. “Without the camps it was hard to do that, and so what they’ve transformed into is all of these campaigns that have splintered off. All of these similar−minded people met each other ... once the camps ended, they went off and did a lot of things [together].”

According to Matthews, a similar splintering effect occurred last year within the Tufts Occupiers group as it became clear that Occupy in its original form was in demise.

“By the end of last year, Tufts Occupiers decided that since the Occupy camps were gone, there was no point in us being a group anymore,” he said. “At the start there were a lot of liberals and at the end a lot of anti−authoritarians and anarchists were left ... so we created our own group."

Matthews remains involved in that group, called the Tufts Anti−Authoritarian Collective. He said that former Occupiers are now involved in activist groups such as the Tufts Labor Coalition, Tufts Consent Culture Network which works to prevent sexual assault, and the Coalition Against Religious Exclusion (CARE).

“We want to support all of these campaigns, but we decided as a group that there wasn’t much [for us] to do ... the activists are doing these kinds of campaigns now,” Matthews said.

Sophomore Kumar Ramanathan, who is an active member of the latter two groups, credits the Occupy movement with shaping his own activist trajectory.

“The movement is sometimes seen as sort of very out there or radical — and certainly some parts of the movement were — but I think they did a very good job of showing people like me how we could be involved, how we could be active, how we could bring our own political ideas and thoughts into our political involvements,” he said.

Goldstein, who has become largely uninvolved in Occupy, maintained that the movement brought many salient issues to the forefront of political dialogue, both at Tufts and on a national level.

“There are many important issues that we should all we aware of, and the Occupy movement brought some of those issues to the attention of many people,” he said. “I think that they started to energize people politically for many different issues, which has been a good thing that I hope continues.”

Ramanathan said that many aspects of Occupy, both in terms of ideology and structure, have already begun to influence activism.

“I don’t know if the main Occupy movement will make a resurgence, but I think its effects are already being seen and will continue,” he said. “For example, the horizontal leadership, the hand signals that were used in meetings — the form of the movement has really spread across other, smaller movements.”

Ramanathan said he sees the movement’s culture sparking similarly−minded activist movements on the Hill. “I also think that we’ll see more and more coalition building, and more and more a louder single voice for progressive activism on [Tufts] campus,” he said.

The passion and energy that fueled the Occupy camps have not died, according to Dale Bryan, the assistant director of the Peace and Justice Studies Department. Rather they are being repurposed for new projects.

“I think of it more as dormant,” Bryan said. “It’s less visible — you don’t know who is meeting, but surely they are. They are probably working on many more things than we know,” he added. “They’re going to come up with something, something innovative . . . I think it might still be about political and economic inequality.”

Some of the projects born out of Occupy Wall Street have included Occupy Sandy—an organized relief effort to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy stemming in large part from a base of former Occupy protestors—and Rolling Jubilee, another Occupy−fueled project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar in order to then wholly abolish the nation’s debt. As of press time, Rolling Jubilee has raised $560,505 to abolish $11,214,933 of debt.

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