The New Student Activism

Ann McClure's picture
Monday, January 23, 2012

Ashley Ward, an aspiring idealist with waning faith in the world, was standing in the newsroom of her college paper at Humboldt State University in Northern California when a fellow student rushed in with startling news. 

Three thousand miles due east, on a tiny patch of Lower Manhattan, people were camping out to protest Wall Street, decrying its stranglehold on politics and continuing enrichment as the economy flatlined. It was the first that Ms. Ward, then a senior, had heard of Occupy Wall Street, and as she learned more about it, her heart glowed. “I’ve been waiting for something to happen for years,” she said. “I was personally starting to get afraid that something like this wouldn’t happen in my lifetime.”

She and a friend resolved to bring Occupy to their campus. They printed fliers, set up a Web site and blasted out e-mails. They told as many people as they could about their action plan. On Oct. 1, they held a sprawling, consensus-style meeting on campus, a version of the general assemblies being held in Zuccotti Park in New York, and set up tents. And thus was born one of the first Occupy Wall Street college protests.

Occupy protests rapidly sprouted at other campuses: hundreds nationwide currently have or had some sort of Occupy-related activity going on. Mirroring the broader movement, students have taken aim at widening income disparities and the cozy symbiosis between Washington and Wall Street. But the college occupiers have also embraced a panoply of causes, localizing and personalizing their protests in a way that has lent an immediacy and urgency to their outcries.

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