Tufts Professor’s Op-Ed Supports Occupy Boston

Published October 4, 2011 in the Tufts Daily student newspaper. 

By Gary Goldstein

Several articles, op−eds and an editorial have appeared related to Occupy Boston. I went down to Occupy Boston Sunday afternoon. I ran into another Tufts faculty member and an alumnus. It wasn’t easy to find other Tufts people among the several hundred encamped there. I know some of you were there.

Why did I go down to Occupy Boston? I saw the news that 700 “Occupy Wall Street” people were arrested in New York City! Is that freedom of speech? “Freedom of speech” for large corporations, e.g. Bank of America, Exxon−Mobil and General Electric was recently guaranteed by the Supreme Court. Corporations can virtually buy politicians and elections. What about the rights of citizens to protest? You might say, “Well, they blocked traffic!” What could threaten civil order more, blocking traffic and the inconvenience it causes, or taking away people’s homes, employment, health benefits, retirement pensions and education opportunities? Do we sit back while corporate and government policies leave 25 million people unemployed or underemployed? Do we accept that sending people away to endless wars of destruction is how our economy should be funneled? Do we accept that the United States has the highest prison population — well over 1 million — among industrialized nations? Do we tolerate the further erosion of opportunities for the growing numbers of poor among us? Well, 700 people who do not accept and tolerate these intolerable circumstances were arrested for speaking, shouting, protesting and marching. So I went to Occupy Boston. I urge you to do the same.

The Occupy Boston camp is a very impressive undertaking. People, mostly under 40 years old, are very well organized in non−hierarchical, open democratic ways, committed to the cause of economic equity and settled in for a long haul. They are attracting local media attention, at least for now. The police are not large in numbers. The feeling is very upbeat and hopeful. I am reminded of sit−ins, teach−ins and occupations of administration buildings over many years of being politically active during my time at Tufts and earlier. It is a good feeling! It will grow.

The criticisms that there is not a single guiding message or an identifiable leader are premature and, perhaps, misguided. Successful movements don’t spring up, fully formed out of nowhere. They build gradually, attract more and more attention and gel around central issues. Looking back at popular history can be misleading. Charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela didn’t appear overnight with full−blown movements of thousands. They emerged from long struggles carried forward by hundreds of anonymous supporters of causes and strategies that cohered over time. Workers’ rights, gay rights, women’s rights, social welfare programs, unionism, the ending of the Vietnam War, the reduction of nuclear weapons all resulted from the efforts of thousands of people, now unknown, who were fired up to demand change.

We should support the beginnings of a movement that aims to ameliorate the social and economic inequalities that now plague the United States. We see huge corporations and banks cutting costs and workers, sending work abroad, while pulling in record profits. Most members of Congress spend their days cutting budgets for social programs, education, health and welfare, scientific research and grants for states and cities. The results we see — increasing unemployment and misery for many, especially among minorities, while the United States wages indefensible, enormously expensive wars of destruction, ruining the future for Americans and threatening the rest of the world. Tufts students are not immune. The search for suitable jobs after graduation will be difficult.

We are living in difficult times. Without support for meaningful change we will be left with declining prospects for the fair and equitable society that we all hope to inhabit in the future. There is much hope in this new movement. Go downtown to Occupy Boston! With your support and participation we may see a movement grow and succeed.

Gary Goldstein is a professor of physics and astronomy.