CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new class offered this term at Oregon State University puts the Occupy Wall Street movement into a broader context of social movements, historical events and philosophical ideas.
Titled “Political Philosophy of Occupy Wall Street,” the class is the brainchild of OSU faculty members Joseph Orosco and Tony Vogt, who are co-teaching the credited course together.
Both have been involved with the local Occupy Corvallis movement, but Orosco said the course is less about activism and more about educating students about the political, cultural and social underpinnings of social movements like Occupy Wall Street.
“We are really less concerned about what is going on in the Occupy movement itself and more interested in exploring how this is related to American social movements such as the labor and Civil Rights movements, but also global movements,” Orosco said, pointing to the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2010, the workers’ factory cooperatives in Argentina in 2001, and the Zapatistas in Mexico in 1994.
“What social movements can and often do is change the way societies and cultures talk about themselves – they can change the dialogue,” Orosco said. “And we already see that happening with Occupy, because now Americans are talking about issues of class, about inequality and framing it as ‘We are the majority’.”
Orosco, an associate professor of philosophy and director of the OSU Peace Studies program, gave the example of the feminist movement in the United States, which will be discussed in the class. He said people often ask what the Occupy Wall Street movement wants to “accomplish,” but he said such sentiments miss the broader perspective.
“Social movements often don’t change anything politically, at least in the short term,” he said. “Look at the feminist movement – they were not successful in getting an Equal Rights Movement passed. But did that movement change the way we talk about gender and power dynamics? Absolutely there was a cultural shift.”
Vogt said he is excited as an academic to be teaching a class on a subject that is still evolving, and is happening now. Vogt teaches classes both in philosophy and sociology.
“It’s a pretty rare thing to study something as it is happening,” he said. “We’re really interested in the kinds of ideas and philosophies that animate this movement.”
There are about 20 students, both undergraduate and graduate, in the class and they come from a broad range of backgrounds. Sophomore Zack Lee said he is from a privileged background, having attended exclusive private schools in his native city of Bangkok. He said he chose to go to a public university because he wanted to interact with a greater diversity of people.
“I really want to understand more about people from other backgrounds and perspectives,” he said. “I feel like you can’t really know how other people live unless you have tried to put yourself in their place.”
While some of the students expressed solidarity with the Occupy protesters, others said they signed up for the class just to learn more and be better informed.
“Protest is a barometer for a certain point in society where people have really reached their limit,” said senior Natalie Rich. “Even though they may be on opposite ends, both the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement are, I think, saying that something is not right.”