I don’t know about you, but I’ve never—well, not since I was a graduate student making $8000 a year in the late Nineties—felt more a part of the 99%. This may be an unexpected statement from the University Professor (thought by many to be the very embodiment of entitlement—picture gnarled mahogany arm chairs, suede patches on the elbows of Harris Tweed blazers, and a halo of smoke issuing from a Sherlock Holmes-style pipe.) But being a Professor in my field—the Humanities—and therefore, among the lowest paid at Pacific, my status is not quite that beatific. No, I write this as someone who is witnessing an expanding gap on our own campus between the wealthiest 1% and the 99%. Recently, the University made a decision about employee benefits that has forced far too many of us to choose between significant pay cuts or a loss of decent health care for ourselves and our dependents. My salary goes down by $600 per month starting January 1 because the University decided to "incentivize" faculty to opt out of the only health care plan that allows for treatment beyond Stockton, a city which continues to rank among California’s worst in terms of its failure to draw quality medical practitioners. In 2003, I suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy because it wasn’t diagnosed in time by my fertility doctor. Women in the "Third" or "Developing World" die of ruptured ectopic pregnancies at alarming rates; in the U.S., however, the mortality rate is less than 1%. And there’s that number again: at Pacific, health and wealth have become each other’s unlikely objective correlative—to cite T.S. Eliot—but who cares about poets and philosophers when we could be waxing rhapsodic about balance sheets and the bottom line?
Here’s the good news: thanks to our amazing students, "Occupy" is coming to Pacific on January 20, 2012. Though a mutt of a movement that has struggled somewhat with its messaging, the principles around which demonstrators involved in Occupy Wall Street have rallied remain consistent. As one participant in the explosive Occupy DC showdown exclaimed Monday night:
We are challenging systems of oppression in solidarity with people who are most marginalized by inequality, uniting to recognize that economic exploitation impacts all of us, reclaiming public space, practicing direct democracy. The system is broken; we’re building a new one.
As we know from our neighbors in Davis and Berkeley, the violence with which this movement has been rebuffed on college campuses is indicative of the fear that peaceful protest incites. Just what are all those people doing with signs that say "we are the 99%"? Since when did phrases like "grass roots united," "education not war," and posters of whales parading by with "Save the Humans" banners become so scary to people? And why do so many of these aforesaid people belong to the Tea Party? Because they don’t understand the concept of outrage mixed with reason; they prefer disdain seasoned by stupidity.
As someone who went to Occupy Oakland during the media blitz, I craved a similar movement here in Stockton. As it turns out, "Occupy Stockton" has been meeting on a daily basis downtown in DeCarli square. No need for tear gas or rubber bullets here: senior citizens bring their chairs over from the Hotel Stockton across the way, residents of Isleton cross the bridge once a day to lend their support, and two toddlers bang on drums as part of the regular routine; invariably, someone at some point offers to do an impromptu yoga class. Occasionally someone from Manteca will ask, bewildered: "isn’t there a University here?"
Knowing your math matters in Stockton: the unemployment rate is twice that of the current national average, foreclosures continue to surge, the city’s homeless shelter was above capacity 2 months ago, and subsidized-lunch programs reached an all-time high nationally in the same week that pizza was declared a "vegetable" by Congress. Income disparity is something that we used to think happened in that fabled land of "somewhere else," but now it’s coming to a suburb near you. Don’t take it from me—take it from the flabbergasted economists, one of whom observed in The New York Times just last week that "the suburbs" are "the new face of poverty." Let me be very clear: I’m not fear-mongering by suggesting that Pacific students will come to experience income disparity: you already are. This past term, I’ve seen more students forced to drop out of Pacific or spend a semester "off" because of economic hardship than any other year, and it breaks my heart in a way that nothing else does.
Most people think that you’re a bunch of spoiled rich kids whose parents were afraid of sending you to Zoo U. I’ve been here long enough to know better: I know that many of you have more than one job and dependents of your own; and I know it can’t be easy for you. Ultimately, what’s at issue here is whether you see the "us" in your fellow students or the "I" in you, because in the long run, it’s not income disparity that sets the 1% apart from the rest; it’s their attitude. The Occupy movement needs Pacific, and Pacific needs the Occupy movement for the simple fact that, like it or not, we’re all in this together. I urge you to find that part of your moral compass which intersects with the 99%. It’s really not that hard—you can do the math—if you can’t, then you really don’t belong in college. Let’s roar.
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