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Stanford offers its own take on the Occupy movement

On Friday afternoon, students and faculty held Occupy the Future, an event that included teach-ins and a rally on White Plaza.  Participants were encouraged to protect the environment, fight corporate influence on politics and help their fellow students at the University of California.

L.A. Cicero Occupy the Future

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"Despite what the laws of physics might say," read a handout found at Meyer Library last Friday, "it turns out you can occupy both the future and the present."

Translation: Occupy Stanford, which emerged a couple of months ago in tandem with similar movements nationwide, has been joined on the protest stage by Occupy the Future, a more academic, broad-based alliance that Friday organized a series of teach-ins followed by a rally at White Plaza.

The messages of the two groups are similar, though the range of actions may be different. Occupy the Future grew out of the initial Occupy movement; as sociology Professor Doug McAdam told the San Francisco Chronicle, "other tactics are needed to broaden the movement and give it legs."

Occupy the Future has a manifesto signed by six faculty members: Paul Ehrlich, biology; David Grusky, sociology; David Laitin, political science; Rob Reich, political science; Debra Satz, philosophy; and McAdam.  It pinpoints the three issues at the heart of the protests: income inequality, environmental sustainability and corruption of democracy. Brief articles by Ehrlich, Reich, McAdam and other members of the faculty who support Occupy the Future have been posted at the Boston Review.

At one of Friday's teach-ins, Reich labored to explain the points of the manifesto over the din of the Crothers Dining Hall in the Arrillaga Dining Commons. With hundreds of students chatting as they ate and a construction crew behind him wielding electric drills on scaffolding, Reich delivered a passionate defense of democracy and a call for action.

"The ladder is rigged," he said without a hint of irony. "The dream of social mobility is corrupted." He was not the only speaker to ask Stanford students to look at their brethren at the University of California, many of whom can pay for their education only by taking on massive loans. Reich pointed to a "supermajority" of Americans who believe the rich should be taxed. But the voices of the supermajority do not reach legislators, he said, because they've been bought off.

That was Reich's Superman moment, as he unbuttoned his button-down shirt to reveal a white T-shirt beneath reading "I ♥ taxes."

Moving back to his audience, he reminded them of Stanford's DNA, its tradition of entrepreneurship and innovation.

"You are the educational 1 percent, and that's something to be proud of. But Stanford should not be a conveyer belt to the social 1 percent. Don't go with the flow," he said.  Stanford students "want to disrupt things, try out new technologies, new projects. So be disruptive, be innovative, take risks – but do it about citizenship."

Across the way at Stern Dining Hall, Ehrlich, one of Stanford's living legends, held court and took questions in a somewhat tamer atmosphere. Ehrlich's topic was "Equity and the Environment." Some 50 students gathered at a large round table to discuss, among other things, the role of scientists in social change.

Their woefully minimal role, said Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies, is a direct result of an antiquated approach to environmental studies in higher education, "so it's no surprise that our current problems can't be answered."

Basically, university departments correspond to Aristotelian notions of knowledge, he said, and scientists are judged by their publications, which are aimed at other scientists.

"But we have to also tell the community why our research is important," he stressed. "The system we have is fossilized. Stanford is better than most – we have the best complex of science and the environment in the world [a reference to Y2E2] – but we have that despite the departments."

Meanwhile, over at Meyer Library, 20 to 25 supporters of Occupy Stanford held a meeting, something they have been doing off and on for several weeks. Unlike their counterparts at state schools, these students are not focused on tuition costs – largely because Stanford can afford to provide generous financial aid.

So they figured that actions around job recruitment for firms such as Goldman Sachs could point to a nexus between the university and Occupy Wall Street.

Aside from the varying tactics, Occupy Stanford has the edge when it comes to T-shirts: a spray-painted stencil of an angry fist clenching a tree.

Occupy Stanford has what it calls general assemblies every Monday and Friday at Meyer, though someone is always there, day and night, manning an information booth. So the regular Friday meeting was incorporated into Occupy the Future's list of teach-ins.

After Friday's teach-ins, held at several other dining halls and throughout Old Union, participants made their way to White Plaza, where the trees were festooned with red banners and musicians kept things jumping while aboute 300 people slowly assembled for the rally.

Ehrlich sat on a low stone wall holding a sign reading, "Climate Denial + Bribery of our Leaders through 'Campaign Contributions' = Environmental Catastrophe."

The lead-off speaker at the rally was President Emeritus Donald Kennedy. Like all other speakers throughout the day, he focused on environmental catastrophe and catastrophic income inequality as matters for urgent reflection and action, and he pointed his listeners' attention a few miles north.

"UC is being starved!" he said. "You all at Stanford have it so good that they ought to get serious help from you. Stanford isn't Stanford without Cal, and Cal isn't Cal without Stanford. So go get them some damn help!"