Well, they’re still there. Since November students have been “occupying” McMaster’s student centre in what they say is a move to encourage the McMaster community to “stand in solidarity with the Occupy Movement occurring around the planet to address the systemic injustices engrained in our society” (taken from an Occupy McMaster poster on their Facebook page).
While this is a noble effort to fight the good fight, I can’t help but wonder if this statement is too vague and idealistic. This has been a common criticism of Occupy Movements around the world, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in particular. What exactly is it they are fighting for? Everything? How does one go about addressing everything? Seems like a monstrous task that can’t be solved by a bunch of prolonged sleepovers. Perhaps it’s less productive to favour an all-inclusive approach to societal problems over each location’s specific needs. Perhaps Occupy McMaster, for instance, could do more by focusing on specific injustices the student body wants to see changed at McMaster instead of simply supporting everyone (well, the 99 per cent), everywhere.
But maybe I’m being too judgmental. Vague goals aside, at least these students are doing something, and they’re really friendly. Besides, all I know about the movement is what I learned in discussion with an occupier and what I read on their Facebook page and blog – information that the average student at Mac could know. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that, while the idea of creating a student community for discussion of social problems (and taking action) is great, the Occupy name soils these good intentions.
Let’s take a critical look at the word ‘occupy’ for a moment. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the word ‘occupy’ is that it seems to insinuate one doesn’t belong there in the first place. To occupy a place is much different than to live, dwell or stay in a place. It is to claim, to (as Dictionary.com told me) “take possession and control of a place.” Ironically, McMaster students are taking possession of a place that is already designated for them. It’s open 24 hours a day, for students to use. I find it funny that, on Occupy McMaster’s blog, the occupation of the student centre is made to sound dangerous: “eviction is a possibility that we constantly face.” Unlike the students at University of California, who got pepper sprayed during an Occupy sit-in, the students at McMaster are visited regularly by a security guard to make sure they’re warm and cozy.
Another issue arising with the use of the word ‘occupy’ to delineate what is going on in the space came up in my class on postcolonial theory. We talked about how, because we live in settler colonies, we are already occupying the land. This is a heated topic that I won’t go into detail about, but it is surely something to ponder, particularly in light of North American Occupy Movements.
The Occupy Movement was partly inspired by the Arab Spring, social movements in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, whose protestors risked/risk their lives to take a stand against things like dictatorship, human rights violations, government corruption, extreme poverty and food shortages. Issues like “I refuse to work at McDonald’s” that have been spurred on by those sneaker-wearing Adbusters folks look petty in comparison to “I don’t have enough food to feed my family.” Oh, Occupy.
While the students of Occupy McMaster are opening up popular dialogue to address issues of systemic injustice through their “occupation” of the student centre, perhaps they could be more productive with less hippy-dippy stuff and more hard-hitting critical approaches to the issues that fellow students – and the world – are facing. They should drop the “Occupy” brand and take on a name that embodies their own agenda: “Apathy to Action.” A good ‘ol dose of reality might also be warranted; an end to all oppression would be great. Maybe they should start by keeping their blog updated.