On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Andrew Marston, American Cyberculture student at UC Berkeley.
Occupation has always been and will continue to be a controversial word. At its most innocuous, it refers to a person’s job or calling – the way someone occupies their time. Arguably the more common use, is in referral to a military occupation or occupation of a space by protesters. The latter here, is what I wish to write about. Occupation is a derivative of occupy: a term put to use quite recently by the Wall Street protesters to give a name to their cause. The Occupy Protest emerged (to some extent) in response to the financial collapse of 2008 and the later revelations that the greed and recklessness of Banks and Financial Executives had largely caused the worst economic meltdown in almost a century. The anger of Occupy Protesters was justified, their cause however was far from easy to describe.
The Occupy Movement emerged right as I entered UC Berkeley as a Freshman. The importance of this is hard to overstate. Berkeley is well known for its protest movement and respect for Free Speech. In fact, many of my friends joked outright that I would become involved in some “hippy movement” while attending as a student. The Occupy movement is far stretch from the protests of the 60s, but I did become involved. I participated actively in the meetings, the mic-checks, and even spoke in front of the crowd on one evening. I witnessed the police tear-gassing my friends (I even have a canister as a souvenir), and watched protesters throw bricks at the police. This, of course, did not all take place at UC Berkeley. I was equally involved in the Occupy Oakland movement, perhaps even more so, as the protesters were far more passionate and far more serious. I remember one family that was always camped out at the Occupy Oakland site, right across from City Hall. They told me they had lost their jobs, and recently their home. They were living in an apartment in Oakland, both working part time. Their story didn’t initially strike me as too different from the thousands of hard-luck stories from across the nation. I was deeply hit, however, when I found out they were UC Berkeley Alumni, Class of 2008.
The word Occupy has taken on an entirely new meaning for me, in light of the protests over the past few years. Although the movement is largely dead, and news of protests rarely enters the news: I do feel that their message has had a lasting impact on the nation. Occupy means to fight for what you believe in and not budge, in spite of police raids and government damnation. Despite its libertarian roots, Occupy felt like a pure form of Democracy. A refreshing change from the constant campaigning, corruption, and greed of our current system. I am not naïve enough to want to tear down our government; but hearing the voice of my fellow citizens, quite literally roaring across the nation, calling for change – certainly gave me goosebumps.