Since Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17, the movement has spread to multiple metropolitan areas in the country — including Philadelphia in the form of the “Occupy Philly” protests, now in their eighth day of occupation. On campus, Penn professors are beginning to voice their opinions, combining the outrage felt by protesters with their academic expertise.
English professor Ania Loomba drafted a solidarity statement signed by dozens of Penn faculty members this week. She has also spent time at City Hall, taking part in the protest’s ‘People of Color Committee,’ which addresses minority representation at the Occupy Philly protest.
“It’s a wake up call that we have to do something,” she says of the protests. “We have to think about what can be done, we have to think creatively. We have to put pressure on the government and political parties, and particularly the financial establishment.”
For her, the protests are closely related with what she teaches in her classes “Introduction to Renaissance Literature and Culture” and “Theater and the World.”
“I’m a humanist,” said Loomba. “What’s the point of teaching literature — which for me teaches you about equality and fairness and justice — and then staying away from this? I want to be there, in what’s going on, and just participate to the extent that I can.”
Some might argue that Shakespeare and literature have no role in these political protests. But Loomba disagrees. She points to Thomas More’s 16th century work, Utopia, which she assigned to her Renaissance literature class last week. In it, More points out the injustice between the rich and the poor, a concept Loomba finds similar to the “We are the 99 percent” message at the core of the Occupy movements.
“So you’ve seen that big sign at City Hall, ‘Commons Not Capitalism,’ right?” Loomba asks. “‘What … we all share in common should belong to all of us — that’s a sentiment which writers from the 16th century and even earlier have been saying.”
Still, there are a substantial number of critics to the Occupy movement. Most significantly, people argue that the movement has no ends or call to action.
“That’s not the point,” Loomba said. “It’s alright sometimes to express a deep critique of the structure within which you live, and to get people thinking … it’s a mess when students who are brilliant can’t afford education, when people who really want to work cant get a job. There’s something deeply wrong, and for me, [it’s] enough to be able to say that.”
Plus, Loomba claims, protesters do have specific opinions, particularly about how the banking system works, and the idea of rewarding people who are “parasites” to everyone else. “That was said by Thomas More in 1516. And we don’t call Thomas More a fool and an idiot.”
“One of the things I like is [the] genuine attempt at some kind of democracy,” Loomba said. “Let’s actually have a discussion on what’s going on.”
Finally, Loomba addresses the concern that Daily Pennsylvanian readers have expressed over the overwhelming ratio of humanities to non-humanities professors who have signed on to the solidarity statement.
“I don’t want to present myself as an airy-fairy humanist without any concrete things,” she said. “It’s not that … I don’t know anything about economics. I think too often the economists doing numbers are doing the wrong numbers.” In fact, she says, “there are economists who object to what’s going on in American society right now. It’s not economists versus humanists.”Comments powered by Disqus
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