Occupy Wall Street enters the classroom at UCD next semester

Hey, remember Occupy Wall Street? The almost-revolution that rallied Americans to address our ever-widening income gap, yet ultimately splintered into obscurity due to idealistic infighting? Yes, that one. While the movement is mostly behind us, it played a major role in the last election. And that's why poli-sci lecturer Stephen Polk will be presenting a class on OWS this coming semester at University of Colorado Denver.

"Occupy opened up new ideas about who we are as a people, and new possibilities of where we are going as a global society," says Polk. "It was instrumental in shifting national dialogue around inequality, creating more space for the Obama administration to speak effectively on taxing the rich, and in developing a narrative of Romney as a wealthy 1 percenter out of touch with most of the American people."

Even though Polk will be teaching this class as someone who was actively involved in Occupy protests and gatherings, he says he'll welcome participation from students of varied political persuasions, creating an environment of "respect for difference of opinion, free from ridicule and disrespect, yet open to critical engagement."

In this class, Polk intends to analyze the Occupy movement from a variety of angles, looking at its historical precedents, its use of consensus building, the confrontation of publicly owned space for protests/camping, the recession and income inequality.

Polk graduated from the University of Colorado Denver with a masters degree in political science in 2011, and has since been hosting lectures in UCD's political science department. "The movements that I have studied were precursors to the Occupy movement, in that Occupy directly borrowed the same horizontal, consensus based tactics," he explains.

"I understand that Occupy is an extremely contentious movement; people's perceptions of it are more often vitriolic in nature," Polk admits. Still, he maintains that "education in a democratic society requires critical engagement with contentious issues. Whether you are a staunch Republican or libertarian, liberal or anarchist, critical engagement with diverse ideas that may be contrary to your own can serve to strengthen, rather than weaken, your political disposition. This is the freedom -- and also the responsibility -- that we are allowed in a democratic society: The ability to chose what we believe in. It is my job to equip students with the intellectual tools and resources necessary for critical engagement that forms coherent beliefs."

Polk's "Occupy America" begins in January at the University of Colorado Denver; for more information, contact him at [email protected]

From our archives: Photos: Cries of "Shame!" as camping ban passes at tense council meeting.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse