• Class Provides Insight into "Occupy"
A protester criticizes Congress at Occupy Boston

11/15/2011

Imagine sitting in a meteorology class studying extreme weather patterns while a hurricane begins to brew outside. Theory rarely dovetails so seamlessly with real life, but students in Suffolk University’s “Rhetoric of Protest and Reform” course are watching their lesson plan in action as the “Occupy” movements unfold around the country.

Ideal vantage point

From its location atop Beacon Hill – mere blocks from historic protest landmarks such as the Paul Revere House and the former home of abolitionist David Walker – Suffolk is uniquely positioned to offer a course on the rhetoric of social change.

“Each year, I draw connections between historical protest movements and modern-day injustices to engage students,” says Gloria Boone, professor of communications and journalism. “The Occupy protests have afforded the perfect opportunity to study a social resistance effort from inception through all the classic steps of how these movements escalate.”

According to Boone, all social justice campaigns share two common elements: a moral imperative connecting the issue to religion or human rights, and an economic catalyst. The Occupy protesters view large corporations as corrupt or coddled and question why financial giants are considered “too big to fail” while millions of Americans face unemployment, foreclosures, dwindling retirement accounts, and crippling debt. For many, these issues have moral and ethical implications, as well as financial and political ones.

“When Occupy Wall Street began, it just wasn’t on many students’ radar,” recalls Boone. “Now it’s in the news daily, and I have students who are participating in Occupy Boston. We can dissect the stages of the movement and compare it to other protests like Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage or the modern Tea Party movement.”

Occupy Movement following classic steps

The Occupy movement seems tailor-made for study, following classic patterns of protest movements at an accelerated rate. Boone, who also researches and lectures extensively about social media, notes that Occupy’s web presence and emphasis on constant communication has allowed the movement to progress much more rapidly than historical examples.

“They’ve moved quickly from the Petition stage, sending letters to corporations and news outlets; to Promulgation, attracting supporters and holding newsworthy events; to Solidification, creating a catchy slogan, ‘We are the 99%’; to Polarization; and into Non-violent Resistance,” explains Boone.

The next steps, historically, have been escalation and action. There’s no predicting how successful or long-lasting Occupy will be, but Boone says its impact is certainly being felt in her classroom:

“Learning about the history of American freedom while a protest movement unfolds down the street is a rare opportunity; our vantage point is ideal for observing social change in action.”

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