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Public panel explores why Occupy movement matters

December 13, 2011

Beyond a slogan — “We are the 99 percent!” — and a seemingly organic urge to come together, what’s the Occupy Wall Street movement all about? Does it have goals? Leaders? A single, unifying demand for change? How has it spread, and how does it connect to events such as The Arab Spring and the Wisconsin protests?

Most compellingly, what’s the point? Why Occupy?

On Thursday, Dec. 15, three University of Wisconsin–Madison professors will join moderator Judy Davidoff, of Isthmus, to discuss this central, perplexing question. “Beyond Zuccotti Park: Why the Occupy Movement Matters” explores the roots, growth, and potential outcomes of the Occupy movement as part of the Humanities NOW series of events, presented by the Center for the Humanities. The event starts at 7 p.m. at UW Hillel Foundation, 611 Langdon St., and is open to the public.

Robert Asen, communication arts; Nan Enstad, history; and Keith Woodward, geography, will examine the rhetoric, politics, and meaning of mass protest for an in-depth discussion of the Occupy Movement: who’s involved, what’s at stake, and why we should pay attention. Each panelist brings unique perspectives to events still impacting citizens across the country.

Asen studies what happens when certain groups are excluded from the arenas where public policy discussions, and decisions, occur. He plans to discuss how these kinds of exclusions have influenced the Occupy movement. Asen is also an affiliate at UW–Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty.

Enstad, a historian of labor, has pondered the 99 percent as a new political formation in the U.S. (and beyond). For her, this phenomenon relates very centrally to the 2008 economic crash and government bailouts of large banks, as well as the Citizens United decision according corporations greater claim to legal personhood. The richest one percent of Americans control the majority of all stocks and corporate equity in this country. How has this imbalance helped create the 99 percent mentality? With a new political subjectivity on the rise, is this mentality in danger of collapse?

Woodward studies what happens within groups as they occupy spaces over time. He says that the Occupy protests fit neatly into recent anarchist thought. “Holding” Zuccotti Park enabled protesters to develop a strong sense of solidarity; the now-famous Spokes Council developed as a means of positive engagement within a leaderless group.

Humanities NOW brings thoughtful interdisciplinary examination of current topics through the expertise of UW–Madison faculty. The series receives generous support from the Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters and Science.