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Concerns of Occupy DePaul relatable for all

By Bartosz Brzezinski
On March 14, 2012

As a graduate student set to get my degree this coming June, I already know the amount of debt that will weigh me down for the rest of my life. There is no point in me stating how much I'll have to pay off, let's just say I fall somewhere on the upper side of the spectrum at DePaul. I agree, DePaul is a private institution and I chose to come here. I agree that it is a cost I consented to when I put my signature on the loan agreements.

But when I look at people's reactions to the Occupy DePaul movement, I can't help but feel puzzled. I've been following that group of students since they first hit the spotlight by occupying administration offices at 55 E. Jackson in early March.

It is true, most of these students will have trouble finding a well-paid job with a degree in Peace Studies or Philosophy. And even though there are those among them working toward degrees in hard sciences, this shouldn't really be the focus of the argument.

I like to think this world is a cruel world because we put too much emphasis on business-minded people, people with old school political beliefs, people whose only purpose of going to school is to get a job that will allow them to make a good living. We call these people successful because the system we live in necessitates their existence. And again, there is nothing wrong with that.

But it is the people like Michelle Hauer, Stacey Bear, and Jordan Weber, all three members of Occupy DePaul, who go to school to learn about and understand the problems that exist in this world. And I don't mean the problems of a corporation not making enough profits or a bank struggling with its investment portfolio.

I mean problems like poverty, unequal access to education, cruel and meaningless wars, social injustice. They are the people who want to dedicate their lives not to their own personal betterment, but to the betterment of mankind. Big words, I know, but just listen to them talk. Notice the passion in their eyes, the zeal surrounding their meetings.

The zeal I once had too. Like many of those students, I came to DePaul as a freshman. In my letter to the University, I wrote about one of the reasons for choosing this school.

"It would be really hard to sum up all the reasons why I want to attend DePaul University. Maybe it is because I want to make a difference in this world and affect it in a good matter; change it for better."

Now five years later, that zeal is largely gone. When I went to Belgium for a study abroad program as an undergraduate in International Studies, I befriended Paul Murphy, a young man in his mid-20 who worked as an assistant for a Member of the European Parliament and a leading figure in the Socialist Party in Ireland, Mr. Joe Higgins. A communist radical, I was told by people who knew of him. But for me, Mr. Higgins and Paul Murphy, his assistant, were more than that. They were the people who invited me to a meeting with Indigenous people of Peru who came to Europe to tell of their struggle against an intrusive government back home. They were the people who pointed out to me the inefficiencies of certain government institutions, and the cruelties of the profit-oriented capitalist system.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a communist. Talking to them, I realized their own shortcomings - their blind belief in the socialist theory and the unity and the strength of the masses. But in my relatively short life, they were also some of only a few people who argued for the need for radical changes in our society. A need I can whole-heartedly agree on.

In Chicago, I stay relatively close to a number of social movements, be it the Occupy group or the Coalition Against Nato/G-8 Summit. Last week, I attended a demonstration by janitorial workers facing wage cuts and uncertain future, as their contracts expire within a month's time. Men and women, young and old, members of various ethnic minorities and immigrant groups.

As I took a few steps back to change film in my camera, I took the time to watch the reactions of random people passing by. "What is this, a street concert?" said one man while taking a picture with his smartphone. "Are these the Occupy people," asked an older lady who I think was a tourist.

When I decided to spend most of the night with the group of students who occupied the Student Center in Lincoln Park almost two weeks ago, someone started yelling from an apartment window across the street.

"Can you shut up? Some people need to sleep, 'cause they got real jobs," said the voice.

I'll be perfectly honest here. When I first heard of the Occupy DePaul movement, or Occupy Chicago for that matter, I thought of the two socialist politicians I befriended in Europe, and how naive I thought they were. Like many others, I dismissed them as a group of spoiled college brats, who just wanted to cause trouble.

I no longer do. Hanging out with them, I now notice myself from five years ago. I'm happy that despite the ongoing attacks against them, be it from the school administration or their own fellow students, they relentlessly fight for what they believe in. Their struggle isn't just against the Board of Trustees or the President of the University. It is most of all a fight against the unjust political, economic and social system that we live in. And that is, in my opinion, student activism.

If there is one thing you should learn from Occupy DePaul and other similar social movements, both big and small, it is that their concerns are almost always genuine. They are, after all, people's concerns - and as such our concerns as well.

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