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Personal Experience Shapes Occupy Class

The Occupy movement will be the focus of a Hampshire course in the fall 2012 semester, and literature professor and course co-teacher Michele Hardesty will be drawing heavily on personal experience in shaping its focus.
Hardesty was on sabbatical and living in New York City when the Occupy Wall Street movement took over Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011. A few weeks later she made her first visit to the encampment, and soon became involved with the People's Library. Though she didn't spend the night at the park, Hardesty spent many days cataloguing the books and participating in the library working group.

"Like the other working groups, it operated horizontally, meaning everyone was empowered to 'bottomline' projects that moved them. It reminded me in many ways of Hampshire," said Hardesty.

When city police and sanitation department workers evacuated the encampment on November 15, much of the librarians' work was destroyed. Roughly 5,500 books had been catalogued, and an estimated 3,600 books were in the park at the time of the nighttime raid. Hardesty, who went to the 57th Street Sanitation Garage to salvage books after the raid, said 2,798 of the seized books were damaged or never returned. She was one of the plaintiffs named in a lawsuit filed in June against the City of New York asking for compensatory and punitive damages related to the raid of the People's Library.

Her interactions throughout the Zuccotti Park occupation, and her continued ties to the movement in the succeeding months, sparked the idea of the class that she'll be teaching with sociology professor Margaret Cerullo.

"I was having challenging, radical conversations about politics, economics, and even pedagogy all year in New York, and I'd like to have them with Hampshire students, too" said Hardesty. "It will be a class that addresses not just a few months of fall in 2011, but one in which we think critically about the movement and the issues that animate it as it moves into the future."

Hardesty and Cerullo plan to invite a variety of Occupy activists to the class, including several Hampshire and Five College alums, and they expect that there will be students in the class who participated themselves.

"In a way this class is student driven, because there are a lot of students involved in the Occupy movement," said Cerullo. "I live in New York and went to many events, and saw a lot of Hampshire alums and current students in the midst of it. The emergence of Occupy vitalized so many of us. That's the power of a social movement. It makes you want to get up and face the day because there's so much to figure out and act on."

Cerullo added that Occupy will also be discussed in the context of other uprisings happening worldwide. She hopes this will give students a space to reflect on goals and tactics to inform their own participation.

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