Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street II: A Challenge

Dear Occupiers: How do you keep the momentum going? I believe you should make connections with professional school students, in particular law and business students, for at least three reasons. The first reason to connect with such students is that they possess the training and skills needed to help your movement advance and achieve some of the proposed goals. Occupiers, you have energy engendered by outrage and a sense of "right v. wrong". But you need organization and strategy to accomplish the significant changes proposed. Business and law students are taught how to plan and how to analyze. Energize this population and you have access to potent resources.

A second reason to connect with business and law students is that many of these students hope to become one of the 1%; thus, they attempt to ignore or devalue your movement. However, some students are beginning to realize that for many of them a professional degree only will allow them to maintain a decent standard of living. Many students are worried about their financial futures, and their ability to obtain any job in their chosen field. Connect with such students and you may find energized, dedicated true believers, not detractors.

The third reason to forge connections with business and law students is that these professionals are (mostly) among the 99% that will impact the lives of the other 99% and may have the ability ultimately to impact the 1%. Business and law students need exposure to the real-world problems of the 99%. Students in business and law school easily may become isolated from daily events outside of academia. Typically, business and law school study leaves little time for anything else. Business and law school training rarely asks students to introspectively reflect on their career choices and on the ethical dilemmas that may arise in their careers.

Occupiers, I challenge you to connect with business and law school students.


  1. Fewer of my Business Organizations students plan to become one of the 1% in this economy. But reaching out to business and law students is an outstanding idea. Some of my students have joined the protesters.

  2. Regina, thank you for a great and powerful post! I agree with your expressions. I echo Cheryl's sentiments. I'm seeing students take note of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. More importantly, many of my law students are becoming activists and foot soldiers in the movement. In this economy, the American Dream is slipping away from everyone. Education, especially professional education, is no longer the path to glory and riches that many perceived it to be in the past.

  3. JesseeB_MemphisLawOctober 26, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    Great post with some sound points and ideas. However, like the commentators above, I, too, feel that you may have underestimated the number of law students already strongly involved with this movement. I am a 2L at the University of Memphis School of Law, and my classmates and I are keenly aware of OWS and engaged in an ongoing dialogue about it. Many law students here are ardent supporters and involved with Occupy Memphis, a local action associated with the OWS movement. We are very fortunate to attend classes in the new law school building downtown, nearby where Occupy Memphis is taking place and the issue can remain at the forefront of our minds. While law school is definitely demanding and time-consuming, students have been supportive in small, but significant ways, such as bringing protesters supplies or spreading ideas and news about the movement through social media. Other students are dismissive or express their disdain for the movement, and its lack of specificity and goals. But the main thing is we're all talking about it.

    Why? Because so many of us can identify. After growing up with dreams of becoming a lawyer, taking out thousands and thousands of dollars in student loans, busting our tails in undergrad and pouring our blood, sweat and tears into our law coursework, internships, activities, etc. we still aren't necessarily sure that we're any better off. We look around and see our fellow classmates and friends who have recently graduated unable to get paying jobs within the legal field. A record number of students, including myself, interned with the Memphis City Attorney's Office for free this past summer. This was, in part, due to the lack of opportunities to gain paid, practical, legal experience. While it was a great opportunity that I would definitely recommend, it isn't for everyone and shouldn't be one of the only available options. Not to mention, unpaid positions don't pay the bills, and student loans can't last forever.

    Given the circumstances, it's easy to see why so many law students have already joined in the movement. We are prime examples of how the American Dream has failed to sync up with reality. All the time and effort we're putting in often fails to yield even suboptimal results. Ergo, we are frustrated, discouraged, disillusioned, and for lack of a better word, pissed off. While that is only a small part of what OWS represents, it is enough to fuel a movement that, with organization and narrower definition of purpose, can hopefully effect real change. Energy, drive, and passion are key to any type of activism, and law students have plenty. The majority of us, at least here at Memphis Law, have little desire to become a member of the 1%, but just want to make a decent living using the degree we have earned, the knowledge we have acquired and the skills we have developed here in law school. I believe this isn't too much to ask.

  4. MelissaT-MemphisLawNovember 16, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Unfortunately, I don't think connecting with business and law students will be very effective in the long run. It seems to me that the majority of my fellow law students believe that the poor are another segment of society, one that doesn't need much consideration. The bulk of these students also are in it for the money, are fiscally conservative, and are totally opposed to an increase in taxes.

  5. I agree with the OP that the OWS movement needs direction and solid structure if it is to maintain its presence in society and end with a bang rather than a whimper. But I would take the suggestion of using law students and business students a step further and ask why not involve actual professionals instead of simply students of said professions? True, students are learning how to analyze and plan, but professionals actually do it for a living. The point of OWS is not to involve as many walks of life as possible, but rather to affect a change in finances as quickly as possible, and to that end, OWS needs doers not learners. As for the last comment describing Memphis law students, congratulations, you just described everyone ever in America. Everyone works for the money, spends as little as necessary, and hates taxes. I hate to devolve into pointing fingers, but the point of these comments is to provide space for rumination on the topics provided, not lampooning your fellow classmates with half-baked critiques.

  6. I agree that law and business students should get involved in the OWS movement, and the reasons you provide are reasons why many law students are already involved. I think being in the 1% is far from most law students' minds, though, because many students who graduate from law school will do so with more than $70,000 in debt. The total amount of student loans nationwide is higher than the credit card debt, and students who want to become lawyers usually have no choice but to take private unregulated student loans. I agree with Adam that actual professions should get involved as well. Many young professionals are still paying off their student loans and will be doing so for many years, so they can identify with the students and the movement in this aspect.

  7. Andrew H - Memphis LawNovember 20, 2011 at 8:07 PM

    Though I stated in a more recent post that I don't agree with everything OWS is saying, I do wholeheartedly agree with this post. It's a win-win for all involved.

    As the author said, the OWS protestors need some help in the field of organization and the legal / business complexities of achieving their goals. They'll never achieve more corporate regulation and transparency without informing those in charge of "why." Why is a difficult question to answer, and law / business students can help to answer it.

    As for the law and business students, real-world practice on a current event centering around things we're discussing in class would be invaluable. It would perhaps be even more beneficial to those of us who are not yet 100% persuaded by OWS. Working with and representing a client that we may not completely agree with would provide valuable experience for us in that we do not always have to agree with the client to effectively represent them.

  8. Jessie C Memphis LawNovember 21, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    I think that this is a great post. Law and business students spend a great deal of time developing skills of organization and analysis. However, I know first hand that sometimes you get caught up at school and never reach out to these organizations yourself, not from lack of interest but from lack of time.

    However this is a great way for law and business students to practice some of the skills that we learn in class all the time and would be EXTREMELY beneficial to the movement.

  9. OWS does need to bring in legitimate individuals if it really expects to effectuate change. Professional students would be a good source of skilled sympathetic individuals. Unfortunately, OWS seems to pride itself on it's disorganization and lack of leadership. So while I do believe this is a good path, I just not sure OWS will follow it.

  10. Jessica Bradley Memphis LawNovember 28, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    From what I have observed, law school students here (myself included) have been hesitant to become actively involved in the Occupy Memphis movement for widely varying reasons. Some are opposed to the movement, some don't have enough time to participate in the movement, some are hesitant to become involved for social reasons, some people don't feel strongly enough about the movement to do anything, and some people are concerned but apathetic. Graduate students simply have too many reasons not to become involved.

    A friend of mine who is active in the Occupy Memphis movement said that every time an Occupy group in a different city is subjected to police brutality or is kicked out of their encampment, the numbers in Memphis grow. [As a side note, the way the City of Memphis has handled the Occupy movement thus far seems commendable.]

    A sense of urgency seems to be missing from the OWS movement. This reminds me of a quote I heard in connection with the movement the other day:

    “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
    because I was not a communist;
    Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    because I was not a socialist;
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    because I was not a trade unionist;
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    because I was not a Jew;
    Then they came for me—
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
    ― Martin Niemöller

  11. I absolutely agree with the post that professional school students can help advance and give direction to OWS through their training and skills. I think that the post is a little harsh in saying that most business or law students hope to become part of the 1%. Maybe this is true of some students at the high-tier schools but it seems that most of us are realistic enough to know that our degrees will more likely just provide us with a comfortable standard of living. Our earning potential is likely to be higher than a vast number of Americans but our debt load is likely a lot higher also. And finally I do agree with the third point raised by the poster. It is important for OWS to make connections with professional school students to ground these students and remind them how important and far reaching their future jobs will be. The professional school students need to remember that, whether they are part of the 99% or the 1%, the 99% are likely to be their clients one day so a connection to them must be made and kept strong.