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Occupy the spirit of volunteering - The Eagle: Columnists

Occupy the spirit of volunteering

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Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 12:00 am


Special to The Eagle

I am not a self-entitled college student or liberal punk. I am a student in a school of public service who has held jobs since before I was 15, saved money, taken out loans, skipped meals, lived homeless and labored long hours to afford school.

I was born to a cop and a nurse whose income placed our family in the lower-middle class. I've lived thrifty my entire life. And I have seen how drugs, violence, globalization and economic adjustments have wrecked the social fabric of the neighborhood I grew up in. Three of the seven males of my generation from that street are now dead. I say these caveats so that others know why I am sympathetic to the Occupy movement, and to end any "get a job" style responses to what I have to say. Thank you, but I currently have two.

The 700 protesters who were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Sept. 30 accomplished something great for the Occupy movement. Their actions created a national dialogue that no one can ignore.

Drawing attention to growing social inequality, systemic unemployment and the inability of the average American to translate increased productivity into increased wages is important. But, the Occupy movement may soon lose momentum and, therefore, relevancy. Occupying parks across the country draws attention to the highlighted issues, but does not solve these problems or address opponents' criticisms.

Occupy must shift focus. It should become the dogma of Occupy that just because we are unemployed, underemployed and upset with the current situation does not mean that we cannot produce value. The minds of Americans have been occupied; it is time to start occupying their hearts.

This can be achieved by turning Occupy into an army of others serving their fellow citizens. Occupy has shown that there is a lot of work to do -- and it has shown that it has the logistical capabilities to sustain its supporters' efforts.

Occupy should now unleash those followers as volunteers. The possible places in this country where help is needed are endless. Occupy those spaces. A hundred individuals simply marching down a highway and picking up trash would be noted. A dozen individuals occupying a grade school classroom and teaching kids to read would make an impact. Spend the summer occupying a national park and volunteering to build trails. Spend your weekends occupying soup kitchens and community centers. Spend your nights occupying youth programs that keep kids out of trouble.

By becoming an army of volunteers, the Occupy message would become stronger. It shifts criticism away from those who define the movement as a bunch of entitled individuals begging for money.

Now Occupy can say not only are we upset with the problems inherent in the system these critics support, but on our own we will work to fix these problems. Those on the fence will be forced to ask these critics, "What are you doing?"

And as Occupy moves into these troubled areas of our society, it would draw attention to the problems it has wished to counter. Helping those who are hurt by social inequality would prevent any from suggesting that no problem exists.

Service projects would bring solidarity to the Occupy movement, recruit new members to Occupy, allow the movement to exist into election time, and encourage others to start doing what is necessary to create a better future for our society.

And -- perhaps most importantly -- these projects would be a litmus test for the Occupy movement. If Occupy truly believes in the values it espouses then it would be willing to sacrifice time and energy to begin fixing the problem.

Bertrand Russell said, "If a majority in every civilized country so desired, we could, within 20 years, abolish all abject poverty, quite half the illness in the world, the whole economic slavery which binds down nine tenths of our population; we could fill the world with beauty and joy, and secure the reign of universal peace."

Despite the cynicism this world has ingrained in my heart, I still believe this to be true. Turning Occupy into one of history's largest movements of volunteerism would be a step in this direction.

* Jonathan S. Anders, '12, is in the Master's Program in International Affairs at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

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