Every November, the Duke Magazine staff meets with our Editorial Advisory Board, a group of accomplished journalists (most of them alumni) from such high-profile media organizations as The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and ESPN. Among the campus sites they noted this fall—actually a fairly inescapable site, right on the Chapel Quad—was a small cluster of students inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Occupy Duke caught the attention of one board member, Jim Wilson '74, a New York Times photographer who has covered Occupy Oakland. The Oakland version of the movement captured wide attention when the occupiers were evicted by tear-gas-firing police; a young Marine was seriously injured by a tear-gas canister, and a wider general strike was called.
Nothing so dramatic has taken place at Duke. In fact, this appears to be a remarkably polite protest (and, in common with its counterparts, somewhat amorphous in its aims). "The university has ceded the ground to the student campers but imposed a few simple rules—no non-student campers, no electrical cords running between tents, and no amplified sound on the quad," Wilson observes. In well-mannered, authority- respecting fashion, the students have carefully abided by the rules.
The tenting students have become part of the Duke landscape, meaning, for many, they've faded far into the background. Most of their fellow students— drawn by the twin imperatives of coursework and cell-phone updates— hurry past the scene. The coming cold weather makes the campers wary, Wilson observes. But they're even warier of what they consider to be a false promise: the American dream that they once thought they'd be inheriting.
"On a campus where many may have more in common with the 1 percent than the 99 percent, the tents do serve as a reminder that social consciousness can come in many forms—not always pretty but always present," says Wilson. "The campers believe that by evoking sometimes quite spirited conversation, they are making their point."
Between the Lines: November-December 2011
November 30, 2011