“MIC CHECK!” the participants in the rally at Cornell University on Saturday echoed the familiar call of the people’s mic after several similar calls that day.
With that, students from Cornell, Ithaca College, and members of the local grassroots Occupy Wall Street solidarity movement, all broke away from the narrow column they had marched in to dance freely on Ho Plaza before some joined together again to act out what students at Cornell and other Ivy Leagues call the “Ivy-Wall Street Pipeline.”
The Ivy-League Wall Street Pipeline, according to a mission statement handed out at the protest as well as read aloud by the participants, is the name given to a “system that funnels many of our country’s most well-educated individuals into financial jobs which reinforce and exacerbate rampant inequality, and moreover, which prevent the best and the brightest from working towards social justice and a sustainable future.”
Using a makeshift pipeline that they had carried on their march, the rally participants acted out the forcing of several students through the pipeline. Tom Moore, Cornell sophomore Religious Studies and Education student, carried a plunger, which he used during the skit to send fellow students down the ‘pipeline.’ (video below)
Reed Steberger, a senior Interdisciplinary Studies student at Cornell, further explained the symbolism of the skit.
“We had a pipeline… a mock pipeline. One side was Cornell, one side is Wall Street. And the idea is, you go through the Ivy-to-Wall Street pipeline. That’s what we saw today. That was like a manifestation of this pipeline. It gets brilliant, well-educated students, and just puts them into this socially unproductive part of our society that is geared only toward making profit to the detriment of 99% of our population. And, so, the symbolism was, the person with the plunger was acting as sort of like a Wall Street banker or the Cornell administration, some figure of authority who’s try to unclog the pipeline and just beat Cornell students through it to bolster our reputation or what not. So that’s the idea behind the plumber.”
The protest was held in response to the third annual “Work on Wall Street” Conference being held at the Statler Hotel that day. The networking event, hosted by the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, brings representatives from Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Citibank, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and other financial institutions to campus to network with Cornell students.
Earlier in the afternoon, before the march to Ho Plaza, the participants in the protest stood in front of Statler Hotel a little after 2:30 pm, reading their mission statement while one group held up a banner stating “Stop the Cornell-Wall St. Pipeline/Choose the Right Occupation,” and another held a makeshift pipeline.
After reading their mission statement they chanted, “We are the 99%/So are you,” which became “Police are the 99%.”
As they marched through campus toward Ho Plaza, continuing to call out various chants, a police officer trailed them peacefully, calmly reminding them to stay on the sidewalk. The marchers paused briefly at the intersection across from Phillips Hall (Electrical & Computer Engineering) where they received a honk of approval accompanied by a thumbs-up from a man stopped in his vehicle.
Other chants included, “Stop the Pipeline/End the greed/Give the People what they need,” and
“Hey/Cornell/Don’t send our students to Wall Street Hell.”
Later that afternoon, following the march and the dance on Ho Plaza, Jacob Krell, Cornell graduate student in History, reflected on his own motivation for participating in the protest, noting that a business fraternity being able to bring Wall Street leaders to campus is in itself a poor reflection on the current political culture.
“The fact that a business fraternity could just bring a bunch of big guys from Wall Street down to say, ‘Here’s how you get to be like us,’ the idea that they could just do that and completely get away with it, I think [strikes] all of us as a little absurd and not the sort of intellectual climate we want to live in,” Krell said. “A lot of people should be held accountable. Accountability’s a big thing, a big buzzword right now. Wall Street should be held accountable. And people who do things with that little sort of thought about the social ramifications of their action — of the bigger picture — should be called out.”
Steberger said he hopes the Cornell movement, along with communication with other universities such as Harvard and Berkeley, can be a step toward spreading the conversation about the students’ role in building a better democracy.
“I wanted to help to create a space where we can engage in a larger public question about our political economy and address the very simple fact — the very fundamental fact — that the way things are, are not the way things need to be,” Steberger said. “The painful inequality that’s affecting the hard-working, caring, loving people is not something we have to sit down and abide with.”
Tom Moore, soft-spoken and wearing a nametag from the Delta Sigma Pi event, talked about how he and other members of the protest had registered for the networking event so they could go in and hand out pamphlets advocating for the protesters’ cause. The pamphlets, designed to look like they came from the event itself, said, described Wall Street as “more than just a pay check,” but also the “socioeconomic oppression of the mass majority of Americans,” and “perpetuating the defining oppression of our age,” Moore described.
He said that while there was a fair amount of security keeping the protesters at bay, they were still able to distribute their pamphlets.
Moore acknowledged the criticism that the Occupy movement receives for lacking a particular direction, admitting that he is not always comfortable echoing every chant sang out during marches. But at the same time, he feels the purpose behind Saturday’s protest embodied a unified value among Cornell’s members of the movement.
“Obviously, it’s a lot of people with diverse interests and diverse points of view, so it’s often hard to find a rallying call,” Moore said. “There’s not a whole lot that we all agree on. But this is one thing that we all could really agree on: That we’re not ok with Cornell funneling people into corporate finance.”
The Occupy movement at Cornell holds its general assemblies every Friday at 4:30 p.m. on Ho Plaza.
Participants in the protest read their mission statement out side of Statler Hotel a little after 2:30 pm Saturday.
Participants marched to Ho Plaza before breaking into a dance.
They held up their banner again on Ho Plaza.
Cornell students act out forcing their fellow students through the pipeline.
To see the rest of the photos I took at this event, click here.