Pitzer Student Takes Leave of Absence to Join Occupy Movement

Michael Gray PZ '13 is, as he put it, “taking part in the revolution.”

In October, Gray declared a leave of absence from school in order to participate more fully in the Occupy Los Angeles demonstration, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement that originated in New York in September and which has spread to around 2,000 cities worldwide. OWS began as a populist protest against what supporters called “the greedy corporatocracy,” but it has grown to encompass various complaints of liberal-leaning groups, from animal rights activists to organic farmers.

Gray has been living in a tent on the lawn of Los Angeles City Hall since he left Pitzer last month. He has also been involved in the Occupy Oakland movement, which gained national attention last month for its violent clashes between riot police and protesters that resulted in several injuries and over a hundred arrests.

In L.A., Gray has become deeply involved with the organization of the Occupy movement and the ongoing Occupy L.A. demonstration.

“I participate on the Resources Committee, I participate on the Facilitations Committee, I participate in the Food Committee," Gray said. "I am also involved with the Actions Committee, the Housing Committee, and the Welcome Tent. I basically do whatever needs to get done when nobody else is stepping up.”

Gray said his decision to become more involved in the Occupy movement, while invigorating, came with sacrifices, including the fear that his tent could be raided by police at any time without notice. Despite that stress, Gray said that he sometimes hopes there will be nonviolent confrontation between authorities and protesters at some point.

“Every night that we’re there is illegal. It is civil disobedience," Gray said. "The fact that [the authorities] haven’t kicked us out yet is nice, I guess, but they could, and the point of a movement is to challenge social norms."

"I do think that more drastic nonviolent measures need to be taken," he added. "This is more than a hippie fest; it’s a revolution. Right now the Occupy L.A. movement is a passive nonviolent movement, and I’d like to stress that passive nonviolence is not the only possible tactic," he said.

Gray said he was inspired to join the Occupy movement after his first visit to a demonstration.

“Not being a part of this revolution because I had to be in class just wasn’t a good enough excuse for me anymore,” he said. “I’m not letting my schooling get in the way of my education."

At the moment, Gray said the education he is gaining from his involvement in the Occupy movement relates to “group dynamics and how you can facilitate large group meetings.”

When he returns to Pitzer next year, Gray said he hopes to design his own major that will allow him to continue studying “mass social movements and how to organize them effectively.”

At Pitzer, Gray said that the people he met had helped to shape his passion for social activism. He spoke highly of Professor of Political Studies Dana Ward, with whom he has twice taken Anarchist History and Thought.

“Dana Ward is a very inspirational person,” Gray said.

On Tuesday, Gray took a short break from his duties at L.A. City Hall to return his residence hall keys, visit some friends on campus, and speak to the Claremont General Assembly (GA), the Claremont division of the Occupy movement named after the General Assembly in the OWS movement.

Vincent Giannotti PZ '12 and Ojan Mobedshahi PZ '12 are two of the students most actively involved in GA.

“I got involved in the first place by bringing a bunch of supplies to the people at Occupy L.A. at City Hall one night with some of my activist friends," Mobedshahi said. "I became interested in the movement and started going to the GA at Pitzer.”

He added that one of the aspects of the Occupy movement that initially inspired him was the way in which individuals are encouraged to educate each other about how social change can best be achieved.

“Traditional media is a top-down process, but now with Facebook and Twitter and Student Talk, [we] can educate each other about what’s going on in the community,” Mobedshahi said.

Giannotti agreed, pointing out that this type of dialogue is at the heart of the mission of the Claremont General Assembly.

“The General Assembly at Pitzer functions to raise awareness for and support the Occupy L.A. movement. Giving people the space to talk about [the movement] is our purpose," he said. "Everyone gets something different from being involved."