Thoughts on Robert Reich Lecture & Occupy Protests

What a crazy day. Even by Berkeley standards, it’s been pretty insane. First, the Occupy protests from last week have continued on today with walkouts and noontime demonstrations on Sproul. Then, an unidentified person who pulled out a gun at the Haas school was shot by police. End that with an evening lecture on the steps of Sproul by Robert Reich, professor of public policy and former Secretary of Labor, attended by an enormous crowd.

What a crazy day.

Let’s see, a quick description of my visit to Sproul to listen to Professor Reich speak. It was actually a spontaneous decision for me – didn’t find out that they moved the original lecture to Sproul until half an hour before the lecture.

When I arrived on campus, I had to climb up a wall to get to the rooftop of the Caesar Chavez building, but it was definitely worth it, as I ended up with a perfect, unobstructed view of the entire plaza. I was actually very surprised by the sheer number of people there.

Now I’ve seen my fair share of protests on campus over the past couple years, but this was definitely the largest turnout I’ve ever seen. The protestors from Occupy Oakland had marched over to Berkeley, and combined with the Berkeley protestors and students who came to listen to Professor Reich, there was a reported 3,500 people at Sproul.

Reich’s lecture was short and sweet. It was thought-provoking, inspirational, and definitely got the crowd fired up. He did a good job summing up the sentiments and purpose of the demonstrations on campus –  a combination of outrage at the continued budget cuts to public education, as well as the rising inequality of wealth that sparked the Occupy movement.

I think it’s important to note that in his speech, Reich explained that the intention was not to vilify the wealthy, but to be concerned by the increasing concentration of wealth among the few because of the potential for those people to control political decisions and undermine democracy.

Reich also stressed the importance of free speech and explained that significant social movements always began with moral outrage and gradually developed a direction and purpose. He praised the crowd for beginning to respond to these issues.

Taking in all the sights and sounds, I came away from the event with a better understanding of the chaos. Just seeing the unbelievable turnout, the chants and cheers, and the general atmosphere, I can’t help but feel that this is really something. Past protests never felt like this one.

The pieces are all present this time around. There’s a national connection – the Occupy movement. There’s outrage from the videos of police violence towards demonstrating students. And people are united over common goals and demands. I have no idea what will happen at this point, but it could really go either way. The Berkeley movement could fizzle out, as most students could really care less, but in the greater scheme of things, the momentum is definitely there.

We’ll just have to stay tuned. In the meantime, stay safe, everyone!

History in the making at

One Response
  1. November 20, 2011

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