Austin Van Zant

Student activists past and present came together Thursday night to inspire current students to continue working for change.

The event was organized by Occupy UT, but registered with the University as a program sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, said government sophomore Lucy Griswold. The presentation involved former UT students speaking about their experience as participants in campus political controversy going as far back as the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The speakers told stories in the West Mall and related their past political experiences to the struggles of the Occupy UT participants today and urged Occupy UT protesters to carry on with their fight.

Thorne Webb Dreyer, former UT student and co-founder of The Rag, an underground student newspaper started at UT in 1966, said he sees definite similarities between the Occupy Movement and the Vietnam and Civil Rights protests he was a part of in the 1960s. Dreyer said he did not complete his degree at UT because he chose to pursue an early career in underground media.

Both movements sprang up quickly, dealt with societal inequality and were the inevitable result of an inefficient governmental system, Dreyer said. The main difference between the two is that one was racial and the other economic.

“Power to the people,” he said. “That’s what we used to say, now it’s ‘we are the 99 percent.’ It’s basically the same thing.”

Austin Van Zant, 2004 UT alumnus and co-founder of UT Watch, a University political watchdog group, said Occupy UT‘s issue with obtaining University records is similar to the issues he faced when investigating the original deregulation of tuition at the University in 2002.

“I dealt with a lot of government agencies and UT is one of the worst in terms of stonewalling government documents,” Van Zant said. “They overcharge, ask questions they sometimes shouldn’t be asking and just make it difficult.”

Van Zant described the strategies he and other members of UT Watch used to get access to government documents almost a decade ago. There are various legal protections and ways to avoid excessive costs when obtaining public documents, Van Zant said. “I really hope they can get some fresh ideas out of this,” he said.

Anthropology senior Elizabeth Melville said she has a stake in the movement, specifically over the issue of tuition control, and hopes that Occupy UT causes change.

“I’m paying for UT myself and when tuition goes up $500, I have to work a lot harder,” she said. “I hope that it is successful, but UT is really invested in keeping the University how it is. I don’t know what to expect.”

The speakers served multiple purposes, said Griswold, who is also an Occupy UT participant.

“They showed how many of the political issues of the past still exist today and shared experiences that we can learn from,” Griswold said. “Specifically, democracy and transparency are issues that have existed with UT going back to at least the 1960s. University documents are hard to obtain and the administration is growing evermore powerful.”

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: Occupy UT mirrors previous generations' political activism