David Greenberg: Why Liberals Need Occupy Wall Street, and Vice-Versa

Roundup: Historians' Take

David Greenberg, a contributing editor to The New Republic, teaches history at Rutgers University and is at work on a history of presidents and spin.

It was the spring of 1968 and the Columbia University campus was in revolt. “You must come right up, Dwight!” F.W. Dupee, a Columbia professor and one of the original Partisan Review editors, beseeched Dwight Macdonald. “It’s a revolution! You may never get another chance to see one.”

Macdonald raced uptown. “He was right,” the critic said of Dupee, delighting in the “atmosphere of exhilaration, excitement” they found at Columbia, where “communards” made decisions through a deliberative, democratic process. Here were hopeful signs, thought Dupee and Macdonald, a new generation productively channeling its radical energies.

I don’t think that Occupy Wall Street represents the coming revolution any more than did Columbia ’68—which, of course, ended disastrously, with university president Grayson Kirk calling in the cops to bust heads. But having visited Zuccotti Park, having shared drinks with a handful of its (self-identified) instigators, having found myself drawn to reading compulsively about the plans and politics of the movement (if this heterogeneous outburst can be even labeled with a singular noun), I plead guilty to a frisson of the excitement Dupee and Macdonald felt more than four decades ago. At a time of quiet despair about the failure to reform the catastrophic pro-business policies of the Bush years, this spontaneous outpouring of mass support—sustained day after day, spreading from city to city—offers a sense of hope that can hardly fail to inspire....

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