Students Bring Occupy Pittsburgh to Oakland

Students Bring Occupy Pittsburgh to Oakland

By Zachary Adams, TRCF Intern

On the brisk Friday of Halloween weekend, a group of students gathered on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland, the Cathedral of Learning looming above.  A tall, animated man from SEIU, Calvin Talbert, is standing in the midst of a crowd calling out articles from a petition.  The crowd repeats the message.  This petition is a request to the Chancellor for a tuition freeze at fall 2011 levels at the University of Pittsburgh.

There are plenty of larger humanitarian problems – starvation and poverty, to cite the overused examples – but the concern for affordable education should not be simply put out to  pasture.  Every sector of the economy upon which capitalism is founded depends in some way on education costs and quality of education, so indeed it does affect us all.

Leah Marmo, a Three Rivers Community Foundation intern like myself, was present at the petition rally to give her support to the cause.  Speaking to a radio station, she examined the problem of education citing her $70,000 tuition debt upon graduation with her Masters in Social Work.  The social work field is notoriously low paying – the median annual wages of child, family, and school social workers being $39,530 in May 2008 while the median American household income in 2009 was $50,221.  Further, the cumulative payments on a $70,000 college tuition debt, estimating a Federal Stafford Loan rate of 6.8%, can yield a cumulative payment of $96,667.60.  That comes to an additional $26,667.60 that must be repaid because Leah could not afford her education out of pocket.  A financial aid loan estimator says in order for Leah to repay her college debt in ten years, using a realistic 10% of her income toward these payments, she would also need to make $96,667 a year.  In her field, that is unrealistic.

So this is the problem, the math is before your eyes.  So why then did Chancellor Nordenburg block his door with two Pitt police officers when this group of activists approached to hand him a petition?  The group indeed asked this question, feeling unappeased that the student and community voice would not be heard by the administration.

Vice-Chancellor Clark did accept the petition, in time.  It was only after one English professor, Robin Clarke, decided to call the Chancellor’s office that action was seen.

Exiting the Cathedral of Learning to congregate near the lawn, there was much talk of accomplishment, of continuing the dialogue, and of solidarity, again from Calvin, the tall, boisterous man from Occupy Pittsburgh.  Others spoke of planning for further confrontation, as plans were made for a march the next day on the part of Students for a Democratic Society.

The students are apparently not finished fighting for this cause.  A march the following Saturday was indeed intimate, but the voice was heard as students marched around Pitt’s campus shouting “1, 2, 3, 4, Nordy is a corporate whore” and “we won’t say thanks, we won’t say please, we demand tuition freeze.”  It was clear they felt betrayal and wanted action to be taken.

Further still, a group under the heading of Occupy Oakland (the double entendre is really a propos) gathered on Thursday, November 3rd to show solidarity for those in California suffering police brutality.  I can’t help but feel that a protest this time of year feels more dedicated and more demonstrative, as the weather turns, people rushing here and there to avoid the bitter chill of coming snow.

So as the seasons turn, one hopes that the bigwigs at Pitt may also turn their view to this cause.  If action is taken swiftly, the example may be set for the rest of the Pittsburgh University community, and even the country.  But if not, there will be those continuing to fight.

For more information about the Occupy Pittsburgh movement, see their website at:


Zachary Adams studies Philosophy and French at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also writes for a student publication, The Original Magazine.  For further reading, you can find him online at, or in the following selections: