Tamara Steger Investigates the Environmental Aspects of Occupy Wall Street
Late last year, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy Tamara Steger was transfixed by Internet videos showing hundreds of people descending on Wall Street to protest social inequality. From her office in Budapest, she wondered how the Occupy Wall Street movement might represent a new kind of social activism.
“Was it really any different from how people had been talking about social and environmental justice issues?” she says. “Were people thinking differently about these issues now?”
So with a grant from CEU, Steger headed to New York City's Zuccotti Park to interview participants and discover how environmental activism was part of the greater Occupy movement.
“It looked like a huge festival,” she says of Zuccotti Park, the protesters' encampment. “But going inside, people were talking about things that really mattered. The quality–of-life issues – this is why it interests me a great deal. At the heart of the environmental movement is quality–of-life issues.”
It's that intersection between environmentalism and social activism that has shaped Steger's research at CEU. With colleague Guntra Aistara, a research fellow in the department, Steger founded the Environmental and Social Justice Action Research Group, or ACT JUST, to jumpstart what she calls “action research.”
“We want to make a difference and explore and build knowledge that we can use to make a difference,” she says.
Among the protesters, she found that environmentalists were integrating their message into larger messages of social justice by forging coalitions. They formed working groups with race equality activists and others to merge their overarching goals of social justice and environmental quality.
“This wider environmental movement needed to build these coalitions,” she says, “to work closely with the feminist movement and the labor movement – to integrate these everyday life concerns of people. And the Occupy Movement has done that.”
Steger, who teaches a course in environmental activism and communication this term, is encouraging her students to see how the Occupy Movement is changing how environmentalists organize and communicate. Her students are generating a sustainability action plan for CEU and producing a short film on the Occupy movement.
“Our work together,” she says, “is hopefully leading us in an interesting direction for theory development that can be useful in terms of activism.”
Photo: CEU/Daniel Vegel
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