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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Protesting professor participates in Occupy Wall Street

    Michael Zweig
    Michael Zweig, an economics professor, has been protesting since the 1960's and participates in Occupy Wall Street. (NINA LIN/THE STATESMAN)

    He’s been protesting since the 1960’s and he’s not stopping now.

    At 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, 69-year-old Stony Brook University economics professor, Michael Zweig, found himself in the middle of a Occupy Wall Street protest, listening to Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he tried to clean Zuccotti Park where the protesters were stationed.

    “At 5:30 a.m. all those people were there and won that tiny little victory; it was actually a big deal,” Zweig said. “I think it says a lot.”

    Zweig, who teaches classes such as Introduction to Economics, Marxist Political Economy, Labor Economics and Class Structure of the United States, has been to Occupy Wall Street about three or four times, he said, being a part of the crowd and letting the mayor and police know “it’s going to be tough to get us out of there,” he said.

    He became active in the protests decades ago, and the fire within him has never quite burnt out.

    “I think it comes from a strong sense that injustice has to be resisted,” Zweig said. The fire was ignited in 1955 with the lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was killed in Mississippi for reportedly flirting with a white female. Till was only a few months older than Zweig.

    Family members of Zweig were murdered for bigotry and intolerance.

    “It struck plainly that Emmett Till could have been me,” Zweig said. “I thought this has to stop so when I had the opportunity to stop those kinds of lynching,… I got involved. I took it personally.”

    Since then, he has been active in protests for women’s rights, civil rights, Vietnam War and the labor movement and, he said, Occupy Wall Street is different than others.

    “It is more focused on a broad economic topic,” Zweig said. “It really is calling into question the basic structures of corporate power.”

    According to Zweig, the tactics that were used in past protests and the current Occupy Wall Street protests are different.

    “We used tactics that were directly deceptive of the institution we sought to change,” Zweig said. “I haven’t seen Occupy Wall Street people do that yet.”

    “The tactics one uses are brought about by conditions one faces,” he added.

    He has been arrested for protesting.

    When he isn’t sitting in his office, filled with rows of books and piles of paper and bumper stickers like Larry Blake’s “I Brake for the Blues,” he’s reading nonfiction and fiction in the mystery genre. But, he said, he doesn’t have much time to read always.

    Zweig lives in New York City, and also has a house in eastern Long Island. He likes to take walks, go for bike rides, and he likes to “smell good air,” he said. If he isn’t hanging out with family, he likes to have good dinners out with friends.

    The economics professor has also written books about his research topics as well, such as “What’s Class Got to Do with it? American Society in the Twenty-first Century” and “The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret,” which has a second edition coming out this December.

    He received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan in 1967. It was there that he helped start Students for a Democratic Society as an undergrad and later the Union for Radical Political Economics as a grad student. He received the State University Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1991 and the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, also in 1991. He was a member of the national steering committee of U.S. Labor Against the War. He is also an elected officer of his union, the United University Professions, where he represents 29,000 faculty and professional staff throughout SUNY.

    And he does most of his work in the office on the sixth floor of the Social and Behavioral Sciences building on campus, where two paintings of Louis Redstone hang. Redstone was an architect that hired his father to work on a difficult engineering projects that were in serious need of help at the local Detroit airport.

    The paintings, he said, remind him that “you can solve difficult problems,” Zweig said.

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