Magazine article The New Yorker

Occupy Art School

Magazine article The New Yorker

Occupy Art School

Article excerpt

Last Tuesday afternoon, a group of Cooper Union alumni gathered on the sidewalk in front of the school's Foundation Building, on Third Avenue just south of Astor Place, carrying a tank of helium, a spool of kite string, and a large stash of balloons. Members of the Bruce High Quality Foundation, a performance-art collective based in Brooklyn, the alumni had devised a plan to use the balloons to float the string up the side of the building to the eighth floor, where a group of eleven students could reach out a window and pull it inside. They then used the string to hoist up a piece of heavy rope, one end of which the ground crew tied to a plastic shopping basket borrowed from a local pharmacy. The contents: a few bottles of orange juice, fresh-ground coffee, and some Christmas lights to hang outside the window. The makeshift pulley also sent a couple of pepperoni pizzas up the side of the building. "Avoiding spills was easy," a group member explained. "We just taped the box shut."

Inspired by the Berlin Airlift, the B.H.Q.F. wanted to show support for the students upstairs, who had been occupying the Peter Cooper suite, in the clock tower of the building, since noon on Monday, as part of a protest against the administration. Among the protesters' demands: that the school reconsider a recent decision to begin charging graduate students tuition, and that the president, Jamshed Bharucha, resign. The students and their sympathizers believe that charging tuition is a subversion of the ideals on which the school was founded.

Not counting the military-service academies, Cooper Union is one of only a handful of institutions in the country that offer a free education. Many students considered it a sacrilege when, in April, the college announced the tuition plan, which was designed to address the depletion of the school's endowment during the financial crisis. "The idea that the mission statement would be desecrated like that was shocking," Victoria Sobel, a senior, who is among the occupiers, said in an interview, via cell phone. Sobel decided to take a year off from school last October after she joined the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in Zuccotti Park. Now she is close to a network of lawyers and experienced civil activists. In the days before the occupation of the Cooper Union clock tower, Sobel and her comrades asked experts to tutor them in what she called "know-your-rights training"--nonviolent-action techniques and protocols for resisting arrest. …

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