By all accounts, Michelle Obama didn’t like Princeton that much when she came to the college as an undergrad, but that didn’t stop her coming back to Princeton on September 23 to fund-raise at a dinner hosted by the President of Princeton University Investment Company also known as PRINCO. Sure, the president needs wealthy donors to support his campaign. Given her rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention it is clear why Michelle is crucial to those fundraising efforts, but the PRINCO dinner was a slap in the face.
Admission to the dinner was 1,000 dollars a plate and 10,000 dollars for photos with the first lady, plus an additional 2,000 dollars to bring family members. Rightly, Occupy Princeton became outraged and wrote an open letter criticizing her role in the event.
Mrs. Obama graduated Princeton University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. In her senior thesis (available at Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton) she wrote, “Predominately white universities like Princeton are socially and academically designed to cater to the needs of the white students…” In the thesis she talks about being excluded by both the professors and students no matter how liberal some of them tried to be. She states that it seemed as if she’d always be to them “black first and a student second.”
The fact that Mrs. Obama once criticized the university in this way and is now returning to fund-raise shows that either she believes the college has overcome its legacy of fostering of white privilege, or, more likely, that it doesn’t matter so much when her husband is running for reelection.
Joe Mcgeady, a member of Occupy Princeton, said of Mrs. Obama’s visit, “You may be taking money from some of the same people who have made you feel excluded in the past.”
By joining those who she once criticized, Obama appears to be tacitly condoning their attitudes and behavior.
In Princeton there isn’t much of a lower or lower middle class to oppress. Poor people simply can’t afford to live there. Until recently even people who lived in Princeton Township but not in the actual Boro of Princeton proper (they have since merged), had to pay $150 per year to get a Princeton public library card.
The letter written to Mrs. Obama by members of Occupy Princeton quotes Lawrence Lessig, a political activist and Harvard law professor, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights saying that only .000063% of America, approximately 196 people have funded 80 percent of individual Super PAC contributions. In his testimony Lessig claimed this has caused people to lose faith that their government is responsive to their needs because they are convinced that they care more about those who fund their campaigns.
Occupy Princeton addressed this issue in their letter to Michelle Obama. They wrote, “You have chosen to use this rare visit to Princeton to meet with the 1%, accepting their money and favoring their interests and political voice over the 99%, thereby perpetuating the bias against the underprivileged in favor of the wealthy. Is this what we are to expect for the next four years if the President is reelected?”
President Obama has openly criticized Super PACs until recently. He now supports Priorities USA, a Super PAC lead by two of his former aides. According to an Associated Press report entiteld “Obama reverses on super PACs, seeks support” that was published on February 7, 2012, President Obama is now urging wealthy fundraisers to support the Super PAC.
“I really don’t know what’s going on in his head,” says Occupy Princeton member Josh Shulman, “There is definitely a disconnect between his words and his actions. And I think a lot of people feel that after his whole hope and change rhetoric a few years ago and what has actually been done.”
However, Obama has also set new records for grassroots support, receiving financial donations of 200 dollars or less from over 10 million people. His deputy press secretary, Katie Hogan, has stressed that “the grassroots continue to be the backbone of this campaign.” That kind of spin rings hollow in light of the first lady’s visit to Princeton, however.
Although some members of Occupy Princeton intend to vote for Obama in the upcoming election, most aren’t doing it with much enthusiasm.
“I’m just voting for him because it really has come down to one [candidate] is slightly better than the other one,” says McGeady.