Organizing Insurrection

“Economics students are in rebellion.”

In May of this year, you could find a version of that headline splashed across the pages of newspapers and other publications in over 18 countries across the globe. That month, a global network of econ students calling ourselves the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE) released our open letter calling for an overhaul of economics education and research. Overall, it was a very diplomatic call for change — demanding a simple widening of the range of schools of thought, methodology and interdisciplinary options offered in the standard econ curriculum. But the headlines read “rebellion!” Why?

Some students might shy away from the rebel label, but given what we’re up against, it’s a fitting one. The world of mainstream economics is a monolithic empire of thought if ever there was one. Any whisper of dissent against its fundamental tenets is bound to incur a crackdown from the thought police, who invariably brand us as misguided, and seek to tame our revolutionary fury with mild reforms.

To be a rebel in such a world is a badge of intellectual valor. It’s a mark of allegiance to free-inquiry. It’s a label we need to embrace and encourage others to embrace. But as economics students from Harvard to Sydney have found out, against the power of empire, rebellions can easily fizzle out.

So how do we build the power and resilience needed to challenge the orthodoxy, dislodge its high priests, topple their ivory towers, and bring reality back into the economics classroom? Speaking out in class is a start. Putting up provocative posters is a start. Issuing manifestos is another step forward. But to overcome the power of the thought police we have to get organized. Individual actions may help stir the waters of rebellion, but to transform our discontent into a relentless, transformative tide requires long-term strategic thinking and collaboration.

Thankfully, for the would be revolutionaries among us, there are some strategic precedents and organizing models to draw upon.

ISIPE provides a great case in point. Where past flare-ups of student discontent were relatively isolated, and insular, ISIPE now provides rebel economists with a global support network to share ideas, best practices, inspirational stories and other resources to keep our insurrections going and growing. Moreover, within the ISIPE community there are dozens of national-level student networks whose experiences can yield lessons for those of us working to launch national networks of our own, as in the United States.

If you’re a budding rebel economist, hopefully you’re wondering: How do I build a student group, get it active on my campus and get connected to the growing global movement? As another school year approaches, this blog series will explore exactly those questions in several more installments over the coming weeks. Drawing on the experiences of ISIPE, national networks, and other campus organizing models, I hope to shed some light on everything from how to recruit your classmates, to how to plan a campaign and keep your rebellion rolling for the long haul. Tune back in for tips on how to turn on the heat needed to beat the thought police and transform our the economic student rebellion into a full on revolution.

Keith Harrington