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At teach-in, America’s future is front and center

Financial inequality in the United States may have as much of a negative impact on the economy as global climate change has on the environment, said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

“America is now more unequal than we think it is,” Menino told an audience of more than 150 at Northeastern University’s Blackman Auditorium on Sunday for an all-day program designed in response to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“This is not a political statement,” he added. “This is a fact.”

The event — “Teach-In Sunday: Reclaiming Our Economy” — was sponsored by the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, the university’s Facing our Future Today Public Forum Series and The Boston Globe.

The purpose of the teach-in was to have a free and open dialogue about the state of the economy and to discuss solutions that would speed economic recovery and promote opportunity for all. Northeastern faculty, community leaders and elected officials, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Boston City Councilors Michael Ross and Tito Jackson, spoke at the event.

Patrick said students on college campuses and investment bankers at financial institutions have expressed similar sentiments in regard to the economic stability of the nation.

“Ten days ago, I was at a town hall meeting at Goldman Sachs,” he explained. “They were asking themselves if the American Dream was up for grabs.”

Patrick, who referred to himself as a “capitalist, but not a market fundamentalist,” believes in taking a community-based approach toward solving the economic crisis. His outlook was shaped by growing up in a single parent household on Chicago’s South Side, where neighbors routinely took on familial roles.

“It is up to all of us to do what we can to leave things better because we all have a stake in our common future,” he said. “If we turn to each other, rather than turn against each other, then there is not a single challenge before us that is beyond our capacity to solve.”

Occupy Wall Street, which began as a series of demonstrations in New York City’s Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17, has the potential to shape the country’s landscape, Councilor Ross noted. As he put it, “We will look back on this period and see this movement through the same lens as social movements that changed the world.”

Michael Dukakis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern, hoped that the teach-in could serve as an example for students and faculty around the nation. “Our hope is that by starting at Northeastern, this will spread like wildfire to campuses all over the country.”

As the event ended, a small group of students from Northeastern, Boston University and Harvard University gathered on campus and set up tents, declaring their intention to “occupy” the space for 48 hours in support of the national movement.