Re: [sixties-l] Re: student organizing...

From: John Campbell McMillian (
Date: 10/10/00

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    Hey All,
    I don't have time for a really long or cogent reply here, but I *do*
    think we're seeing a genuine resurgance in campus activism, especially
    around issues of corporate responsibility.  Indeed, it's probably not
    too optimisic to label this latest upsurge a "movement."  Here at
    Columbia, for example, students have launched campaigns against the
    sweathshop conditions under which university apparel is made, held
    globalization and world-bank teach-ins, protested the university's own
    labor policies toward clerical workers, launched a campaing for socially-
    responsible investing, and who knows what else.  Graduate students are 
    also beginnign to mobolize against corporate influence in higher
    education, and we may see a pitched drive for a grad student union
    before much longer.  And just last week (on a Friday night, no less!)
    Ralph Nader spoke to an overflow crowd here, and hundreds couldn't even
    get into the auditorium!  As you know, Nader's not always
    the world's liveliest speaker, and throughout much of his talk he sounded
    like a tired law professor.  But students responded overwhelmingly to his
    anticorporate message, stomping, clapping, cheering, and giving him a
    standing ovation! Anticorporate protests have also taken place at the
    University of Michigan, the University Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Purdue,
    Wesleyan, the University of Iowa, the University of Kentucky, SUNY-Albany,
    Duke, Syracuse, Penn, Georgetown, and probably lots of other places I
    don't know about.  
    One other, marginal point: Ted Morgan writes below that one of the
    obstacles to student activism these days is "the spread of consumerism."
    I'd argue that it's just the opposite - among many undergraduates,
    mindless consumerism has come under the sharpest of critiques.  More and
    more, students are reacting against symbols of corporate or consumer
    culture, and taking an identifiably jaundiced attitude toward
    chain-stores that litter the city (most notably, Starbuck's, the Gap,
    and Barnes & Noble).
    All this is of interest to me because I've just been reading about the
    origins of the New Left.  It seems that hardly anyone was able to predict
    the explosiong of student activism that took hold in the 1960's, but 
    now looking back on this retrospectively, historians have capably found
    all kinds of things that presaged Sixties activism - the beats, Mad
    magazine, existentialism, critical sociology, protests against in loco
    parentis and HUAC, demographic shifts in the university, and so on.  I
    know that our moderator would like to keep this list Sixties-based, but
    I'd love to hear what others on this list think about the current
    possibilities for an even broader-based movement.  
    John McMillian 
    On Tue, 10 Oct 2000,
    Ted Morgan wrote:
    > Paula asked (a LONG time ago, message-wise):
    > >  In spite of the--very, very hopeful--activities the past year re WTO and re
    > > various ecological issues, in fact other than an occasional expressions of "Oh
    > > those dot.coms!" or "Hey, cool," very LITTLE political expression has come out
    > > of campuses, at least
    > > from what I've heard, recently.   But I'm not in the academic world.  What is
    > > the sense of you on this list who are, on student political consciousness or
    > > activity now?
    > Overall, based on local campuses (about 6 in the Lehigh Valley, including my own
    > conservative Lehigh University), there's the usual smattering of activist folks
    > trying like hell to raise a little consciousness with relatively little impact on
    > the campuses.  The difference from the prior two decades (with a few exceptions
    > --e.g. Gulf War), it seems, is that there are, in fact, some visible issues &
    > mobilizations OUT THERE going on which local student organizing can link with in
    > their audience's minds.  It's just that there is a huge, and I do mean huge, set
    > of institutionalized, long-socialized attitudes & perceptions that undermine
    > this.  Things like: (a) economic anxiety, fed for about 25 years; (b) the spread
    > of consumerism which has socialized people into an increasingly self-focused
    > perspective -i.e. liberation means I'll dress how I please; (c) the spread of a
    > market/sprawl society which has over 55 years reduced more and more the "places"
    > where people can bump into each other, talk about politics &local concerns as a
    > matter of conversation, etc. --i.e., the sense of place and community that can
    > give rise to imagining collective empowerment of the sort that existed in the
    > civil rights, black power, student, antiwar, womens' & ecology movements (etc.);
    > and (d) the particular media-culture 'mythologies' about the 60s --namely that
    > they were about a generation's experiences & attitudes and, by the way, they
    > failed.
    > Good question, and a tough nut to crack.
    > Ted Morgan

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