[sixties-l] Student activists: still a strong force

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Mar 26 2001 - 19:50:11 EST

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    TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2001

    Student activists: still a strong force


    While embracing global causes, young people also turn to local issues

    By Tricia Cowen
    Special to The Christian Science Monitor

    Ask somebody what happened to real student activism, and they might say it
    belongs on a shelf with other paraphernalia from the 1960s. Others think it
    peaked during the Vietnam War and has declined ever since.
    Not so, say movement experts, who point out that activism has persisted
    through a series of waves - and right now the tide is rolling in.
    Current undergraduates belie their reputation for apathy and lack of
    interest in politics. Today's college and high school students participate
    more often in some form of activism than have previous groups, and often
    continue to effect change in their communities after graduation. Current
    undergraduate activists will fuel nongovernmental organizations and
    community-service groups of the future, experts say.
    "While they're less visible than in the '60s ... we're seeing a real
    renaissance of student activism -
    a reflective, thoughtful activism very much tied into their education,"
    says Charles Derber, a professor of sociology at Boston College in Chestnut
    Hill, Mass., whose graduate work focused on activism.
    The level of campus activism far exceeds the days of the late 1960s,
    against which many students are measured. Between 1966 and 2000, the
    portion of incoming college freshmen who had participated in organized
    demonstrations during their senior year of high school tripled to 45.4
    percent, according to a report by the Higher Education Research Institute
    (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles.
     From the current nationwide anti-sweatshop campaign to local
    community-service projects, students have many options from which to choose.
    The most recent flare-up of student activism revolved around an
    advertisement that appeared in some university student newspapers opposing
    the idea of paying reparations to African-Americans because of slavery (see
    story <http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/2001/03/27/p16s1.htm>).
    Earlier this month, students at 56 colleges and universities fasted in
    protest of corporations doing business in Burma (Myanmar). They hoped to
    stop US corporations from buying products made in Burma, which is currently
    controlled by a military regime.
    "Ever since Vietnam, everything's been really segregated into single
    issues, but 'corporatization' has bonded everything together and helps
    people see that they need to work together," says Annie Sartor, a sophomore
    at the University of Washington in Seattle.
    The World Trade Organization (WTO) protest in 1999 and the Sweat-Free
    Campus Campaign, a movement to ensure that university athletic wear isn't
    made in sweatshops, kickstarted activism on the University of Washington
    campus and at schools across the nation. Activists say the focus has
    shifted from trying to change governmental policy to alleviating social
    "I always did activism because it made me feel better. But after the WTO
    came, I'm into activism because I think that we can win," says Ms. Sartor,
    who is also a staff writer for the Ruckus Collective, an independent
    student newspaper on her Seattle campus.
    With political interest at record lows among students - fewer than
    one-third of college freshmen say they are inclined to follow political
    affairs - students are bypassing government protests in favor of calling on
    corporations to exhibit ethical business standards through shareholder
    At the WTO protest in Seattle, some 40,000 people rallied against such
    corporations as Nike, Starbucks, and Monsanto (a producer of genetically
    engineered crops). Globalization concerns also brought labor rights, human
    rights, and environmental protection beneath a single banner in a coalition
    called United Students Against Sweatshops. One outgrowth of that coalition
    is the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a corporate watchdog which recently
    charged that a factory in Mexico that makes Nike and Reebok university
    apparel employed children and subjected workers to physical abuse.
    Student activism, however, doesn't only come from the left; it's also
    cropping up on the right, says Nick Provenzo, executive director at the
    Center for Moral Defense of Capitalism. He says that people often think
    that "all campus activism is leftist in nature. On the contrary, there is a
    growing body of college students who oppose the left's agenda and offer a
    view to the contrary."
    Objectivist Clubs are one example. They are based on the philosophy of
    author Ayn Rand, and they counter the mainstream activist causes. They
    promote capitalism and globalization through lectures, discussions, and the
    occasional organized demonstration. Objectivist clubs protested Elian
    Gonzalez's return to Cuba in 1999, and defended Microsoft during its
    antitrust battles, saying the courts shouldn't punish successful capitalists.
    "I think there's an ethos of recognition that students can effect change,
    so students want to be involved in activities that effect change," says Joe
    Eldridge, university chaplain at American University in Washington. "If
    there's anything new, students are thinking more strategically about
    effecting change."
    Students are throwing their energy particularly into local issues.
    "Local politics is more tangible," says Richard Fox, assistant professor of
    political science at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Professor Fox
    taught a class this winter titled "Parties and Interest Groups," in which
    students created real interest groups that aimed to change policies or
    practices of local, state, or national government. Overwhelmingly,
    students chose issues close to home, Fox says.
    Even at citadels of traditional activism like the University of California,
    Berkeley, activism has more of a community-service flavor.
    "Activism [at Berkeley] has been sort of normalized, so that it's part of
    what you would see on a tour," says Daniel Hernandez, a junior at Berkeley
    and editor in chief of the Daily Californian - an independent student
    The attitude that "it better not eat into my schedule too much" makes
    community service even more appealing as a viable form of
    activism. Students often find community service more manageable with only
    once-a-week commitments.
    "We work from the bottom up," says Wilita Frehiwet, co-chair of the Campus
    "Y" Cabinet, which oversees the 26 student-run community-service programs
    at Washington University in St. Louis. "We're college students, so we're
    trying to make a difference one life at a time for each person who comes
    Community service has significantly bolstered the student activist
    movement. More than 80 percent of entering college freshmen have done
    volunteer work in the past year, according to UCLA's HERI survey.
    One group of five Union College students called SHINE (Students Helping
    Impact Neighborhoods and Education) decided to raise money in the community
    and organize a network of high school and college student volunteers to run
    after-school programs for a local elementary school where more than 80
    percent of the students qualify for free lunches and 70 percent failed
    state education tests.
    The superintendent and school board were so pleased, they asked SHINE to
    take on another school in the district, Fox says. The group has even
    applied for official non-profit status. Even though the class is over,
    three student groups will continue to do interest-group work.
    "Maybe the class is the spark, but there seems to be a desire among
    students to really tackle injustices," Fox says. "The class provides the
    vehicle for students who would really like to do good things and just don't
    know how to participate."
    While classes like these are rare, activism continues to thrive at colleges
    and universities.
    "We have to fight in universities - this is where the philosophy spreads
    and reaches young minds," says Jason Rheins, a philosophy major and
    president of the Objectivist Club at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
    For further information:

    Thread: Is True Activism Dead?

    News: Activism Student Advantage

    International Student Activism Alliance

    Student Activism Links


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