[sixties-l] Allow Us to Demonstrate

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 15:12:50 EDT

  • Next message: radman: "[sixties-l] The Sound of Protest"

    > May 13, 2001
    > Allow Us to Demonstrate: Student Protest Comes of Age
    > SINCE they finished finals at the end of April, Ben
    > Royal and three fellow
    > University of Michigan students have been driving
    > around the Northeast in a
    > green 1992 Toyota Corolla, trying to make a
    > movement.
    > They went to Pennsylvania State University, where
    > death threats to black
    > students recently inspired a sleep- in at the
    > student center. They stopped
    > at Brown University, where protesters outraged by an
    > advertisement
    > concerning reparations for slavery confiscated
    > copies of the student paper
    > and formed human chains to block its distribution.
    > And they made several
    > visits to Harvard, where 26 smelly students emerged
    > Wednesday after a
    > three-week sit-in over how much the nation's richest
    > university pays its
    > janitors.
    > Mr. Royal and his comrades, cell phones at their
    > ears, are recruiting for a
    > June conference on their Ann Arbor campus. They hope
    > for attendance of 200
    > ^ twice, they note, the number that gathered for the
    > founding conference of
    > the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in
    > 1960.
    > There is a fine line between a march and a movement,
    > and with students, in
    > the glare of springtime, that line can be hard to
    > see ^ particularly in a
    > culture that has become inured to the endless
    > variations on chants that
    > begin, "Hey hey, ho ho." There is, cynics will say,
    > always a hardy band of
    > leftists decrying something or other on every
    > college campus, like
    > background noise on the soundtrack of a liberal
    > education. But if the
    > activism of the late 1960's signified a more
    > profound challenge to the
    > fabric of society, today's demonstrations ^ focused,
    > tolerated and
    > relentlessly coordinated ^ may be more efficient at
    > achieving their goals.
    > Student protest has a long history in Europe and
    > Asia, dating at least to
    > the 19th century. American campuses were slower to
    > simmer, with the first
    > sparks coming over economic issues in the 1930's and
    > 1940's. It was only as
    > universities opened up to a more diverse student
    > body, in the 1960's, that
    > a true student movement took hold, focused first on
    > civil rights and then
    > on the Vietnam War. A second generation arose in the
    > 1980's, when students
    > erected mock shantytowns and pushed many
    > universities to divest themselves
    > of their holdings in apartheid-era South Africa.
    > In both cases, the involvement of the young
    > intellectual elite served to
    > grab public attention. But the linkages between the
    > student efforts and
    > more established adult groups ^ businesses and
    > antiwar veterans, Democratic
    > politicians and civil rights leaders ^ were crucial
    > to creating actual
    > change.
    > "Students very often are the most publicized
    > element, and very often they
    > engage in the most dramatic actions because they are
    > young and free and
    > more ready to take risks because they are young and
    > free," said Howard
    > Zinn, the radical historian who visited the Harvard
    > encampment several
    > times. "If that movement doesn't go beyond students,
    > then it doesn't go
    > very far."
    > THE latest rumblings, dating back about five years,
    > focus on economic
    > justice and globalization, with a dash of
    > environmentalism. Students have
    > rallied against the use of sweatshop labor to make
    > their sweatshirts; now,
    > at Harvard and across the country, they are aligning
    > with union organizers
    > to call for a "living wage" for the universities'
    > lowest-paid employees.
    > Mr. Royal and his friends, meanwhile, are trying to
    > defend affirmative
    > action.
    > Students were a major element of the recent civil
    > disobedience disrupting
    > world trade meetings in Seattle and Quebec, and
    > unions have also stepped up
    > their organizing among professors, graduate
    > students, and even
    > undergraduates across the country. In both the
    > actions on campuses and the
    > highly publicized protests of globalization that
    > have targeted political
    > and diplomatic conferences, students have forged an
    > unusually strong
    > alliance with labor.
    > This new partnership comes in part from the
    > increasing interest among union
    > leaders in direct action, and labor has reached out
    > to young people with
    > programs like Union Summer, an echo of the 1964
    > Freedom Summer, with
    > college students organizing workers this time
    > instead of registering
    > voters. It also reflects the outward-looking
    > ideology of today's students,
    > who are rallying for the rights of low-wage workers
    > even though, with their
    > expensive degrees, they are unlikely to confront
    > such problems personally.
    > ELECTRONIC communication has also revolutionized the
    > revolution. Organizers
    > now coordinate activities through e-mail and Web
    > sites; the Harvard
    > protesters spent much of their time on cell phones,
    > blitzing the media and
    > urging celebrities to come to the daily noontime
    > rallies outside the window
    > (they also frequently called their parents and
    > assured them they were all
    > right).
    > Whether the series of campus demonstrations in
    > recent years will escalate
    > into a sort of third wave of student movement, on
    > the order of antiwar or
    > divestment, remains a question. Harvard did not
    > yield to the students'
    > demands to pay all workers at least $10.25 an hour,
    > instead just naming a
    > new committee to reconsider the question. Still, the
    > high-profile action at
    > the nation's most prestigious university has already
    > spurred copycats at
    > the University of Connecticut, and could prove a
    > bellwether.
    > At the same time, where once student protests shook
    > the nation to its core,
    > they have now become common enough to feel like a
    > springtime rite of
    > passage, prompting yawns or dismissive contempt. In
    > the 1960's, students
    > were questioning the foundation of American society,
    > protesting the very
    > authority of the institutions that governed their
    > lives. Today, the
    > questions seem far narrower, the protests somehow
    > safer.
    > When Students for a Democratic Society occupied
    > administration buildings in
    > the 1960's, the abiding image was of long-haired
    > hippies smoking cigars
    > with their feet propped on the university
    > president's desk. This year, many
    > students brought books and laptops into
    > Massachusetts Hall so they wouldn't
    > fall too far behind in their schoolwork. In 1969,
    > during a demonstration
    > against R.O.T.C. recruiting at Harvard, the police
    > stormed University Hall
    > and threw the students out after 24 hours; officers
    > brought today's
    > protesters deodorant and dinner.
    > And many student protests are about far less cosmic,
    > more self- interested
    > concerns, like the recent University of North
    > Carolina march over budget
    > cuts, or last weekend's demonstration at Boston
    > University complaining that
    > construction on a soccer field was a noisy
    > disruption during exams.
    > Donald Kagan, a classics professor at Yale
    > University, said that
    > administrators ^ many of whom came of age in the
    > 60's, some through sit-ins
    > ^ have gotten soft, and that by failing to
    > discipline students for acts of
    > civil disobedience, are "miseducating them morally."
    > "In the real world, your acts have consequences,"
    > Professor Kagan said. "At
    > Yale and Harvard, they don't. If you don't risk
    > anything, it costs you
    > nothing. You're not a hero, you're a bully."
    > THE cynics say that students protest in the spring
    > because they prefer it
    > to studying, that students protest because they have
    > more time and less to
    > lose, that rallies and demonstrations are like so
    > many other extra-
    > curricular activities.
    > But if they don't do it, who will?
    > "This is going to sound like what adults say when
    > they're patronizing
    > students, but when you're older, you're saddled with
    > a lot of different
    > responsibilities," said Ari Weisbard, a Harvard
    > junior from Madison, Wis.,
    > who was among the sitters through Day 21. "You can't
    > really throw
    > everything aside for several weeks to devote to
    > something important. It's
    > not just that we're more idealistic because we
    > haven't had as much world
    > experience. It's that we have a real chance to act
    > on our ideals."
    > Mr. Weisbard, whose father was among the protesters
    > at Harvard in 1969,
    > acknowledged that skipping two and a half weeks of
    > classes was unlikely to
    > hurt his law school applications. The only homework
    > he managed to get done
    > inside was reading two chapters of a text titled
    > "Political Equality," but
    > he was able to get an extension on his philosophy
    > paper until next week.
    > Then there's his social studies tutorial, a seminar
    > called Community
    > Organizing and Civic Democracy. He is hoping the
    > professor will understand
    > why he missed class, gathering primary research for
    > his final paper.

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