Justin Peligri: Stepping off the sidelines of activism

Justin Peligri
Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

There’s something admirable about being so devoted to a cause that you are willing to risk arrest to achieve it.

Last Wednesday, four students did just that. U.S. Capitol Police arrested the D.C. Statehood Student Association members, who were accompanied by two non-GW students, when they blocked traffic as part of a protest advocating for District statehood.

The students did not back down, even after they were handcuffed and put into the back of a police van. It is this sort of behavior that solidifies GW’s status as one of the most politically active colleges in the country. But even better, it makes GW a school where students not only support important causes, but also act to change them.

Sideline activism runs rampant on college campuses, and showing support is as easy as sharing a video on Facebook or retweeting a story on Twitter. But that sort of activism is a passive and not very meaningful way to raise awareness. But what Patrick Kennedy, Matthew Laurinavicius, Moo Bae and Markus Batchelor did took effort and courage, as they stood up for what they believed in, even though they knew it would result in being put in the back of a police van.

Their plans started small; the advocates spent the past few months meeting with city leaders and trying to gain traction for the statehood movement. GW established a D.C. Statehood Student Association chapter in November, and the organization has expanded to include about 40 members. They obtained a permit to congregate at the corner of Constitution Avenue and First Street – the same location where a resurgence to the D.C. statehood movement occurred last April. After staging a protest in Kogan Plaza Wednesday, the students walked through the rain toward the Capitol, armed with signs and chants. The students who agreed to get arrested for their cause moved into the streets, blocking traffic and raising awareness about a critical issue. The police arrived at the scene shortly after to handcuff the protesters.

Whether it’s D.C.’s lack of statehood, the recent health care debate or even the fight for student space in the Marvin Center, students at GW care about pressing issues. This doesn’t mean students should run to be arrested to support any and all causes, but everyone should make an effort by throwing themselves into the issues about which they are passionate.

Students should take advantage of the opportunities that come with living in the District. We live in such close proximity to the most important policy makers in the country, and we need to tap into the resources our sheer location provides us. Whether it is through protests, lobbying efforts or even becoming a member of one of the many advocacy groups across D.C., making a difference is something that is not just an option, but an obligation here.

And big action pays off. The group of students who protested was small, but it garnered city wide attention and contributed to the dialogue about D.C.’s lack of representation. Even the mayor noticed them.

“We’re really thankful that GW students are stepping up for statehood,” Pedro Ribeiro, Mayor Vincent Gray’s communications director said. “As an alumnus the mayor is particularly impressed and proud.”

Justin Peligri is a freshman majoring in political communication.

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