In search of campus activism

Have we run out of things to fight for? My first three years at GW were marked by impassioned, united battles (impassioned and united by GW standards, anyway), but it seems that this year, the charge-ahead spirit that traditionally colors college life is missing.

Not that our battles always have been big ones. There was the fight against the tuition increase – a battle fought by students in the conference rooms of Rice Hall, in the student group offices in the Marvin Center, on the pages of this newspaper.

And last year, we were mobilized by the thrilling prospect of “saving” Commencement from the horribly unimaginable fate of being held in the downtown MCI Center. Victory was celebrated on a glorious spring day in the heart of our nation’s capital, and everyone went home happy.

Looking back, things such as the infamous J Street boycott and the Commencement town hall meeting that packed a Funger lecture hall are tiny dots on the history of this school – captured only in the fading newsprint of The GW Hatchet’s archives and in the memories of those who were there.

But still, they mattered. They got people riled up and excited, anxious to write letters to the editors of campus publications, set up Web sites urging support for their points of view, meet with administrators to convey their feelings about the issues they cared about.

In the whole scheme of things, the issues that have commanded attention in the past few years are barely worth a small notation in the University’s archives. They don’t measure up to the days in the 1960s when students staged massive protests on the steps of Rice Hall, calling for the end of fighting in Vietnam just blocks from where decisions were being made about the war. Classes were canceled for the first time since the Civil War and The Hatchet printed a drawing of a clenched fist across the front page of its May 6, 1970 issue.

I don’t expect protesters with bullhorns in front of Rice Hall. I don’t expect canceled classes. I just want to see students fight for something. I want to see people who normally have nothing in common unite because they want to see something get done. I want to see something that gets students aggravated, agitated and upset. I want to see the pages of this newspaper full of news and op-eds about students and administrators who want to change things – make them better, more efficient, more interesting.

I can’t say no one has tried – the graduate students in the Columbian School are fighting against fees they say are unfair. Some members of the Student Association are eager to see the University fee itemized, a move they say will increase accountability. Students ran for local government in hopes of bringing a fresh voice to community issues.

Maybe our culture lacks the activist nature that made the 1960s such a different time. Maybe we haven’t recovered from the materialism of the 1980s. It seems we’re spending our time fighting for the smaller causes. Let’s face it – itemizing the student fee won’t spark the kind of excitement this campus needs.

There’s still something missing. I don’t have the answer – in fact, I don’t even have the question. Someone does, though. I’m sure of it.

-The writer is editor in chief of The GW Hatchet.

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