I have been writing this piece on the walls of Bates for a while. In recent months, boats have been shipwrecked in front of Commons, public death has occurred at our most popular eatery, paintings have been nailed up, cars have been parked, and, in addition to this, some activism happened. So what’s it all mean?
I don’t know, man. Seeing is believing, and yet the meaning of the Bates Naval Historical Society’s rendition of the losing battle between Academia Batesina and the H.M.S. McIntosh remains in obscurity. The Academia sank and all was lost: and yet this display in many ways has had more of a presence at Bates than discussions about Ferguson. So what’s it all mean?
I was involved in the exclusive Facebook group chat that discussed “Ferguson at Bates,” and was a member of the group planning the die-in. I remember being the only male (a white male, indeed) sitting in a house on College Street in a room full of female Bates students. I recall mentioning that the die-in should include the public, and that the focus of the group should not be solidarity between a minuscule entourage and a national movement and should instead foster campus-wide solidarity behind the issue. For example, don’t go into Commons and tell a room full of people that they could not possibly understand; acknowledge instead that nobody at Bates could possibly understand and that it is our responsibility to educate each other.
I suppose the die-in was the closest thing to direct activism seen at Bates in recent days. It was, in my book, a step in the right direction. Students have stepped up for what they believe in. In doing so, however, “educating” an “ignorant” populace, they have managed to estrange themselves from the only constituency they could have had, had they included their captive audience in the discussion from the get-go.
So where is Ferguson-related activism at Bates now? I don’t know, man. Aside from SANKOFA and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I have not seen or heard even a bit of the rhetoric or student passions that drove (part of) the campus to mass, orgasmic revolutionary catharsis several weeks ago. On the other hand, now we can all be activists, the bouncer at the Pearly Gates has our names on the list. I feel better.
In the last issue of The Student, Editor-in-Chief Alex Daugherty called for more student participation in terms of elections and petitions; for the new student body president Berto Diaz to get his hands dirty and shuffle off that mortal coil of pomp and circumstance that has forever shrouded our prestigious student body presidency.
Daugherty argues frankly that, with an authoritative president packing “hundreds of voting-age student signatures on a petition,” the administration “will at least listen.” Okay. With respect to the issue of invoking some form of authority over the decisions of the administration (which will of course be here after every single Batesie is long gone) would be a valuable first step in having a voice in the institution of which every Batesie has become a part. However, the issues that surround this claim run shallow: parking, Throwback Night, Trick or Drink. I’m baffled that the call for student participation at one of America’s most historically progressive colleges has limited itself to resolving issues about parking and booze.
Then again, we seem to have an idea at Bates that student vocalization regarding locally relevant issues (the work of the Juice Boys, for example) is considered activism in the same sense that those movements which immediately latch to national fervor (the die-in). We seem to constantly ask ourselves why it is that some forms of student action under the banner of “Bates activism” succeed as other forms are dead on arrival.
I agree with Managing [News] Editor Hannah Goldberg that “not all forms of protest are created equal.” The Juice Boys have never, in my time here, labeled themselves activists and have not seemed concerned with attaching themselves to any national movement, ever. In fact, I have yet to see the Juice Boys put their name on anything this school year. Yet the work they do is consistently effective in conveying whatever message it was they had in mind; but can we even call them activists in the same way that activists at Bates consider themselves “activists”?
Such exclusive forms of mobilization as the die-in have served to reinforce an “us-them” mentality. Mass invitations were not sent out because the ignorant masses needed an education dished out by a small, self-righteous group of true believers, while the Juice Boys include every single Bates student in every prank they commit.
Activists at Bates take themselves so seriously, and act so quickly, passionately, and without strategy that “activism” has come to represent a form of cathartic release. Even the Civil Rights Movement had a focus on local activism, maintained even on a national level. The activists of Bates are the types to show up to a climate march some Sunday because it’s quick, convenient, something to put our name on (and then follow up with a beer with friends before the long drive home). It is becoming harder and harder to take activism at Bates seriously when the best our student activists can do is tell people they cannot possibly understand.
Olivier Brillant, co-director of this year’s SANKOFA, noted in an interview with Goldberg that “Ignorance is okay…you cannot yell at someone who is not educated about something.” I wasn’t at the die-in (I wasn’t invited, were you?), but I heard that there was some yelling, dogmatic, tired and banal, at a big, born-ignorant fleet of elite liberal arts students. When did indoctrination come to mean education? Maybe this is how Bates avoids effective advocacy.
I don’t mean to inveigh against the slacktivism that has come to replace real activism in this glorious snow globe in which we live: it’s always good to have something to your name; straight shots of activism have me so fired up that I might actually go out, find my soapbox, and give the world a talking to. Right, Vonnegut? Yeah, man.