2008: Where Will You Stand?

Wesleyan has been a key part of the political education of students for generations. We embraced diversity and affirmative action long before the words “political correctness” became a slogan to defend bad habits. When I meet alumni who graduated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there are still residues of the conflicts that raged on campus in those years. For some, those years opened up a lifetime of learning about and participating in politics. For others, those years made politics synonymous with manipulation, violence, and a destruction of community. When I was a student in the mid-1970s, issues connected with feminism, environmentalism, and anti-apartheid were the subject of much discussion on campus. Of course, we didn’t change the world. But we did learn more about it by engaging with some of its most pressing issues.

In the last week or so the landscape of presidential politics has gotten more uncertain, more interesting. We should be ready for months of debates on issues from the war in Iraq to health insurance, from global warming to unemployment rates. Political organizing – mobilizing activists and helping people get relevant information – will be an important part in the decision-making process, and I imagine that Wesleyan students will play a role in this process. Here are just a few examples of activities being planned on campus: Ashley Casale, a Wesleyan student who marched across the country last year to call attention to how we can work for peace, is organizing a group of speakers on the war in Iraq for early February. This is in preparation for a major protest in Washington, D.C., during spring break marking the five-year anniversary of the war. An organization of Republican students at Wesleyan will bring in speakers to illuminate national and international issues from a perspective they feel is too often lacking on our campus. On Jan. 31, many of the faculty and students will be participating in Focus the Nation, which creates a myriad of teaching opportunities concerning global warming.

There are plenty of local opportunities for civic engagement. The Center for Community Partnerships at Wesleyan is a great vehicle for finding out how to get involved in our community. Middletown is very receptive to having its student citizens participate in local political issues, and there are many areas where the university can make a positive contribution.

Eight years ago some of my activist friends told me they thought it didn’t make a difference what happened on the official political scene. They were wrong. In 2008, we have an opportunity to make a difference. Let’s not waste it.

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4 thoughts on “2008: Where Will You Stand?

  1. Thank you, Michael, for calling attention to the vibrant fact of the political commitments made by students (and members of the faculty) at Wesleyan. Certainly attention to the complex ways in which power is mobilized and enacted is one of the most important responsibilities of everyone living in the United States.

  2. I must respectfully disagree. Democracy essentially fails to understand real contingency, the motor of “change.” It is an average, levelling device, its solidarity vacuous. I think it is also apparent that the strenth of a university’s political position stems from the student’s radical inactivity, its passivity; something we Wesleyan students have so much of. Here are some quotes:

    Even in much of today’s progressive politics, the danger is not passivity, but pseudo-
    activity, the urge to be active and to participate. People intervene all the time,
    attempting to ‘do something,’ academics participate in meaningless debates; the truly
    difficult thing is to step back and to withdraw from it. Those in power often prefer even
    a critical participation to silence—just to engage us in a dialogue, to make sure that
    our ominous passivity is broken. Against such an interpassive mode in which we are
    active all the time to make sure that nothing will really change, the first truly critical
    step is to withdraw into passivity and to refuse to participate. This first step clears the
    ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of the
    constellation.
    – Zizek “How to Read Lacan” 2007

    “It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible
    that which Empire already recognizes as existent.”
    -from Badiou’s fifteen theses on contemporary art

  3. And hey — activists in the seventies may not have changed the *whole* world — but they changed some of it.

  4. Being a Chi Psi who graduated from Wes in ’68, I’m going to add “residue” to the long list of things I’ve been called in my lifetime. (Just kidding…I enjoyed reading all of these comments)

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