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.