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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Challenge

<cessful activism is a delicate matter. On the one hand, it requires being radical enough to step outside of common practices and modes of thinking, crying foul in a way that calls critical attention to the flaws of current systems. On the other hand, stray too far from cultural norms and you’ll be dismissed, labeled a yahoo, and have your ideas chucked in the cluttered drawer of extremism. And, of course, what is successful activism? Social movements are composed of a multitude of people with ideas diverging in ways large and small, so a perfect success to one activist may be a barely acceptable compromise to another. Finally, there is the risk that you will be hated for what you say, or for what you are misconstrued to say, finding strange words landing in your mouth unbidden.

In spite of its delicacy and drawbacks, however, alternatives to activism seem even worse. Apathy and lethargy play into the hands of whoever has, or decides to seize, power. That’s a crapshoot, at best: historically speaking, seizures of power don’t seem to be strong predictors of beneficent intentions. So, our somewhat unfortunate obligation may be to engage in activism, fully recognizing that we don’t know what the results of our actions will be for our causes or our reputations.

I am impressed by the good work that Carleton’s many activist groups have done and continue to do in the delicate dance of activism. Because it is good, I think we need even more of it. I know that we—the general, non-activist Carleton community—have it in us to circulate petitions, to drop leaflets, and to organize at a moment’s notice. I saw it happen winter term during the controversies over the sale of Crack House and the proposed changes to Rottblatt. I propose that we take that energy and apply it, additionally, to causes that have greater impact on the world outside Carleton and on Carleton’s merits as an academic institution. I recognize that the issues surrounding Rottblatt and Spring Concert dealt with questions of administrative power, and I am grateful that students were sensitive to those questions. However, everyone knows that Rottblatt and Crack House are hotbeds of binge drinking, and—call me paranoid—I want to be reassured that the general Carleton community’s commitment to activism is equally activated by other causes that don’t involve our beer. I want to see more petitions, more leaflets, more conversation, more outrage.  I challenge you—and myself—to engage even more deeply with the questions and causes that surround us. It is hard, and it opens us all up to great vulnerability. But it beats the risks of doing nothing.

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