April 3, 2007

What is STAND really standing for?

They just don’t make protesters the way they used to.

Not that the grammatically awkward Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) don’t have a good point. The genocide happening there is as bad as it gets. I’ve heard all the horror stories. American institutions like the U of C with investments in companies that do business with Darfur ought to be seriously considering using whatever leverage they have to stop the slaughter. It’s something we can all agree on.

I’m not as passionate about the issue as some here on campus, and they deserve credit for promoting a worthwhile change of policy. But so far, STAND’s tactics aren’t exactly lighting up the night sky. Dumping a bunch of pennies on the desk of a receptionist and saying “This is what we think about their $200,000,” probably won’t really twang the heartstrings of the Board of Trustees. Perhaps they should have simply offered President Zimmer a bologna sandwich. That would at least have been somewhat humorous.

I was even more incredulous after read this quotation from STAND co-chair Mike Pareles in last week’s Maroon: “We’ve made our point, and we’re not ready to get arrested yet.”

Read it again. “Not ready to get arrested yet.”You’re part of a student organization with a noble cause. You seem to firmly believe that the university you attend is not only profiting from the deaths of innocent people, but doesn’t give a damn. You have the moral and organizational clout to get 100 students to march on an administration building when there aren’t more than 50 who routinely watch the baseball team. And you’re telling us you wouldn’t risk an arrest to press your case?

Where would we be if Rosa Parks had decided that taking the open seat up front on that Montgomery city bus on a December day in 1955 wasn’t worth being busted? What if Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in April 1963 had been a pleading note from a Holiday Inn instead of a cry of moral indignation that inspired others to action? In 1968, the students who occupied the Columbia University President’s office didn’t eat for days, and as a result, drew a lot more attention to their causes than if they’d been protesting between latte breaks. Plus, the only punishment they got was suspension.

Are you really saying the risk of graduating a bit late or paying the $50 fine for a misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge outweighs the need to bring heat on the urgent human catastrophe in Darfur?

What would Thoreau say? Civil Disobedience tells us that he didn’t pay his taxes. Maybe you should just stop paying your tuition. After all, that’s the money helping to subsidize the killing, however indirectly. Come to think of it, the pennies you wasted could have fed and provided medical supplies for quite a few children over there.

You’ll have to excuse my cynicism. I was just wondering exactly how deeply STAND’s commitment to justice in Darfur runs. Are they really more worried about a blot on their résumés than stopping genocide? Maybe that’s wise. Soon enough, that résumé will pay off in a good job, requiring them to work so many hours they won’t have time for Darfur anymore. They shouldn’t sweat it. When they’re older, they can tell their grandkids about the time they made a lot of noise in a school administration building.

History clearly suggests that effective protests often have to push the envelope in ways that can affectthe future of the protestors themselves. So the members of STAND have to face a question: Is this really all the moral outrage they’re capable of? What do they care more about, Darfur or themselves? I hope that for the sake of a future generation of protesters, the answer is Darfur.

That’s what’s so disingenuous about protesting without being willing to really fight for what you believe in. If you don’t push yourself, you never learn what you’re capable of.