May 2, 2006

Beyond the Quads

Before spring break, the debate on immigration was terribly skewed in favor of a vocal minority of xenophobic activists. That all changed when, seemingly overnight, a rally in downtown Chicago mobilized a nationwide movement of rational approaches to the illegal immigration problem in the U.S. With yesterday’s nationwide immigrant march—the culmination of a movement that started with Chicago’s protest—the dilapidated state of protesting on campus is more apparent than ever.

Campus activists should take a cue from the immigration protests around the nation. Activism isn’t about youthful angst looking for any outlet to voice concerns. Witness the recent Reynolds Club anti-military recruiting protests, which quickly became about President Bush and Congressional mandates that the military has merely put into action.

Yet even when students are on topic, they are often consumed only with pithy campus issues. This is not to say that gender-neutral bathrooms or the return of a banished member of a house are unimportant issues, but that they lack the national prominence of issues like immigration reform or NSA wiretapping. And it is a shame that neither of these issues has received anything close to focused attention on campus. As a result, activism has become almost entirely insular, merely seeking out the easiest and most clear-cut campus-level issues to protest.

At the same time, the best place to begin change on a national level is often at home, and some students have managed to do just that. While it pains the Maroon to concede it, by lobbying against the presence of Taco Bell in Hutch, students sent a larger message to the world about human-rights violations and the treatment of workers. If only protests of military recruitment had the same focus and dedication.

This is not to say that U of C students should aim for an “activism quota,” but students ought to realize a world exists outside the quads and that the stakes are infinitely higher.