Fiat Justicia: On student activism

Students hold an anti-Vietnam War and anti-racism protest at UConn on October 15, 1969. (Photo courtesy of Howard Goldbaum)

Howard Goldbaum, a staff photographer and photo editor for The Daily Campus in the late 1960s, captured images of a student protest against the Vietnam War and racism on Oct. 15, 1969. The Rally for a Peaceful Planet, the product of an informal coalition of student organizations and activists, is taking place almost 52 years later tomorrow, Oct. 6 at noon.  

This time, the rally will be calling on representatives to first, terminate the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, which continues to militarize American communities by funneling billions of dollars of military-grade equipment into local police departments; and second, to remove the current refugee caps which make it extremely difficult for those fleeing Afghanistan to seek refuge in the U.S. The rally will also call on the University of Connecticut to follow the state in declaring racism a public health crisis

At this near anniversary to another UConn protest, I thought it was worth addressing the tradition, difficulties and critical importance of student activism.  

From the aforementioned American anti-war protests of the ‘60s, to the Soweto Youth Uprising against apartheid in South Africa, to the Tiennamen Square protests, to the Language Movement and eventual Bangladeshi independence, nearly all of the iconic and productive human rights movements of the late 20th century have begun with students.  

Despite this encouraging tradition and a recorded spike in student-led protests over the past several years, I’ve noticed a growing lethargy toward activism in recent conversations with peers. 

With modern technology, it is easier than ever to both witness human rights violations and to organize protests and demonstrations to stop these violations. A great example of this is the death of George Floyd and the number of large-scale protests that arose from it. (Photo by Life Matters from Pexels)

Our generation has the unique experience of watching human rights violations broadcasted constantly on TV and social media. These reminders about the apparent never-ending cycle of things to get upset about without a clear avenue for action is both draining and desensitizing. The rally’s global to local calls for change recognize the connections between oppression at all levels, but they are also overwhelming to imagine changing as we navigate the limits of our personal agencies.  

Part of the aforementioned collective lethargy stems, I think, from our prioritization of realism over idealism in our approach to the world. Laws and policies are, of course, necessary to enforce human rights, but the power of idealism and its accompanying ideological change is too often overlooked. Activism, after all, is fueled by the gross reality of a situation and ideal visions of how it should be instead, and we are struggling to imagine. 

If you happen to be reading this, I am asking you to imagine a more peaceful planet. Perhaps start to research and imagine the consequences of accomplishing the rally’s demands. At the rally, speak to your local representatives — many of whom have been invited — about these changes that you’ve imagined, and after the rally, continue following these issues for any changes. Contact your representatives and follow the activity of the Undergraduate Student Government and other human rights-related organizations on campus. 

As Mohsin Hamid, one of my favorite authors, put it, “we can even be silenced when it comes to sitting by ourselves, alone in a room, afraid to think what we think.” Being radical can start with allowing yourself to conceive of a more hopeful, peaceful future.  

I hope to see you at tomorrow’s Rally for a Peaceful Planet. A better world is very possible and nearly here if we keep showing up. 

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