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I was eating breakfast this morning in the gleaming new Ross Dining Hall when I overheard a conversation between two young women that I hear far too often at this school. It went something like this:
"What did you think of that protest last night?"
"Well, I sort of agreed with their message, but I didn't really think it was a very effective way to go about doing it."
Of course the women in question were referring to the massive demonstrations outside Ari Fleischer's talk last Sunday.
It's high time to end this silliness. People who condemn protest as offensive or ineffective are simply trying to cover up the fact that they don't care enough about anything to act. They are what I'll call the actively apathetic.
Public demonstrations never occur in a vacuum. A poster told us that we should simply call Congress. The poster-maker didn't bother to ask whether or not we had already done so. Of course, we had.
This leads to a second point, that protest is unnecessary. Our "democracy" is so unresponsive that most policy is set through interest groups. Interest groups can pressure the government with lobbying, demonstrations or any number of other tactics. We are using every means available to us to advance the cause of peace.
A third argument our detractors make is that protest is ineffective. This assertion is lacking any theoretical or historical backing.
A demonstration can be a potent tool for informing and influencing both public opinion and policymakers. In the case of our demonstration last weekend, we got the message out to Middlebury, Vermont and the world with news coverage, including on CNN.
Our detractors further claim that demonstrations preclude dialogue. On the contrary, by bringing pressing issues into the public eye in an unavoidable way, demonstrations promote public dialogue. This dialogue doesn't necessarily happen in the streets, but it inevitably happens afterwards.
I'd like to address two arguments that the actively apathetic have made that are specific to this demonstration.
The first is that since Fleischer was here to receive an apolitical award, it was inappropriate to have a political demonstration. Fleischer is the public face for a highly politicized administration. By giving this award to a highly political figure, at the brink of a major juncture in American politics, the award becomes politicized. "We are only awarding Fleischer's achievements," you say. But that achievement is being the mouthpiece for the war machine.
The second issue is that our demonstration was disrespectful. Perhaps it was. In this case we need to ask ourselves: Does everyone and their opinion deserve respect? Would Hitler's opinions deserve your respect?
What about Saddam Hussein's? To say that everyone's actions and opinions deserve the same respect is to subscribe to absolute moral relativism.
Right and wrong exist in the world. Fleischer is a man whose job is to warp the truth. The administration he works for is openly bent on world military and economic domination. It is an administration that has dropped bombs on wedding parties, that is seeking to invade a sovereign nation with only the barest of pretexts. Respect?
McCardell said that Middlebury College is an institution for the winnowing of ideas. When are ideas winnowed down to their essence? When is the answer found?
When people start dying, the time for intellectualizing and polite discussion is over, and it is time for action.
So, to all of you in the actively apathetic camp: If you agree with our ends but not our means, get out and create your own means. If you disagree with our ends, wage counter campaigns.
But for goodness sake, if you don't care enough to do anything, quit telling those of us that do to be quiet.
Ben Gore is a junior from Maryland. He is involved with the group Middlebury United For Peace and participated in the
demonstrations against Ari Fleischer.
Student Defends Fundamental Right to Political Activism on Campus
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