During the past few weeks, campus has been saturated with images of bloody fetuses, the voices of radical preachers and hate-mongering protesters. Like many of you, during my daily walk to and from classes I’ve come across people broadcasting their message to the thousands of students who cross the Diag each day.
The University is an easy target for these people. Historically, Michigan has served as a breeding ground for liberal social and economic ideals. From activist John Sinclair to former President John F. Kennedy, some of the most important figures of the 20th century have used the University as a launching point for their ideas. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union. In 1965, more than 200 faculty members canceled their classes and hosted “teach-ins” to protest the United States’s occupation of Vietnam. In 1969, America’s first student renters union was founded at the University with the support of the United Auto Workers. But why are any of these events relevant today?
Over the course of our lifetimes, we’ve seen the collapse of the American economic system, American involvement in two wars — propagated by an administration that seemed more concerned with the military-industrial complex than American lives — and an emergence of shall I say “scary” right-wing radicals who call for a country governed by religious ideals rather than civil liberties.
Today our country and campus stand at the crossroads of an identity crisis. Outside groups like the California-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform — who on Monday and Tuesday attempted to equate the slaughter of 12 million people by Nazis to a woman’s right to choose — are omnipresent on campus. Last year, the University garnered national media attention when former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell publicly harassed and defamed Chris Armstrong, the Michigan Student Assembly’s first openly gay president.
Many students on campus have denounced these events, but outright counter-protest has been minimal. I can assure you many people with thoughts contrary to mine are hoping for me to denounce their right to express their ideals. I won’t. Our country has been built upon citizens’ right to express their opinions freely. I’m personally impressed by the ability of right-wing groups to organize and demonstrate on campus — no matter how ludicrous I think their ideals may be. But without dissent, these groups will become ever-present on campus and eventually nationwide. As history shows, groups who make the University their focal point of attack tend to influence the country as a whole.
So, Michigan students, it’s time to react. Political tension in the United States fosters democratic ingenuity. It may not be 1960, but I think our grandparents would contend that Washington is as troubling today as it was 50 years ago.
When you see something that troubles you, you’re probably not the only one. Rather than passing protesters and ignoring them, take a stand. Many of my professors have said that student activism is dead, but I tend to disagree. The time, if ever, is now for a rebirth of student activism. If we continue to stand by and passively allow fundamental religious, social and economic freedoms to be defiled, our prosperity and our lives are bound to change. It’s up to us to determine how so.
Eaghan Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.