The passion was there, but the people weren’t.

Sarah Royce
Ilan Brandvain, LSA senior and member of the Environmental Justice group as well as the Coke Coalition, talks about fair-trade coffee during MPowered at the Michigan Union yesterday. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

Last night’s MPowered event, intended to acquaint freshmen with progressive activist groups on campus and the wide variety of ways to become involved, was full of veteran student organizers eager to share their love of activism, but lacked an audience.

MPowered organizer Libby Benton, chair of College Democrats, estimated that there were probably fewer than 10 freshmen in attendance.

This year’s MPowered involved five student groups currently involved in active campaigns for social change: Environmental Justice, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, Student Coalition to Cut Contracts with Coca-Cola and College Democrats. The groups presented informal workshops to explain the issues they are working on and how new students can get involved.

The event focused on student groups with active campaigns. “It’s hard to get people excited about issues,” Reddy said. “It’s easier to get people excited about campaigns – things they can do right here, right now.”

The issues covered by the five groups varied widely – from forcing Coca-Cola to improve human rights practices to bringing fair-trade coffee to the dining halls and campaigning for University divestment from companies supporting Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Israel no longer occupies the Gaza Strip.

While the groups do not necessarily agree on individual issues, each is committed to involving students in its campaigns and activism in general, Benton said.

Many students were not involved in activism in high school and, upon reaching college, find it difficult to know where to begin, added LSA senior Deepti Reddy, an MPowered organizer.

MPowered organizers hoped to make it easier for freshmen to become involved by providing information about many activism groups and issues at once and in an informal setting.

“There are so many acronyms and so many different groups, and that’s intimidating,” Reddy said.

Rama Salhi, president of the pro-divestment group SAFE, said she believes interest in social activism on campus is stronger this year than in the past, but the disappointing turnout at MPowered showed that it is still difficult to mobilize new students.

Marissa Falk, a LSA freshman who attended the event, said many of her classmates are “more wrapped up in other stuff” at the beginning of the school year and don’t have the time to become involved in activism.

MPowered will hold a second event later this semester, which organizers hope will be better promoted and attended, Reddy said.

LSA freshman Renee O’Neill summed up the general mood of the event: “If there were a lot of people, it would have been really great.”

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