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Why us “snowflakes” won’t stop marching

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Walking down the streets of Center City, I am surrounded by hundreds of equally passionate individuals, all gathered to reach a common goal. All of us are marching through the streets, careless of anyone who may be against our protest. We are too empowered by our chants and energy to care. Instead, we are all united by a purpose, which is to stand by the values of which the United States was founded upon

As we make our way from City Hall toward Old City, our protest gains momentum. Everyone in the crowd begins to chant at the top of their lungs. A couple of Swatties are sprinkled across the crowd and we smile at one another as we make eye contact. We switch off between shouting “when our country is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” and “no hate, no fear! Refugees are welcome here!” As we chant, people walking on the streets begin to join in and people in shops begin to run outside to witness our movement. Observing its growth, I could not be more proud to be a member of this march. Clearly, our movement is achieving exactly what it is meant to achieve, which is to share our voice and make clear America’s true values.

Of course, in parts of Philadelphia and across the United States, many are not as empowered by our movement. Rather, they find the action immature and wish that we would accept the president instead of continuing to complain. Especially as the movement continues throughout the country and spreads on social media, people view the challenging of Trump’s presidency as a movement driven by “millennial snowflakes” who are crying because they didn’t get what they wanted. While I acknowledge that this view exists, this couldn’t be further from the truth about why we continue to organize. Although many see us protesters as whining and unrealistic about our goals for the country, this is not why we march against the very real dangers of Trump, his cabinet, and his executive orders. Yet, because people see us whining, it is more important than ever that we make clear our true purpose of organizing rather than accepting the misconception that we are simply “liberal college students who don’t know what we are talking about.”

Rather, marching down the streets of Philadelphia, we are not whining, but chanting our love for refugees, our values, and our nation. Many of us are reminded of what it means to be “one nation, united” as our fellow protesters proudly wave signs with messages like “make America great for all, including immigrants and refugees” and “a staircase is more likely to kill Americans than a Muslim.” One petite woman is holding a sign that reads “Scary Sudanese immigrant” with an arrow pointing down at herself, indicating that the stereotypes Trump’s executive orders were founded upon are false. A caucasian six year old child is standing next to her mother and baby sister, leading the crowd in a chant of “black lives matter.” This young girl is already aware of what it means to be an American and serves as an inspiration that one is never too young to exercise their freedom of speech to fight for their beliefs.

Although many people may disagree with our marches and our protests, this movement is much bigger than Swatties “crying about Hillary Clinton losing the election” or anger that Bernie Sanders did not win the nominee. It is more than us millennial snowflakes upset because we didn’t get what we wanted. This movement is much bigger than a simple dislike for Donald Trump as president. Rather, the purpose of our protests, marches, and opposition are people of all ages, ethnicities, and even some differing political beliefs joining together to make it clear that the United States is a country that stands up for basic human rights and all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or origin. As we Swatties join the movement, we need to make it clear that we are a country that believes in serving as a role model and opening our doors when people’s lives are being threatened, rather than shutting people out. Perhaps most importantly, we need to remember that this movement is a call to action and a reminder to people around the world that, even with a leader that refuses to stand by our freedom and commitment to fundamental rights, Americans will not remain silent and will continue to fight for our people, our humanity, and our values.

As the march concludes, the energy and momentum created by the crowd still resides in the air. My face is red from the cold, but I don’t care, nor does anyone else around me. We all smile at one another as we prepare to return to our daily lives, midterms, or ordinary jobs until the next protest ahead of us.

One thing is certain. We will continue to march for our country, our refugees and immigrants, and for others suffering around the world. We will continue to march because this movement is bigger than us or a tantrum against Trump. Our protest is about love for our nation, love for our people, and we need to remember that, as Swatties, we can not stop joining the protests until that love is restored.

The campus culture conundrum

in Columns/Opinions by

I hated the college left before I even started high school. At the tender age of twelve, I began my political education in earnest, at the foot of what was then a novel portal into the wider world: the Internet. This proved to be much like learning chemistry from a pyromaniac. I picked up the jargon and ideology of every partisan with a message board. I was, in turn, an anarcho-communist, -capitalist; a 9/11 Truther, a Byzantiphile monarchist (there were dozens of us! dozens!); a Ron Paul rev-love-utionary; and a Zizekian socialist. While I occasionally embraced moderation (pretentiously terming myself a “radical centrist”), my teenage political imagination was mostly under the dominion of the esoteric. That esotericism taught me contempt for the campus activist.

To understand why this was, one has to understand that most Internet radicalism is fundamentally conservative. It is filled with keyboard warriors who can think of no battlefields more sublime than a Reddit comment thread. With a few notable exceptions (I recall some Internet libertarians moving to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project), the would-be iconoclasts I associated with were unwilling to attempt to effectuate their political programs. Their politics were too obscure, the American mainstream too foolish and timid to accept them, or so they told themselves. As they had no path forward, they resigned themselves, consciously or otherwise, to a do-nothing contrarianism. While they could not substantially challenge the status quo, they could criticize it endlessly, all while making known their displeasure at the spinelessness and anomie of their mainstream contemporaries.

No one was more spineless than the campus liberal, who was caricatured as a devout reader of Chomsky, Macbook owner, latte sipper, and possessor of an unkempt beard and an endless reserve of white guilt. They were engaged in mock militancy, a sort of extended adolescent rebellion designed to upset their insufficiently disciplinarian fathers. They lacked any deep ideological coherence, supporting whatever cause happened to be fashionable at the time. Even the Internet Marxists tended to hate them: they had abandoned the class struggle in favor of the infantile disorders of identity politics and human rights activism. The college liberal was bratty, foolish, given to self-righteousness, and ultimately concerned only with the frivolous.

This stereotype of the obnoxious leftist extends beyond the imaginations of Internet radicals. It’s the standard vulgar-conservative appraisal of the inhabitants of America’s ivory towers. Political correctness, Obamacare, false rape claims — these are all creations of the useless idiots who wander the halls of our overpriced universities. One need look no further than a philly.com comments section or a George Will column to see that a rather large portion of the country has a special contempt for the contemporary college student.

I internalized this contempt, and I have been the poorer for it. While I have found myself increasingly intellectually aligned with the left, I have kept my distance from the front lines of activism. Or, less woodenly: my ass has remained firmly in its seat. I remember the first day of Occupy Philadelphia’s encampment outside of City Hall, back in 2011. On my way home from high school, I stopped across the street from them and stared at the growing tent city. I had never seen a large-scale protest before, not in Philadelphia. Sure, there had been the occasional Free Mumia rally, the summertime vigil of anti-abortion groups in front of Planned Parenthood, even once a silent, masked march down Walnut Street, protesting drone strikes in Pakistan. But these events were always small, more like hobbies than movements. Occupy was something else: it was the left – not the anaesthetized, party-line Democratic left, but rather a rag-tag, heterodox, youthful, and very pissed-off left — making its displeasure physically manifest. This displeasure was general: it was a challenge not just to a particular politician or policy, but rather to an entire economic and political system. It was against the malaise that gripped the country; it was in favor of something radical, though it never settled quite on what that something might be.

I wanted to cross the street and join them in their chanting and sloganeering. But I couldn’t: I was too embarrassed by their drum circles, their human microphones, their lack of policy recommendations, their iPhones, and their Gap jeans. I feared the mockery that would ensue if I crossed the line. Worse: I feared that I would deserve that mockery. I left.

That embarrassment has repeated itself throughout my time at Swarthmore. During the 2013 Spring of Our Discontent (for the non-seniors: a rather spectacular and important series of events that I cannot adequately explain in the space I have allotted to me), I recall watching the demonstrations outside Sharples at a considerable distance, feeling the same stomach-churning mixture of support and internalized embarrassment that I had felt a year and a half earlier, across the street from City Hall. My distance from this movement was not as complete as it had been in the case of Occupy: I participated minimally, mostly due to a personal friendship with one of the leading activists. But I could never quite shed my defensiveness. I was more interested in apology than solidarity.

During the divestment sit-in last year, a movement with which I did not have much of a personal connection, I made a point to tell people who asked that I was not in favor of divestment. I could offer reasons, certainly. I can hear myself now: “Divestment won’t actually solve the real issues of climate change, it’s a feel-good gesture…they should be doing this! Or that!” All this bluster was cover for the fact that I found the divestment movement’s tactics obnoxious and that I desired not to be associated with a group and an action that I found disreputable.

Certainly, there are good-faith reasons to criticize campus activists. They are often wrong, sometimes hilariously and offensively so. They are sometimes so wrong that their youthful wrongness will become the cause of scandal when they run for U.S. Senate in thirty years. They are sometimes so wrong that they come to resemble their conservative caricature, all self-righteousness and magical thinking. But I suspect that many Swatties behave like I did (and, if I’m being honest, still do), refusing to extend the proper charity and consideration to the activists’ arguments.  We, who are intellectually aligned with the left, are more than happy to share a trending Jezebel article or discuss cultural appropriation over an Essie’s dinner, but are far too lazy, or busy, or embarrassed to do anything about our views.  We cannot expect the world we desire to simply appear some day, as if it were a gift from the gods. If we take our views seriously, if they are to be something more than a temporary youthful affectation, if they are to count in the world, we must be willing to back them up with real action.


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