Editorial: Missing a Crucial Chance on MLK Day

In Center City on Monday, thousands of protesters took to the streets. Meanwhile, most Swarthmore students sat down at their desks and began the spring semester. Is there merit to the claim that we can honor the people these holidays celebrate by renewing our commitment to our education? We at the Phoenix think, perhaps not.

Traditionally, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed as a day of service. According to Philadelphia Magazine, over 135,000 volunteers came out to honor the man and the movement he represented by working on projects to better the city — but our student artists were not out helping to paint the two new murals that appeared in Philadelphia on Monday. Instead, they were honing their techniques in the studio.

There was a celebration at the BCC and a speaker in Bond Hall: Howard C. Stevenson delivered a presentation called “Marching Onward and Inward: The Activism of Racial Literacy in Traumatized Communities” — but set midday, it conflicted with many students’ class schedules, making attendance impossible. This is not to mention the lack of advertisement to the campus.

Of course, this did not come as a surprise to many. Swarthmore generally does not observe federal holidays, and we notably begin fall semester on Labor Day. We have a long history of disregarding these days of remembrance.

But this year, we needed to do more than just honor Martin Luther King Jr. We needed to do more than observe the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement. Yesterday, as students, we needed to be in Philadelphia.

Outside School District Headquarters on Broad Street, a series of speakers led a rally before protesters marched across the city, concluding in another rally around City Hall. Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement protests were present at the march, as well as youth leaders of the Black Lives Movement, who organized the event. We, at Swat, studied.

The Civil Rights Movement gave us the tools of nonviolence and civil disobedience which have informed the Black Lives Matter protests. We have seen sit-ins, pray-ins and, perhaps most powerfully of all, die-ins inspired by that critical period in our history. It’s no surprise that many claim Ferguson as “the new Selma.”

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day was an opportunity to reflect on moments when violence and tragedy have occurred in protest, an opportunity to proudly demonstrate our ability to maintain a doctrine of nonviolence in the face of staggering brutality and injustice. It was a chance to stand up for the legacy of disobedience and confrontation that the Civil Rights Movement left us and a chance to prove that Swarthmore is still a stronghold of social justice. Meanwhile, lining up outside the classroom on Monday, we missed it.

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