If you’ve ever seen Mario Savio’s 1964 “put your bodies upon the gears” speech-a part of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at UC Berkeley in which he fearlessly urged his fellow students to take on a university that he saw as oppressive, tyrannical, and corrupt-then you know that you’ve probably never seen a display of conviction as passionate and as brazen as his at Boston College.
Around the same time that the FSM was engaging in its unprecedented protests, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which formed in 1960 at the University of Michigan was gaining speed and support, too. College students, while at times disorganized and aggressive, were orchestrating movements so massive and so undercutting that modern history books feel compelled to recount their effects. It’s hard to imagine BC students organizing a movement that would not only be as substantial but also as direct in its criticism of authority.
I have often noticed a degree of complacency in my peers, if not because they are apathetic about the social, political, and economic issues they know exist, then because they simply aren’t aware and don’t care to be aware of them. There are those students who dedicate themselves to a cause and fight for it, but they are the exception, and rarely are they able to rally significant student involvement. I’m guilty of the same indifference sometimes, too-whatever slips of paper get handed to me in the Quad either end up on the ground or in the bottom of my bag, unread and completely disregarded.
I’ve thought that maybe this complacency exists because we don’t think we have anything to object to, at least not at the local level, but I just can’t accept that as an excuse. We are at a similarly cacophonous cultural moment, in which the combination of economic decline, international unrest, and domestic disunity has left us with an uncomfortable social disjuncture that, instead of mobilizing us as it did for SDS and the FSM, has paralyzed us.
We are watching as an incompetent Congress decides our futures for us. We are watching as partisan politics slowly swallow our country whole. We are watching as poorly researched Facebook debates replace real sources of awareness. And we are standing by. Or are we?
Debates like last Wednesday’s about fossil fuel divestment and events like BC Ignites are a start to effectively waking up BC students from their apathy-induced slumbers.
It’s not that students won’t leave their rooms. Many of us are involved in clubs and organizations, and many of us end up at the same bar on Tuesday nights. It’s not hard to get 1,000 students to go to the same place at the same time, provided that there’s dim lighting and a DJ. I know it’s possible to get BC students to rally.
I’m not advocating for the kind of cataclysmic upheaval that the FSM caused at Berkeley, nor am I claiming that there’s anything going on at BC that should warrant that much attention, but I am advocating for a student body that is eager and willing to question and scrutinize when it’s necessary to do so. We need to wake up and recognize that not only do we have things to fight for, but we also have the tools, the capability, and the right to fight for them.