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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor: Whatever happened to activism?

Grinnell has a deep history of activism. From the history of the town’s founding to the New Deal to the Vietnam War, our community has been generally on the right side of history and has taken an active stance on issues of political and social justice, responsibility and activism. So, with that in mind, I have a question for you all. 

What happened? Where are our activists taking to the streets protesting injustices? To steal the opening lines I wrote in a Letter to the Editor last year: “We hear a lot about Grinnell’s commitment to social responsibility. It’s plastered all over the College’s website and the glossy brochures it sends out every fall. But what does that commitment look like in practice?” 

Now, you might say, “Well, last year the March 1st Day of Resistance was hugely successful. It brought students and faculty together to protest and educate themselves about the hateful ideologies of those in power.” You may even cite the creation of the advisory group to the climate change task force to the investment committee of the Board of Trustees on the issue of climate impacted investment as examples of how the community here comes together to rally around issues of great importance. 

Well, to you, fine member of the community that you are, I say this: where were the other 1590 students during the Climate Change Advisory Committee Panels? Where is the outrage that Grinnell owns an oil company? What about the fact that I’m writing this piece while sitting on a desk made by prison labor? How about the frequent Civil Rights Act and EEOC/ADA violations that we see on our campus? Where were our social activists when the deplorable events of Kanye Gardner occurred?  

I might propose a simple answer: they were at Kanye Gardner. Or they were at any number of the other parties, events, talks, study groups or assorted other engagements that happen on our campus on a daily basis. Our lives are so full with community events, classes, homework, parties and, yes, even the occasional protest, it’s hard to find the time to care about things outside of our own dedicated circles.  

I know that a disproportionate amount of my time is spent looking at the issues I’m actively involved in on campus. That means that I don’t have the time to go to certain events or dedicate myself to certain problems we face, and I’m sure that the same problem happens to many of you too. Everyone is nigh constantly doing something. 

So what’s the point? If everyone is doing something, then everything should have someone doing it, right? Well, yes, but also no. What happens when that something is important to all students on campus and no more than a handful of students show up? What image does that project to those affected or involved with it? What happens when we’re too busy or focused on ourselves that our fellows and their plight don’t receive the attention they need? If the College was being challenged by the community consistently about Title VII, Title IX, ADA and NLRA violations, would they still be doing those things? No. Because when we have in the past, they have stopped, or at least they started to listen for a time.  

Can we muster the people necessary to successfully protest these things? Yes, clearly so. So why aren’t we? That’s a question I think each student individually needs to answer for them self. I can’t make value judgments for you, nor would I want to. But maybe consider that there are things happening on this campus larger than any one of us, and while you can’t be everywhere at once, you can be and are somewhere, doing things that can profoundly help or hurt others. 

 — Quinn Ercolani ’20

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