The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Keir Hichens, political connossieur, S&B columnist


By Keir Hichens

Hi, my name is Keir. I’m an intended English/Math double major, co-captain of the Ultimate Frisbee team, novice podcaster and avid follower of politics. I’ll be writing a bi-weekly column this semester, and I thought I’d start out with some insight into my political ideology.

As another MLK day passes and we get ever closer to the Iowa Caucuses, I found myself returning again and again to Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In his letter, Dr. King warns to be extremely wary of anyone “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” For many of us, we are stuck at a crossroads. The easy path is, of course, to maintain that negative peace. This stagnation happens in many ways: asking that certain places remain non-political, choosing not to participate in politics or otherwise going about one’s daily life without the bothersome tension presented by activism and protest.

Lots of people, however, do not have the privilege to choose that path. These are the people who cannot go about their daily life without confronting injustice and who deserve a break from the conflict more than anyone. They must take the only path that lends them some hope of a better future: standing up and speaking out. This is the fundamental ignorance of the statement “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” Like so many of our problems, its root is in the assumption that “everyone is like me,” which means, in this case, that everyone has a choice to compromise, negotiate, or ignore politics altogether. Contrary to some, I believe that there is no inherent shame in this assumption because I think it’s part of what makes us human, and I struggle with it myself. I take issue, though, when those of us who already hold positions of privilege and actively benefit from the status quo choose not to question that assumption. Believing that everyone else is like you is an easy way to go about one’s daily life, but it ignores the harsh reality that our society may work for you, but it does not work for many others. This willful ignorance is two-faced: it hides inequity behind the facade of “meritocracy” while also continuing to benefit from the systems of privilege causing that same inequity.

For this same reason, I dissent when moderates take credit for making change. It wasn’t the all-male congress that got together one day in August 1920 that granted women the right to vote, it was the thousands of women who were beaten, jailed and went on hunger strikes to call out the issue and change public opinion. It wasn’t Lincoln who freed enslaved people or the all-white Supreme Court that decided schools should desegregate in 1954. Those decisions were the result of hundreds of years of activism, sacrifice and suffering by Black people all across the country. In the same way, if Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg pass a public option or reform on climate, they won’t deserve the credit; it will belong to the activists who shifted public opinion and made it safe for something like a public option to be even considered a compromise.

Finally, we must recognize that we all benefit from a society that is more equitable. There are many of us who are lucky enough to choose whether or not to use our political voice. Someday, we may need someone else to speak up for us and will wonder why we didn’t speak up for others when we had the chance. I’m proud to be a Grinnellian because we pride ourselves on our culture of action, but we too can lose sight of the big picture (myself very much included). We have access to a fantastic education and right now we have an incredible amount of political power. Let’s put them both to good use.


Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *