Posts tagged students
Posts tagged students
I’m unsure of how to describe the 2012 National Student Power Convergence. As I try to encapsulate the five vivid days I spent in Columbus I find myself writing long, rambling paragraphs. Yet each attempt at prose appears too trite or crude to describe the intense feelings of solidarity and love that I have emerged with. After 5 days of almost non-stop debate, discussion and learning I can only begin to describe some of my thoughts from the conference. I must also admit I am a painter and a revolutionary far more than a writer. With more time and distance I’m sure my thoughts will develop further, but for now I just want to try to lay down some general ideas.
I decided to attend the convergence without any extreme conviction. Several years of student activism had moderated my once lofty expectations of grandiose student projects; and while I agreed with the aim of the convergence, I was skeptical of what the results would be. However as the conference opened I gradually realized something dramatically different was happening. Somewhere around my 10th complex political discussion my earlier skepticism began to collapse. I found myself surround by 200 of the greatest and most passionate youth organizers I have ever met. Furthermore instead of embracing the individualized narrow solutions endorsed by mainstream liberalism, the vast majority of us saw and understood the connections between our different struggles, and targeted capitalism as our common enemy.
Beyond political discussion it was as though many of the rules that normally govern our interactions had fallen away, people engaged with one another without effort: making new friends, volunteering to help cook, clean, and generally assist the conference almost without a second thought. On a large scale I experienced what I had before found only in smaller communities: solidarity.
The conference didn’t seem so much like a group of different ecological, labor, education, civil rights and LGBTQ activists interacting; but rather of one vast group of revolutionaries, some specializing in one aspect of the struggle, others in another, all unified by a common purpose and learning from each other. The effect of this sense of common cause was incredible. While I have long academically connected the many separate struggles against our common oppressors, here for the first time I really had the opportunity to work closely with people from a huge variety of backgrounds.
The diversity of perspectives made the creation of democratic spaces an important feature of the convergence. A huge part of this process was the need for each of us to identify and check our individual privilege; being a white, strait, male this meant that I had to make a significant shift in the way I approached large group conversations. Instead of constantly talking, I started to work on limiting my verbal contributions until others had had their say, allowing new voices to join the conversation. Often the insights I had were voiced by other comrades, who added further perspectives. While at times I found this process personally frustrating, in general it created a more equitable and open space for conversation, ultimately engaging more people in the issues being discussed. I realize that to some people these are not particularly striking revelations, but I think many privileged people, myself included, often don’t consider the dynamics of the spaces they are fostering.
Another election season dawns, and yet again students like myself are urged to “make our voices heard” by selecting our preferred candidate. Many of us will undoubtedly be caught up in the fervor of rhetoric and promises, some perhaps even believing that this time things will be different. As a radical student activist it’s often difficult to view this bi-yearly charade as anything other than a perverse blend of distraction and manipulation. Seeing our fellow students fooled over and over again by the same shallow slogans and short-sighted policies, elections can be an exasperating process. However, we can hardly allow such a huge opportunity to engage with the general population to be routinely wasted. So the question then becomes how do we as radical students relate to elections, utilizing them for the cause of revolution without allowing them to corrupt our ideals?
First off, anyone who has examined the US political system can’t fail to notice its remarkable ability to represent the interests of the ruling class at the expense of the population in general. It is clear that our elections are bought, not won. With the demystification of Obama, an increasing number of students are awakening to this fact. Though they may still vote for Obama over any of the Republican field, many will do so more out of a lack of options than from any deep-seated belief in his abilities. As leftist students our alternative should not be a different face to vote for, or a begrudging support for the fabled “lesser of two evils,” but rather a move for political participation beyond voting.
I can still recall turning 18 and receiving a postcard from the government emblazoned with the slogan “your vote is your voice.” It struck me that the unacknowledged subtext of this was that I don’t have a voice outside of the ballot box. This is the ethos put forward by our society as a whole, that political participation means watching the news, choosing a candidate, and then disengaging until the next election cycle. This process is not democracy, but manufactured consent.