Friday, February 27, 2009

What We're Up Against

A recent unsigned and hence "official" editorial in the Duke Chronicle exhorts us to "Take Back student activism." The article discusses the recent occupation of NYU by a group of students there.

While the article makes a couple of substantive critiques, noting that some groups in the Take Back NYU coalition weren't even informed of the takeover or included in the drafting of its demands, the editorial itself comes not from a position of sympathy, but one of hostility. In fact, it concludes that "this is not the model of student activism that we should look up to."

It also seems to bear the imprint of administrative anxiety about the potential for similar actions to catch on at Duke. It suggests that "In contrast to the 70s, there now exist many channels of communication between students and the administration." I'm sure the Duke administration couldn't agree more - less action, more dialogue.

But perhaps the most reactionary moment in the editorial comes when it denounces "several extreme demands [that] diluted the legitimacy and power of Take Back's general platform." The demands it finds extreme include "13 scholarships per year for students from Palestine, an acknowledgement of the right of graduate students to unionize and public access to the NYU library."

That's right, the editorial actually openly opposes solidarity with Palestinians following the recent devastation wrought by Israel in Gaza, the right to unionize, and public access to a university library!

Following shortly after the observation that "our generation is often [rightly] criticized for its complacency," one begins to wonder what the Chronicle staff thinks our generation's mission is, if not a broad-based movement for social justice for ALL oppressed people. Presumably they prefer the continued domination of the few by the many. They certainly oppose militant direct action to defend and extend our right as Duke students and members of the Duke community to directly control our community's affairs.

It's true that we need to "take back" student activism. But we need to take it back from both the conservative "go slow" approach of the Chronicle, as well as the flawed-yet-inspiring example of NYU students.

As the young organizers of SNCC used to say, we need to engage in "slow, patient work." Doing so will make our actions in the world more likely to succeed.

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