When people think of “student activists” at Yale, often the first thing that pops into their minds is being woken up at the crack of dawn by a horde of striking teaching assistants. Well, as a self-proclaimed bleeding heart, tax and spend, cause-whore liberal student activist, I’m fairly certain I’ve never disturbed all of Old Campus. In addition, during my time at Yale, though I have never participated in a strike or a sit-in, I am proud to have been involved in movements that have caused policy change in Yale, New Haven and Connecticut. There are a lot of people effecting positive (partisan and non-partisan) changes on this campus and this community.
During the last two years, I have been involved in a large number of political and non-political groups on campus and have witnessed how inaccurate a picture “Political impotence: how polarizing partisanship breeds apathy at Yale” (9/17) paints of the activist scene at Yale. While I think there have been times when the active political liberals have been divided from the not-quite-so-active liberals and moderates, this is not a regular occurrence. If anything, there is more coalition-building happening on campus than ever before.
All over Yale, political groups have been working with traditionally non-political groups to try to make positive political change. Students Taking Action Now: Darfur led a major campaign to get Yale to divest from Sudan. Not only were they able to garner 1,500 signatures from students, but the group received the support and endorsement of the Yale College Council, a non-activist group with many moderates and conservatives. Even the Yale College Democrats, an obviously partisan group, has worked with groups across the political and involvement level spectrums to fight for issues like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
There isn’t a growing rift between “activists” and “moderates.” On the contrary, the activist world is growing to include more and more moderates and conservatives. Activism now covers a wider variety of issues and approaches them in completely different ways. The days of hunger strikes and sit-ins are giving way to a movement of lobbying and New York Times editorials.
In addition, the scene article highlighted a prominent misconception that all members of activist groups on campus are liberal. This is absolutely not true. I have worked with people across the political spectrum. More liberals than conservatives? Sure, but Yale has more liberals than conservatives. I must disagree with the statement of Julie Andress ’07 that “political activism on campus is dominated by extreme liberals and conservatives.” In many of my groups, there are more people who identify as “moderate” than “very liberal.” Supporting an issue and fighting passionately for it doesn’t make a person an extremist. And even if it does, just think that at one point, people fighting for the voting rights of women and minorities were considered to be extremists.
Gavin is right in that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. People who are woken up by protestors and annoyed by “that kid” in section assume that these are accurate representations of activist life at Yale. While I respect and support the students on campus who do use more “traditional activism” tactics to try and make change, it is important to realize that on our campus there are a wide variety of ways to become involved in and fight for an issue. And there are so many issues that are completely non-polarizing — sex trade, child soldiers, genocide, discrimination and cancer, just to name a few. There are groups all over campus trying to rid the world of these things through activism. Are there groups that are a tad extremist? Perhaps, but putting all activists into that category does a disservice to the great work being accomplished by so many of our students.
Jennifer James is a junior in Morse College.