Earlier this week, I learned of a party being organized by the Arab Students Association (ASA) and the International Students Organization (ISO), celebrating the “recent struggles to change the world.” The Facebook event, called “ASA and ISO Present: REVOLUTION,” invokes The Beatles’ famous song of the same name and quotes “we all want to change the world.” Well, wanting to change the world and actually going out and doing it are two very different things.
You might consider me of the old school (and arguably you’d be right: I am a few years older than the average sophomore), but I was brought up with a different view on political activism. When my mother and father were of college age, they were fighting against the oppressive regime of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Back then, struggle meant protests, rallies, imprisonment and hunger strikes. My parents showed me, by their example, that in the face of injustice, one must act, unequivocally. I am certain that parents who grew up in America in the ’60s can attest to the power of masses of people hitting the streets, non-violently demanding those unalienable rights we hold so dear. This kind of struggle demands courage, conviction and strength. A struggle implies difficulty, and solidarity should be equally challenging. Hooking up in the Saybrook 12-pack is not a struggle. Heck, I wouldn’t even call it hard.
I understand and sympathize with the argument that any celebration of the indomitable human spirit, any affirmation of life and liberty, is a victory against the oppression of authoritarian regimes. But is this the most the ISO, ASA or the rest of the Yale community can offer in response to the events taking place? The idea of holding a revolution-themed party cheapens what the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iran and most recently Libya, are doing. Earlier this week, official reports claimed 300 dead in Libya, while international human rights organizations put the number closer to 400. Today, according to Reuters, “more than 1,000 have died, possibly 2,000.” Can we in good conscience go about our day, let alone jubilate, while countless bereaved families mourn over the bodies of their loved ones?
Imagine the following scenario: The year is 1943 and a Yale student organization holds a party to celebrate the struggle of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, led by Mordechai Anielewicz. Would you, as a conscientious person, see yourself celebrating while the poor souls of Warsaw’s Ghetto are dying? While millions of Jews and many other minorities are subjected to the systematic oppression and murder of Hitler’s twisted doctrine?
When the moment of liberation finally arrives, I will be the first to celebrate. But until that happens, it is incumbent upon us to act.
Many of us often walk across Beinecke Plaza, eyes hastily gliding over the World War I cenotaph, whose inscription reads: “In Memory of the Men of Yale who true to Her Traditions gave their Lives that Freedom might not perish from the Earth.” Today, like a century ago, people are paying the ultimate cost for the loftiest of goals, a world free of war and oppression. And what shall we do about it? Shall we shirk from our responsibility not just as men and women of Yale, but as members of the human race?
Sometime Wednesday afternoon the Facebook event mysteriously disappeared, later turning into an ISO/ASA mixer (while keeping the same “revolution” graphic). I can only guess as to the reason behind this abrupt and unexplained alteration of theme, but the core issue remains the same. This is not an indictment exclusively against the ASA or the ISO, but against a phenomenon that ails us all. At the very moment you are reading this column, people a mere Facebook chat away (if they have access to such a luxury) are battling forces of power immeasurable and cruelty unimaginable, and whose demise is not inevitable.
We must stand in solidarity with them. We must focus our thoughts towards the hundreds of individuals, no more extraordinary than you or me, who gave their lives so that freedom might not perish from the earth, and the countless others who continue to fight, even as you read these lines.
To adapt the words of a great American, it is not a party that we need, “but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
Benjamin Preminger is a sophomore in Pierson College.