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September 14, 2005

United We Stand: A Call to Activists

Quang Nguyen

      St. Ignatius chapel still guards the front gate of our school, reminding each passerby to "go set the world aflame." The message is not unheard but vibrates loudly every mid-September across the dustbowl as scores of clubs advertise their missions. There are enough varieties for even the most fastidious activist; one can learn about poverty and revolution in Guatemala, construct a house as an Appalachian volunteer, save the environment with ECOpledge, or contend for justice with the Global Justice Project (GJP).

      This year, imagine that the dim of activities has calmed to stillness and instead of an overcrowded dustbowl, one table, with four lean legs implanted in the grass, stands alone. Is it possible to replace the entire spectrum of volunteerism and activism to a single club? Perhaps not, but there is a need for greater unity between clubs and campaigns at Boston College.

      My first two years at BC were busy years for activism. Besides the turbulent election of last year that channeled spirits of medieval politics, there was the Obeying No Establishment (O.N.E.) campaign in 2003 that strove for racial equality and advances in other civil rights issues. But the hullabaloo of O.N.E. faded as quickly as the rise of its initial clamor. Shortly afterwards, a campaign for gender equality sprung up, culminating in a tremendous march for equality. ECOpledge, an environmental group led by the memorable Hyunjoo, blossomed in spring just in time for Earth Week. Of course, the fanatic machinery of GJP rolled onward, gaining momentum, backed by such agitators as Ravi Kalwani, Eric Ares, and Nick Fuller-Googins.

      Why have some clubs and campaigns disappeared like snow in spring, while others have persevered in their quest for justice? Why have some campaigns been met with tremendous success, while others stagnated? The answer to success usually lies in popularity—the number of supporters behind the campaign. While many campaigns are too radical and many activists too unbending to elicit widespread sympathy from apathetic students, others fail to garner support because they have faltered in competition with one another and quickly become overshadowed by more PR savvy campaigns.

      In this relentless battle for popularity, one avenue for support has often been overlooked and underrated—the support of fellow activists. A lot of activists are united, whether in the goals they contend for, the bureaucracy they hope to change, or their modus operandi. When one delves past the superficial, short-term goals, most campaigns, in one way or another, fundamentally seek to decrease the abuse of power, usually by an oligarchy, and to booster the rights and privilege of the oppressed and underprivileged. In this light, there are many areas where completely different campaigns can work together. Why must we overwhelm and divide the student body with a million campaigns when we can arch and lean on each other for support?

      Consider an EnviroCitizens' campaign to decrease airborne pollution. Such a campaign has a great potential for enlisting the support of children activists groups, civil equality groups, and social justice groups. Pollution, created by fossil fuel guzzling plants and factories are often situated in impoverished areas in black neighborhoods in the cities. The harmful particulates that are the byproducts of these plants increase the rates of cancer and respiratory disorder in the children living nearby. Similarly a campaign against Coca-Cola was initialized by GJP, arousing the indignation of a myriad of groups, including culture clubs, environmental groups, and of course, social justice groups.

      Thus, there are areas of social justice in environmentalism, and areas for environmentalism in civil equality, and the list goes on. Perhaps, this unity between different forms of activism is one of the reasons why GJP has been so popular with activists. It is the only forum that aggrandizes many of the activisms on-campus at one meeting. Indeed, many activists, despite dedicating themselves to one campaign, are likely to be interested in other areas of justice. To be even more effective, perhaps GJP needs to play a more active role in coalescing campaigns. Uniting two clubs in one campaign will not only open wider avenues of resources but lend backbone to the force of the campaign as well. Perhaps, it is a bit irrational, maybe even radical, to combine all clubs into one. Yet, it is at least important to realize that many areas of activism have the potential to be one.

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