Maggie Talks To Strangers
Earlier this week, a friend forwarded me a blitz that the Dartmouth Progressives had sent out about their plans to protest the lack of activism at Dartmouth. The Progressives, it seems, have teemed up with other progressive-minded organizations to form a small army of activists. This army is devoting this week to protesting apathy.
I was sure I had been drugged and left at Wesleyan as part of a cruel Halloween trick. When I remembered that my friends are too apathetic to spend their time and money executing such a prank, I settled down and started asking questions, such as, "Why is there a progressive apathy protest?" Usually, I appreciate Dartmouth students for their uncanny ability to be impeccably well-informed and yet indifferent to most social issues. Do the Progressives not appreciate this unprecedented level of ironic detachment?
This is all not to mention that I usually consider protesting to be an institutionalized form of whining. Granted, using the words "institutionalized" and "whining" will likely spur an indignant letter-writing campaign from activists across the nation, but that's a slap in the face I'm willing to take. The Progressives are protesting an emotion. Surely these are desperate times.
I sat down with Alex DiBranco '09 and Alice Johnston '08, two of the key minds behind the protest. Friendly and intelligent, both activists patiently explained to me the theory and action behind their quest to change the Dartmouth "quo." My distaste for the protest, however, did not waiver until I left the room and realized that my conversation with Alice and Alex was one of the more interesting and engaging conversations I had all week. Perhaps I owe the Progressives a bit of credit, after all. They're holding a Teach-In/Open Forum this afternoon in Collis Common Ground, and here's their interview:
How did the idea for your protest come about?
Alice: I think the spirit, for me, is this idea of not fighting capitalism by working harder. And you wouldn't have activism that was mostly in meetings, and in basement meetings, that only the activists came to. You would need to reach out to other people to talk about the culture that we're living in. Then, for me, the big problem is consumption ... these huge corporations that can then do all these dastardly things in the world that we are distant from.
Alex: I really wanted to do something big like this reach to the non-activist community, to get some attention on it. We went through a bunch of different ideas, so I guess it's crazy from that standpoint that we want to "educate" people on how to be activists. We also want to bring activism out of its insulated group of core people, out into the student body.
And how are you trying to do that?
Alex: Well, first we had the banners ...
Alice: We put up a thing in the library, which was fun. And the library took it down, which was fun. I printed out some flyers about this psychedelic shaman dude, who had an article in Rolling Stone about a month ago, and managed to have some great conversations about it.
Alex: I think it's kind of two things: a kind of culture-jamming thing, that Alice is talking about, and on Thursday and Friday we have two events, for people that are curious. This week is a chance to reach out. It's channeling towards a dialogue about the bigger picture of how we address issues. The idea is that this would be a beginning. I think it's good to build connections within the activist community.
Alice: Yeah, it's separated into issue groups on one side. Like, here's "big normal," and here's activists attacking in tiny little cells, instead of forming a bigger body. We're all on the same team.
Alice: [We're also trying to] lower the barrier to entry. Because there are a lot of people who care about a lot of stuff, and nobody knows what to do with it. In the '60s there were enough people in opposition to culture that they were called counterculture and when there's a big counterculture, it balances the body-politick a little more and it balances those at the top. It's about a culture shift, not about going through the channels that already exist and aren't successful.