Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
With Labor Day over, college campuses across the country are once again buzzing with activity. Each year seems to begin very much like the ones before. But this year, something is just a little bit different on the college scene. This year, student activism appears to be back in vogue.
By the end of the last school year, two distinct campaigns got underway on campuses, garnering media and public attention. The first is a campaign against sweatshop labor, and, specifically, to stop universities from offering insignia clothing manufactured under such conditions. The second is the Higher Education Act reform campaign, which seeks to have overturned a provision in the HEA, which strips federal financial aid eligibility from any student for any drug conviction, no matter how minor.
In both cases, students were motivated by a sense that they were being used. In the first case, they were being used by merchandisers, who assumed that young people would ignore the plight of mere laborers if the ads looked slick. In the second, they were being used by politicians who continue to assume that the young and the poor are disposable grist for the politically popular and ever more lucrative war on drugs. And the students didn't like it.
In just over one semester of the HEA Campaign, twelve student governments and two statewide student associations adopted a resolution calling upon Congress to overturn the drug provision. The NAACP, ACLU, American Public Health Association and United States Students Association also endorsed the campaign. In March, Representative Barney Frank introduced H.R. 1053, which would overturn the provision. The campaign itself was featured in stories in more than 125 campus newspapers, several major daily newspapers and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Student apathy, long rumored to be a cultural predisposition of the current generation, is beginning to lift. Out of the HEA campaign, chapters of a group called Students for Sensible Drug Policy began to spring up. In November, a national student conference on drug policy and justice will be held in Washington, DC. It is expected that those in attendance will come from all parts of the country and all points on the political spectrum. Students, long taught that they could not trust one another based on differences in class, culture and political philosophy, are coming together.
It is important to note that much of the current activism has been facilitated by the availability of the Internet and the world-wide-web. No longer limited to handing out flyers on-campus, students can now organize nationally, and even internationally. Student leaders thousands of miles apart can coordinate their activities, share ideas and provide support. Once upon a time, students had to start riots, take over buildings or shut down a campus to gain attention for their cause. Not so anymore.
Today's politicians rarely make a move, stake out a position or utter a rhetorical inanity without, in the next breath, explaining that whatever it is they are espousing is "in the interests of our children." Well, today's college students are certainly not children. In fact, they are perhaps the most savvy and sophisticated -- certainly technologically -- generation in history. But given the rate of reelection for incumbents in our system, they were most certainly the children that these same politicians were hiding behind just an election cycle or two ago. And now, the chickens are beginning to come home to roost.
This week, across the country, America's 18 to 20 somethings -- the ones to whom we market sweatshop fashions, the ones we arrest -- and mark for life -- for possessing the wrong intoxicants, the ones we send to war when men and women of a different generation fail at diplomacy -- are back on campus. Summer is over, and just like every other year since the dawn of time, autumn is sure to follow. But this year just might be a little different. This year, as a new millenium dawns, it seems as though our young people are getting sick and tired of being used.