Loads of student activists–far-left and moderate, dredded and shiny-shoed–and their mentors responded to Sam Graham-Felsen’s “The New Face of the Campus Left” [Feb. 13]. We wish we had room to print all their letters. –The Editors
THE NEW CAMPUS LEFT-STYLE
I am a member of DePaul University’s College Democrats, on the executive board of the Student Government Association, a founding member of our chapter of the Roosevelt Institution and a staffer for Congressional candidate John Pavich. I suppose I am the new “pragmatic” face of the left on campus–a campus that is certainly dealing with a rift between leftist activist students with good hearts and good causes and a contingent of progressive students who would rather see some problems solved than simply “flier and protest.”
Yes, I would rather shine my shoes than dred my hair, as Sam Graham-Felsen says. I like shiny shoes, and I know that campus moderates are receptive to students who can present themselves and their ideas seriously. I have seen several important issues undercut by far-left students who are unable to dialogue with moderate students or the administration. Recently the SGA passed a resolution against renewing our contract with Coca-Cola because of its human rights record. It took a great deal of time to pass because of the fighting over inflammatory language the far left wanted in the resolution. I view this rift between the far left and the moderates as akin to that between Dr. King and Malcolm X. History shows which path led to the greatest progress in civil rights.
The lefties here at Western Michigan University have done an excellent job, and not because of a large national organization. They started the Progressive Student Alliance, an umbrella group where representatives of the NAACP, the local AFSCME union, environmentalists, feminists, our GLBT group, the College Dems, College Greens, even the student-run radio station, collaborate to present one collective front. Most of our demonstrations, lectures and events are attended by the local community and city officials. Many of our groups opt for looser power structures, using consensus votes and relying on floating facilitators. Now, steering clear of hierarchy adds a lot of time to organizing, and progress is slow in coming. We never lose, though, the passion and commitment that come from a truly student-led movement. We battle the campus right, which holds regular events with big-name conservatives brought in by the Young America’s Foundation. We contrast by bringing in speakers who understand the problems we face locally and nationally. We also bring in well-known, auditorium-filling speakers. Every cause that WMU’s progressives champion is led by a core of committed grassroots organizers working to better the world one campus at a time.
As concerned progressive students at the Harvard Business School, we’ve realized that our movement lacked the coordination and leadership of our counterparts in the conservative movement. So we began working this year with American Democracy Institute (americandemocracyinstitute.org) to develop tomorrow’s progressive leaders. Conservatives have been successful not merely because they happened to find talented people like Karl Rove and Grover Norquist. On the contrary, these men are successful because conservatives built institutions that helped them find, train and develop young people and gave them the tools to go out and implement the conservative agenda. To effect change, we need to understand how the system works and train people to move an agenda through that system. Organizations like Young People For, Campus Progress and ADI are all working toward that goal.