As we watched historical footage from Berkeley in the ‘60s, I wanted to share this footage of Wesleyan in ’88, as students urged the university to divest from companies that did business in South Africa during apartheid.
I’d watched this last spring, but rewatching it today gave me very mixed feelings. I find the energy apparent in both this and Berkeley in the Sixties galvanizing, but seeing moments where a new, better era seemed imminent, echoed across decades, frustrates and discourages me. In particular, I thought a lot about the Black Lives Matter march that took place at Wes in December 2014: there were moments in the “Occupy College Row” video that reminded me of taking part in that march, and moments that seemed notable for their contrast. Most strikingly for me, in ways I’m still trying to articulate, is the juxtaposition of students chanting “Middletown!” while facing North College (roughly 23:00) in 1988 and my memories of students chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” while walking toward Main Street on Washington, traffic blocked off by the MPD.
Something I’m wondering, and would like to discuss with the class, is how we feel today’s students relate to the quote in Berkley in the Sixties about student activists being cynical and alienated. The woman speaking in that film strongly rejected that claim, saying it was precisely because of their love for their country and communities that they protested as they did. I, on the other hand, often do feel alienated and cynical, not confident that our structures are worth fixing instead of tearing down. (A lot of this is influenced by what I’ve been reading of afro-pessimism. Come to tomorrow’s CHUM lecture to hear more about this from Frank Wilderson!) I’d like to hear if others feel similarly, especially, perhaps, in light of what’s happening on campus now.