On Friday, Muhlenberg participated in the Million Student March. The Million Student March is an event held at colleges to demand tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, a $15/hour minimum wage for all campus workers, and divestment from private prisons. As a class, we were informed of the protest and its goals, and then headed over to take part, as a sort of exercise in allyship. There, the student organizing the protest gave us an explanation of their goals, explained the petitions on the table, and encouraged us to make signs. All in all, it felt like a good event to take part in. It felt like something we should be fighting for. I felt proud to take part and be an ally for something.
What was interesting to me was the reactions of passerby. The primary reaction seemed to be just… Strange looks. Nervous smiles. Then there were the smaller number of people who stopped briefly to look at the signs and perhaps sign the petitions. The smallest number were those who made snide comments such as “Ah, this crap again.” Or “Raise student debt!” as a mockery of the protest’s chanting. At first I was perplexed. Were we not arguing for a good cause? Is this not a very liberal college? One with a tuition rate that makes you choke when you look at it? Is this not something that the students here should feel like fighting for?
Upon talking to some people afterward, I came to an understanding. Apparently, this protest felt like it was disorganized. There were signs protesting Sodexo, protesting mass incarceration, detailing the statistics around black vs white drug use and incarceration, talking about fossil fuels, raising the minimum wage for campus workers, etc. I heard the reaction that it seemed like the protest was protesting everything. That it was like going down a checklist and asking “Okay, now where’s ‘vaccinate your kids’?” It was very biting, after feeling like you’ve taken part in something reasonable.
Apparently, the problem here was a lack of communication. People were missing context. They weren’t understanding what it was that tied all these issues together. As someone who was informed, it was easy to see the connection. We were informed of it. As a passerby, you’re looking at what seems like a million different things. A loud conglomeration of students yelling without a purpose. As a result, there was much less support for this than there reasonably should have been, considering how relevant the issues are to college students.
We obviously need to change the way we’re going about holding these protests. There was a lack of communication on the part of the school, and the organization of this protest. The most concerning thing to me is the dismissal by the student body. If this is looked at as a joke, and dismissed, what happens with other issues that people don’t understand? What happens when they see protests concerning issues like racism, and mass incarceration, and black lives matter? What happens when they don’t understand, and even worse, they start to feel defensive? How is this furthering building a wall to impede social progress because of the lack of mass attention and care for these issues?
How do we remedy this?