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4 April 2000
It is much closer to dawn than I want to think about right now, even given daylight savings time and all, but this may be the only time I really have to write here, and I want to get some impressions down.
Heidi, Daniel, and I just got back from the computer center a little while ago; Heidi was making a flyer for tomorrow; I was starting my local media bombardment campaign, and Daniel was along for moral support. The door prop had been moved when we got back, and we pounded like you wouldn't believe, thinking that everyone was fast asleep and dreaming of a brave new world, but it turned out they were just scared we were the cops. Ned finally ran up to the third floor, saw it was us, and let us in.
Now everyone is asleep--as asleep as you can get in this place. It's hot in here--I almost think that maybe they're trying to sweat us out. And there's some huge machine behind the walls, part of the circulation system or the heat or what, I don't know, but it makes a throbbing, pulsing noise that you can feel in your breastbone, almost as if it were the heart of the building. But it's not: we are.
While we were at Weeg, we ran through Heidi's e-mail accumulated over the past day, almost all of it from the USAS listserv. It's not just us and Purdue, it's all over--and spreading like wildfire. Kentucky, Tulane, Michigan, Oregon, Yale, Wesleyan--they're all holding buidlings or camping out or hunger striking or something, and I know there are schools I'm forgetting. This movement is national, and though the national media haven't picked up on it yet, we know it (thanks to the wonders of modern technology). But sitting there, reading all those posts from all over--somebody compiled all the letters asking for support and sent them out in one mass e-mail--we felt it. All over America right now people are sleeping, but some of those people--a critical mass of those people--are college students and supporters, camping out on lawns and in libraries, in hallways and on doorsteps, demanding change, demanding a voice, demanding a better world.
I've been reading a lot of history about student movements of the 1960s lately, partly to refresh my memory, partly for inspiration, partly for what they might have to teach me. I know these weren't the only student movements ever, though--I was talking to a grad student here today who told me about stuff going on in the '30s, fascinating stuff, stuff like leaving a campus to form your own. And that's what we've done here: formed our own university, digitally linked to our comrades all across America. It's pretty fucking amazing.
But the other thing that all this history has made me think about is how this current movement will play out in history. I've gotten a lot of slack from people about '60s idealism run amok, and how do we think we're going to be any different, and if we were older and wiser we'd know better, which I can only translate as, Get off our floor; you're in the way; go back to your room. Yeesh.
I don't know what the end result of this struggle will be. I hope it will be victorious. But there's one thing I do know: this movement, this sit-in, will affect the history of each and every individual here tonight. What we did, how we felt, and what we thought during these days will be a part of the story which each of us forms about our life. I suspect it will be a signficant part of those stories. It certainly will be in mine. What we're accomplishing here is not just an end to collegiate affiliation with sweatshop labor or a challenge to the still-paternalistic authority of the university system and the accountability of the administration: we're learning from this. We're learning about what it means to work together and fight together, what it means to try to educate people and mobilize people. We're learning how to make it happen.
You can't buy the kind of energy that's fueling this movement, not if you combined the salaries of every administrator involved, plus all the outrageously exaggerated salaries of the coaches here at the Big 10 schools. If we win this fight, we'll know that we CAN change the world. And what else, I ask you, do you want to teach your children, if not that?
In her book Heretic's Heart, Margot Adler (now New York Bureau Chief for NPR) talks about her involvement in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964--the movement that established the right of students to organize on campus and to be treated as adults. It's an astounding story, full of impassioned speeches and vivid pictures. But what is perhaps even more astounding is the story Adler tells about its 25th reunion--about men and women still flush with that victory of decades ago, still full of the energy and power that come from knowing you do have a voice and that you can change the world. These people, said Adler, were not the burnt-out radicals you so often hear about--they were good people still doing good work for the world, confident that their lives did matter and did make a difference.
That's a pretty great story to be able to tell yourself.
In addition to the story of the group, however, there was the story of each individual. For Adler, the Free Speech Movement was a part of the work of her heritage--her parents were activists and she had grown up in a climate of radicalism and liberalism. (Oh, those isms). For others, however, it was quite different. For many, their involvement in the FSM became the story of how they broke from their parents, how they realized that complacency was not something they could tolerate, even in the affluent society. For all, however, it was a part of the story of how they grew up, how they became women and men.
I wonder about the bodies sleeping around me tonight. What will their stories be? At Weeg, Heidi was sending out e-mail and, inadvertantly, sent one to her father indicating that she was in fact a part of the sit-in. "Oh my God, my father knows I'm sitting in," she said. Her father knows of her involvement in the movement, knows how much this means to her, but this sit-in will, it seems, be the acid test. My mother knows I'm here--in fact, she's getting this update. She asked tonight if I knew all the people I could call if I needed bail or legal help while she was out of town. (Go Mom!) But nonetheless, my presence here tonight, the words which I'm speaking and writing, they all mark a transition for me, a moment of breaking away, or rather, of claiming something which was mine all along, which my heritage and my upbringing, from my father teaching me the Greek alphabet when I was little to my mom showing me the union label in my new school clothes and telling me what it meant, have given me.
It's pretty damn amazing, I gotta say.
Well, it's really time for me to grab a few hours' sleep now. I'll try to get this out as soon as I can.
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by Laura Crossett, 1998-2009