Battling Injustice: Small Steps in a Big Picture

Exactly two months ago today, hundreds of us marched down these vanilla suburb streets, hands and fists in the air. Then, when the Big Apple was left breathless, Frary and McConnell became protest sites of the new civil rights movement. 

For two weeks, no one—not even the apathetic—could escape the atmosphere we created. We were reading Fanon, calling out the media establishment, tweeting #BlackLivesMatter and blasting Lauryn Hill.

It was beautiful.

But then finals came. Then it was time to leave. And before I knew it, I was sitting in class listening to how amazing the Alps were and how there’s nothing better than horseback riding in the snow. I sat there waiting to spit my bullshit and—voila!—it’s back to school again.

This shouldn’t be that surprising. These things tend to play out this way.

At first, we burst with political anger and disbelief, followed by frivolous efforts to organize resistance advertised by countless status updates. Then things cooled down—I mean, not really, since police violence is a staple in the lives of millions of Americans (especially if you’re black and broke), but you know what I mean.

But for a second, Claremont felt different. It mirrored a country that was bringing highways to a halt; where protests and rallies became the norm; where mass incarceration and police brutality were topics of conversation and debate, not just part of a syllabus.

It mirrored a people ready—demanding—to take control.

That sense of urgency is what Dr. Marc Lamont Hill told us all to keep alive. On Jan. 29, Dr. Hill—a prominent public intellectual and frequent political commentator on CNN—gave the keynote address at the Consortium’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemoration at Scripps College’s Garrison Theater.

Entitled “Youth Activism in Post-Ferguson America,” the Morehouse College professor’s speech—which at points felt like a sermon and at others like a conversation—urged an audience of about 300 students from the 5Cs and other surrounding colleges and universities to keep fanning the flames of revolution. For Dr. Hill, young people are the biggest source of radical change. For one, young folks don't have as many responsibilities as their elders—bills and mortgages can really fuck up one's life, you know.

But Dr. Hill didn't stop there. He advised that we must not only keep ourselves fired up and working for change, but also follow in the footsteps of Dr. King and look at the bigger picture.

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values,” proclaimed the reverend exactly a year prior to his assassination. “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

In the same vein, Dr. Hill made several connections between state violence and structural inequalities predicated upon homophobia, patriarchy and misogyny. After all, what's more patriarchal than militarism? Where else do sexual violence and white supremacy intersect more than in the prison-industrial complex, fostered by a racialized War on Drugs and mass incarceration?

These connections take such little effort to put together. Maybe it is inertia that makes us 'stay in our lanes.' Maybe it is the fear of messing up or not knowing enough about our peers' own struggles. Whatever the case is, movements should strive to intersect just as much as their issues do.

Coalition work, however, shouldn't be relegated to the Dream Defenders of the world. We at the 5Cs should follow suit and link up, too.

After more than two-and-a-half years of being here, I can’t name more than five student organizations that I’m already part of—a disappointing feat when there are hundreds of student groups, resources and clubs at our fingertips. I suspect that it’s the same for most of you, too. That kind of ignorance is anything but inevitable—it’s a sign of our lack of cooperation and gap in our collective knowledge of the particular struggles we face. 

No, we aren’t all affected by police violence in the same way, and no cisgender man knows the pains of being on the other side of that label. But just because we can’t align ourselves completely doesn’t mean we can’t become accomplices in the struggle for the liberation of all.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” might be the most played-out MLK quote, but it’s an adequate starting point. All of us agree that any type of oppression is inherently immoral and should be abolished, but none of us know what all types of oppression look and feel like. This is why we need one another, especially if we’re serious about changing the status quo.

But we don’t all have to be Dr. King or Dolores Huerta, nor do we have to pass the next Civil Rights Act to feel as if we’ve done something useful. Relatively small victories—such as creating a Department of Native American and Indigenous Studies—can have a long-lasting impact, bigger than any one of us can foresee.

In the interest of furthering the radical spirit felt in those last two weeks of 2014, let’s all take a day or two out of our impenetrably busy schedules to connect with one another so that when the times comes, we’ll be there, side by side.

Carlos Ballesteros CM ’16 is a history and sociology double major from Chicago. He plans on radicalizing all of your children once he gets his teacher’s certification.