Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Radical students in changing times by Max Calloway

Today, only some seniors and juniors remember the days of the Radical Student Union. Unfortunately for current first-years, the organization disbanded in 2009.

But the group – originally founded in 1969 as a chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society –helped leave a left hand print on the University of Massachusetts student body. Today, the RSU’s spirit survives through the International Socialist Organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, Food Not Bombs, Students for a Free Tibet, Students Against the War, Bikes Not Bombs and, of course, the famed Cannabis Reform Coalition.

Granted, UMass is one of the better places for such radical roots to flourish.

The valley has been fertile ground for community organizing of a humanitarian bent for generations. But it’s not just the result of a large concentration of educated, wide-eyed, idealistic youth looking for any excuse to “expand minds” or naively rail against perceived social problems in a relatively small area – it’s just the area.

Despite boasting one of the premier business and management programs in the country, UMass is also known for housing one of three east coast economics departments that lean towards the theories of a certain heavily bearded, German philosopher whose name, in select circles, was taboo during the Cold War.
Yes, UMass’ economics department is Marxist.

The University also boasts its own student-run critical theory department: Social, Thought and Political Economy. Its insignia is the Red Star: terrifying. And the University is also home to a number of cooperatively-run student businesses whose goals, at times, seem to be anything but turning profits.

Even graduate students at the University have a history of social justice activism and radical action. The massive student strike that occupied the bunker-like Whitmore Administration Building during the late fall of 2007 demanded a lowering of student fees, more financial support for graduate students with families and a general increase in student voice. The police presence that ultimately brought the sit-in to a dramatic close, however, served to illustrate the state of contemporary student action here at UMass and in college cultures at large.

After occupying the building for over an hour, Massachusetts State Police officers in full riot gear came knocking at the front door. They offered an ultimatum: get out or get arrested. Unless my understanding of the issue is misinformed, isn’t the definition of civil disobedience to knowingly break the law of your own volition as an expression of social, political or economic dissent? Isn’t arrest a common reaction to meaningful protest in the contemporary police state?

The old stories of police action against steadfast civil rights and campus activists during the Vietnam War are, at this point, ingrained in the American psyche. But, much to my surprise, rather than embrace the purest tradition of civil disobedience and accept institutional punishment for unabashed expression of citizen grievance, protest organizers in the aforementioned 2007 Whitmore demonstration decided that the sit-in got the point across and that arrest just wasn’t worth it – better to show flexibility than fanaticism.

In the end, many of the demands were met and the protest was a success in terms of its immediate goals but I was still left with a pang of doubt. Why hadn’t anyone been willing to give blood, metaphorically, for the cause? This giving of blood in the name of some “noble goal” is an honorable tradition of civil disobedience. Why was it not honored that day in Whitmore?

Max Calloway is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    jOct 2, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Ben, who are these communists you say are running UMass?
    I’m not calling you Joe McCarthy. But you haven’t backed up your point at all. I’m curious.

  • B

    BenSep 19, 2011 at 9:14 am

    “This giving of blood in the name of some “noble goal” is an honorable tradition of civil disobedience. Why was it not honored that day in Whitmore?”

    Cause you’re not nearly as brave as you think you are.

  • B

    BenSep 19, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Yes, UMass is heavily loaded with communists.

    How come you can say that and I can’t? Every time I mention that the world’s most murderous ideology (100 million dead) has a disproportionate seat at the UMass table, I’m told that I “see communists under every bed”. I’m like Joe McCarthy or something.

    Let’s be very clear–communists are positions of high power at UMass. They are teaching the next generation an ideology that has failed miserably everywhere it has been tried, always resulting in police states, re-education camps, and mass murder. That’s why the only communist heroes that the current crop of communists can cling to are the ones who never actually achieved the power they sought–Rose Luxembourg, Trotsky, etc.

    I didn’t know that the RSU ceased to exist. That’s wonderful news. They were a cancer on the campus.

    Oh yeah, and “civil disobediance” doesn’t mean that you are allowed to break the law with impunity so long as you have the act of protest as your main motivation. It means that you knowingly accept the consequences of your actions. Just because the cops showed up and arrested people for trespassing doesn’t mean that we’re living in a “police state.” You’re just too ridiculous for words.