Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The atrophy of activism: a message for student protesters

By Brad Polumbo

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(Jessica Picard/Collegian)

In the 1960s and 70s, student activism had a coherent and justifiable goal. Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and across the country marched for Civil Rights causes, protested the Vietnam War and fought for the rights of all.

Nowadays? You don’t protest the potential war crimes or torture by the United States military, which continued to occur throughout the Obama presidency in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. You don’t protest the collapse of our nation’s labor force, or the slowed economic growth that keeps millions throughout our country unemployed and struggling to get by. In terms of Civil Rights, you don’t protest the 74 countries where homosexuality is illegal, many of which the U.S. has established trade and diplomatic relationships with, or the 13 countries where same-sex relations are a crime punishable by death.

You protest the existence of a disputed wage gap between genders in this country, but fail to protest the many Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran where women are harshly oppressed. In fact, your champion Hillary Clinton even took donations to her “charitable” foundation from the leaders of Saudi Arabia, despite claiming to be a defender of women’s rights.

Instead, you fight the good fight, protesting things like the validity of electoral democracy, the right of people you disagree with to speak and demanding that UMass become a shelter for criminals. After President Trump’s election, some campus protesters justifiably protested his policies, and peacefully made their disagreement known. However, the majority of protests devolved into pathetic movements like the “cry-in” at Cornell, or the #NotMyPresident protests at UMass, where students whined about the legitimacy of an electoral college system that, while flawed, has been in place for hundreds of years. These “protests” devolved into pity parties that would make the real student activists of the 60s and 70s balk.

Better yet was the recent protest at UMass for International Women’s Day. The UMass Socialist Club, UMass Democrats, UMass Students for Reproductive Justice and a host of other groups were out fighting the good fight, tackling pressing women’s issues. Still no mention at their protest of the international oppression of women, but don’t worry, they were adamantly defending Planned Parenthood. Yes, the same Planned Parenthood who has been accused of selling the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses for a profit, and of pressuring women to choose abortion to meet quotas. We’re very lucky we have these advocates shielding us from such oppressive Republican policy like defunding such an organization. This groundbreaking protest clearly focused on the issues that matter, as evidenced by their signs demanding “free abortion on demand.”

In recent times, protests at UMass and colleges around the country have shifted focus, now demanding that their respective universities declare themselves “sanctuary campuses.” Students at UMass have held protests, sit-ins and submitted petitions to the University administration, all in an effort to have this policy enacted. But given the Trump administration’s stated ambition to prioritize the deportation of illegal aliens who have committed other crimes, what you are essentially protesting is for UMass to become a sanctuary for criminals. And this is despite the fact that campus administration has announced that to declare themselves a sanctuary campus would jeopardize hundreds of millions of federal financial aid dollars that many students rely on.

The newest campus trend in social justice activism is to no longer protest the views of those you disagree with, but to actually protest their right to express those views at all. Recently, protesters at Middlebury College laid siege to the very notion of free speech, going even further than silencing a controversial speaker and actually injuring a faculty member. But the UMass community is no stranger to this type of “activism.” Just last year at UMass, rather than attempting to engage and expose his oft repugnant views in the free marketplace of ideas, you attempted to silence Milo Yiannopoulos and other conservative speakers by shouting them down and preventing them from talking.

How far our campus protests have fallen. Before, we used to believe that we could peacefully protest meaningful topics, debate those with whom we disagree with and actually change people’s minds. The result of attempting to silence those you disagree with is only to amplify their message even louder. The evidence? Your assault on Yiannopoulos’s free speech transformed his audience from a few hundred students in a hall at UMass, to 1.6 million on YouTube.

My message for the UMass community is simple: refocus your protests on things that actually matter, not just pushing your liberal snowflake agenda.

Editor’s Note: Language about accusations against Planned Parenthood was changed to give a more accurate representation of the Planned Parenthood controversy. 

Bradley Polumbo is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]


12 Responses to “The atrophy of activism: a message for student protesters”

  1. David Hunt 1990 on March 28th, 2017 8:24 am

    Pearls before swine, my friend.

  2. Sitting Bull on March 28th, 2017 9:40 am

    You seem to be the only one at UMass who gets it, Brad. Bravo. Leftists focused on all of the WRONG issues and directed anger at the WRONG people.

  3. Brad on March 28th, 2017 1:57 pm


    From one Brad to another, I sure hope you survive this foray in to truth telling.


  4. sad! on March 28th, 2017 2:30 pm

    It’s disheartening that even the possibility of resistance is so absurd to you that you had to write this.

  5. Nate on March 28th, 2017 2:49 pm

    1.) Hard to see how the writer could claim to be in-touch with the current activist community when he laughably refers to Hillary Clinton as their “champion.”

    2.) Planned Parenthood does not sell “baby parts.” This is not an opinion. It’s a fact. They were cleared of any wrongdoing in a court of law. Your disingenuousness is woefully transparent.

    3.) Defending an admitted pedophile like Milo is, in general, not a good look for an aspiring political commentator. And is outing trans students in front of a massive auditorium and encouraging students to report their peers to ICE part of this so-called “free marketplace of ideas?”

  6. Stefan Herlitz on March 28th, 2017 3:29 pm

    If you’re going to write a piece like this, at least try to cite reality and avoid ridiculous logical fallacies. On Planned Parenthood, for example, multiple investigations, both Federal and State, found no evidence of any illegal activities. Further, saying the protesters ought to have been focusing on Middle Eastern oppression of women is a textbook example of the fallacy of relative privation: just because you think one problem is more important doesn’t justify dismissing another issue. Access to reproductive health services in the United States is an incredibly important issue.

    There are always some more extreme or absurd examples of protests and protesters, but using them to generalize and dismiss others is both factually and intellectually dishonest.

  7. Owen Wiggins on March 28th, 2017 4:24 pm

    Is the intent of the article to convince people of something or to make people mad? Or something else?

    ” Before, we used to believe that we could peacefully protest meaningful topics, debate those with whom we disagree with and actually change people’s minds”.
    -This still happens, and there are student groups on campus committed to debate.

  8. lee on March 28th, 2017 5:41 pm

    @Stefan Herlitz

    Would you accept a white feminist protesting gender pay gap while ignoring or pushing aside concerns from minorities and immigrants? Given the left’s reverence of intersectionality, that would be a strange position.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to call out selective outrage that only serves a certain ideology. The leadership level at the women’s march included a convicted terrorist and Sharia law sympathizer who defended Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving because – they pay for maternity care. That we can’t be angry at all injustices is a moot point.

    The hyperbole piled on Trump is especially rich, given that Mexico and Canada both have strict immigration enforcement and ICE snatched people from parks and bus stops during the Obama admin. Obama bombed an entire nation with ZERO congressional approval. Any college protests for that?

    If these kids just held public protests for their pet causes, we wouldn’t have a problem. But now we’re seeing anarchists infringing on others’ right to speech and resorting to violence. You do something to get called out, you take it.

  9. Ryan McKinney on March 28th, 2017 6:45 pm


    Thank You for saying something. I’m proud that our fellow students have the spine to stand for something when they see something they view as wrong. That’s something that has and hopefully will always be embraced here.

    I too believe these efforts have been misdirected in recent years. Love what you bring up about fighting for equality yet there are little to no protests against our ties with foreign governments that enforce laws that violate our values.

    P.S. your article is trending on a conservative news site.

  10. Jim Mac on March 28th, 2017 8:31 pm

    I was beginning to think there were only shrill mindless voices left on college campuses…Nice to see that there are more thoughtful ones (regardless of views) left out there.

  11. BrianA on March 29th, 2017 1:28 am

    It seems to me that you’re trying to delegitimize protests by saying that they aren’t going far enough, yet you criticize the protests for existing to begin with. Which side are you on? Do you want more elaborate, inclusive protests or none at all? Because the latter would be, in essence, sacrificing and self-suppressing a range of voices that you clearly see as important given you wrote a piece on them. This entire article is a puzzle to me. You want people to be more inclusive, but you disagree with their stances? It’s one or the other – don’t try and fuel an army that you clearly view as the enemy.

  12. Liv on April 14th, 2017 11:58 pm

    If you think those issues are so important why haven’t you organized a protest yourself?
    At least these students are trying to take action for issues facing their friends and families. All you’re doing is capitalizing by writing a controversial piece to gain an audience.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.

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