Whenever I remind my parents that they were hippies, they like to tell me that they were too political to be hippies. I’m not sure if I really believe that hippies aren’t political, but they did show me what it meant in the sixties. It was Malcolm X, Cesar Chaves, Russell Means, and most importantly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His passion for civil rights was reflected in all of the preceding activists and all to follow. He showed the world what it truly meant to lead a movement and to lead with passion. This is why we choose to celebrate him on his birthday; to remember not only his awards or his name, but also his commitment.
In the spirit of Martin Luther King, scholars have risen to fight racial injustices throughout the world. Ward Churchill is one of these scholars. Most of you probably have no idea who I’m talking about, and those who vote Republican most likely think I’m full of shit. So let me explain who the man is and why some people hate him so much.
Ward Churchill has been fighting for civil rights since he graduated college. His commitment led him to becoming a professor and eventual chair of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a leader of the Denver Chapter of the American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM was formed in the late sixties as a collaboration of people coming together to fight the injustices committed against native people by the United States government. Similar to the Black Panthers, it has more militant wings, as well as political and cultural ones. His involvement in the organization of protests against Columbus Day in Denver, Colo. led the march to be one of the largest in the nation. He has written several books on the issues facing native people ranging from racism to stereotypes to history.
It was his essay, “Some People Push Back,” written on Sept. 12, 2001, that had him stuck in a hot seat by Bill O’Reilly and other extreme right wing conservatives. In it, he claimed that the World Trade Center should be seen as a reasonable military target because it contributes to the global capitalistic system that is responsible for destroying the communities that al-Qaeda represented. Many people, including myself, see this as a more than reasonable hypothesis. It is because Churchill takes everything a step further that earned him a reputation that gets him “shamed” on “The O’Reilly Factor.” He further said that those working in the World Trade Center, excluding the service people, should all be considered reasonable military targets because they, as most Americans, walk around with their heads in the sky, choosing to completely avoid the injustices that their government commits. They, along with countless other people, create a Nazi State, where complete faith is put in their government’s ability to hurt others. Whether or not you agree with him, I’m sure his statements elicit some sort of response.
Churchill has been called everything from a traitor, to un-American, to a zealot. The governor of Colorado and the president asked for his resignation. Congress passed a resolution condemning his comments. Speaking engagements were cancelled throughout the nation, due to safety concerns. At the same time, however, his books were flying off the shelf. People were listening and calling him genius. He spoke to a sold-out crowd at the University of Hawaii that got him not one, but three, standing ovations. O’Reilly was not happy about that. Churchill’s magnetism and power is undeniable.
To me, Ward Churchill represents a lot of things. He’s a little radical, but he speaks the truth. He doesn’t care what anyone has to say about him or his beliefs. He has fought for civil rights for the past several decades and he will continue to do so. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all that he stood for, the American Indian Student Association is bringing Professor Churchill to speak in Campbell Hall tonight at 7:30. Tickets are $10 for general admission and only $2 for students from the A.S. Ticket Office or at the door. He will be talking about violent versus non-violent movements and the need for American Indian sovereignty. Even if you don’t agree with what he has to say, isn’t it worth seeing what all the hubbub is about?
Maria Reifel Saltzberg is a senior Environmental Studies major and chair of American Indian Student Association.