Some sit in the center of class, others stand around the fringes and still others watch from far away. Class lasts just over three and a half hours and when Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young announces that two protesters have been released from jail, class is officially out. Protest 101 was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. By the end of the strike against war, I gained more knowledge in those three and a half hours than I ever had in an entire quarter-long class.
The protest ranged from the Pardall corridor, snaked across campus to the East Gate loop, then down to a police standoff on Highway 217 until it finally dissolved in front of a locked Cheadle Hall. Everybody had a different experience and learned something different. My experience is certainly different from the thousands of other experiences, but I think everybody in attendance could probably jive with me and say that we learned something about power and the power of the individual.
On the way to Cheadle, I wandered into a classroom where kids sat in seats with a mediator learning about the protest in a forum. The classroom happened to be the classroom of my favorite class, which I skipped in order to protest. I can’t help but think that everybody in that classroom missed out on the ability to watch power in action.
It was exhilarating, yet extremely scary, to be a part of this protest. The mob moved, yet few of those in the mob knew where they were heading. The mob then occupied the East Gate loop leading into campus, essentially choking off transportation in and out of campus. The western loop was open, but several cars were stuck in the loop we occupied and I began to worry that people might need to get through. There could have been a medical emergency, a family emergency, or in one case, a bathroom emergency, as one van with had around 25 kids in it. It is around this time that I realized: The people do have the power.
Very bad things could have gone down at the protest, but, thanks to the leaders of the protest and every student protester, crisis was avoided and a voice was heard loud and clear. Still, I can’t help but wonder, what if the leaders had not told people to let the cars through? What if, at the standoff, the leaders of the protest had told the students to march onto the 101 and they were gassed? This didn’t happen, thanks to wise leaders and wise protesters. It took me back to the reason for the protest: We want wise leadership.
Having power, realizing it, acting on it and deciding when not to act on it is tiring. We have this republic so that the work of governing can be distributed away from the individual, but the individual is still represented. Our society would not function without the Constitution that created our government. Our society will cease to exist if the government born from that document continues to be a force of misrepresentation and imperialism. We need our government to let those kids pee, to help people get to and be treated at hospitals. Our government needs to protect us and sometimes that means wars, but above all, our government must be for the people and by the people.
It’s hard to put an experience into words. On the other hand, it’s quite easy for an experience like this to go into the bones and be something that shapes the way we think. Engaging in protest is engaging in reality, which seldom happens in the classroom. In the classroom, we are always one step away from what we are learning. It is always mediated through somebody else at least once, if not several times. Knowledge is power, experience is wisdom and a protest is a beautiful thing when it reminds everybody that the people have the power.