Campus idealism only choice

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Estye Ross

I’ve had a personal revelation of sorts. I admitted to myself that however dedicated I feel to the causes of social justice, I am scared beyond all belief that an outside force might harm my comfortable, upper-middle class, American way of life. I hold certain values in my core—social justice, equality, non-violence, cross-cultural education. Yet, even though I drive the most fuel-efficient American-made car around, I want to keep on driving it. I really love Starbucks coffee and the Gap. So, what is more self-indulgent? Tall skim latte with a shot of vanilla or wallowing in a world of naïve idealism, as Drew Pugsely suggested most of us do?

But do not freak out, comrades! My answer is not to abandon ship and swim to the middle, joining pretty much every member of Congress. If anything, I’m floating further to the left. Let’s examine the “exceedingly naïve and idealistic” attitude that Mr. Pugsley is accusing our community of. In The Grille Monday night, around midnight, I conducted a poll asking one simple question: “In general, do you approve or disapprove of the way in which the Bush administration is handling the current global situation?” I want to thank everyone who participated and shared his or her opinion with me. I was thrilled to discover that we’re not as apathetic as I thought we were, but we need to keep talking.

What surprised me about the results of our poll last night was not the overwhelming disapproval of the Bush administration (32 percent disapproval, 56 percent approval). What surprised me was how thoughtful we all were in The Grille at midnight. People questioned the simplicity of a one word answer and an overwhelming number of people (12 percent) declined to take a position. A serious consideration of what is going on in the world froze people in the middle of studying, froze friends in the middle of chatting, and froze a room full of boys in the middle of a Yankees game. People were not prepared to give a one word answer. People struck me as almost desperate for intelligent and thoughtful discourse, no matter what side they were or were not on. That strikes me as anything but a naïve attitude.

There were others less engaged. In conducting the poll, I think I subconsciously set out to prove that our campus was politically apathetic. I collected quotes from those who approved of Bush’s actions and that I thought indicated an acceptance of the status quo due to lack of information or general apathy. “Yes, [I approve] just because I don’t have any other alternatives,” said one senior. Another senior said, “I feel like I don’t really know enough to say anything,” yet she still asked to be marked down as a satisfied customer. Daniel Dietz ’03 commented on the response on campus to the recent events: “I was kind of happy to see that posters went up. I don’t think people are apathetic.” Dietz was happy with the 28 hour peace event but did not attend. His response: “I think it’s a powerless situation.” But my response is simple: Power to the People. I wish we wouldn’t feel powerless. There’s really no need. Forums for debate and discussion have been popping up all over campus. Major props to Feminist Action at Middlebury, Progressives, and performers for the 24 hour event. Major props to New Left for their Woodstove Lounge dinner discussions. Major props to Julie Baroody ‘03.5 and Joe Schine ’03 for their Wednesday Lower Proctor lunch discussions. We are educating ourselves and will educate the world in turn. Let’s keep organizing and attending events like these!

Allow me to return to what I opened the article with—my car, my latte, and my leather pants. Because, though I’d be willing to sacrifice them in a second, I really don’t want to. I feel just as strongly as the 90 percent of Americans who approve of Bush’s actions that something must be done to combat terrorism. I do not consider Osama bin Laden benevolent. But I feel more strongly than I do about anything else that the United States’ foreign policy is not benevolent either. If we really wanted to combat terrorism, we wouldn’t use violence to create a breeding ground for future terrorists. We would fundamentally revamp our policies in order to foster more justice and equality in the world. In the end, when another country makes social and economic advances, we, the people of the United States, will benefit. What we are doing now is ripping the heads off weeds rather than pulling them out by their roots. The only long-term solution that I see for a “better world” is one that gets to the roots of the economic and cultural imperialism shaking the world today. I do not consider this naïve and idealistic. I consider this the sole realistic option.