Do the History

By Guest Contributor

Are you ready to do the math? I am too … but in the last few days, I’ve also been doing the history. Yes, doing the history, the history of social movements, and I’ve been asking: “What makes movements work?”

I’ve looked back to 1960, the year I was born, when four students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat down in a North Carolina Woolworths, ordered coffee and brought the fight for civil rights to new heights.

I’ve looked back to 1978, the year that I went off to college, when a handful of Harvard students challenged their president to do the right thing and divest from South African companies.

And yes, I’ve looked back to January 2005, when in the Gamut Room, less than 100 yards from here, a few dozen Middlebury students put their heads together with Billy Parish and other young leaders and asked “How can we build this new climate movement?”

Jim Crow is no more! Apartheid is no more! So what can our movement learn from these histories? We can learn that young people don’t succeed on their own. On campuses like ours, young people need professors who don’t fear some two-dimensional caricature of activism but rather who understand that the best way to learn is to act in the name of a better world. Young people need administrators who are willing to listen and react and collaborate, administrators who believe in the possibility of finding common cause. And they need community members and allies from all over the world who are already rolling up their sleeves in solidarity, fighting for what is right.

From history, we can also learn that the search for social justice is not elementary. The search for social justice is complex and requires humility. Self-righteousness has no place in successful social movements; vilification of potential allies has no place in successful movements; hollow language has no place in successful movements. Movements need rebels, to be sure. We all need to be rebels at times. We need to thank rebels for getting things started. But rebelliousness on its own is no substitute for the hard, strategic work of building a better world, a world full of justice and joy.

So here at Middlebury, it’s time to do the math, and it’s time to do create history. It’s time for students and faculty and administrators and community members and allies from all over the world to carve out our own little piece of history. It’s time Middlebury. It surely is time.

Written by Professor of Economics JON ISHAM for Midd Does the Math