Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Student activism of the ’60s and ’70s has evolved

Student activism of the '60s and '70s has evolved into pragmatic
lobbying movements and advocacy through social media


Student protests of the '60s, '70s have evolved into social media
advocacy, lobbying movements

By Julienne Lauler
May 4, 2010

Forty years ago, Kent State University went from a virtually
anonymous Midwestern college campus to the infamous university at
which four students were shot and killed while protesting the United
States' invasion of Cambodia.

On the day of the shooting, which has its 40th anniversary today,
thousands of students flooded the university commons, delivering
fiery speeches and calling for a definitive end to the Vietnam War.

Provoked by protesters who were yelling and throwing rocks, Ohio
National Guardsmen suddenly fired their rifles and pistols in what
they claimed to be "self defense," killing four students and injuring nine.

To some students, the Kent State shootings epitomize an era of
student activism that no longer exists and has been replaced by a
generation of students who are increasingly cynical about their
ability to effect social change.

"Many of the problems we face are so far above any of us students
that I have no expectation that me protesting, or the whole school
protesting, will get anything changed," said Shea Ryan, a fourth-year
history and psychology student.

"In the '60s and '70s, activism was everywhere and constantly on the
top of everyone's mind, but now protests don't permeate the school's
culture like it did before," he added.

However, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, associate professor in the Department
of Chicana and Chicano Studies, argued that student activism has not
decreased. Rather, its nature has merely evolved from the student
militancy of the 1970s to the politically savvy and technology-based
activism of today.

"People are a lot more pragmatic now and have become a lot more
politically savvy about how to get their messages across," he said,
noting that students today know which politicians to lobby in order
to effect change.

Christopher Santos, the campus organizing director for the External
Vice President's office at UCLA, which coordinates advocacy efforts
centered on fee and financial aid policies, also noted the vast
differences between today's activism and that of 40 years ago.

"It's different times and a different issue that we have at hand, and
we've started building a movement that's very peaceful and very
strategic, where our main goal is for higher education to be
reprioritized again," said Santos, a third-year psychobiology student.

This new movement, which is focused on engaging with state
legislators to bring about institutional change, is exemplified by
last November's protests at the UC Board of Regents meeting, as well
as the mass lobbying campaign in Sacramento early this year.

"In March, the governor was proposing to cut Cal Grants, and all of a
sudden he came out in favor of higher education. And it was because
of the protests," Santos said. "The governor said it himself."

In addition to having a greater focus on institutional change,
student activists today are connected and active through online
media, allowing for more effective and sustainable organization,
Hinojosa-Ojeda said.

"Social media has facilitated the ability for people to get involved
in a lot of different causes," he added, noting that social media and
youth activism were some of the determining factors in President
Barack Obama's victory.

However, Santos stressed that social media was not a substitute for
actual student participation.

Ron Arruejo, the legislative liaison for the University of California
Students Association, also emphasized that student mobilization is an
interactive process in which activists need to personally attend
general meetings of interested student groups and unions, educating
members about the issue so they know what they're fighting for.

But regardless of the means of mobilization, UCLA student activists
like Arruejo and Santos are confident that students, even today, have
the power to enact social change.

While broad-based movements directed toward a single issue are far
rarer today than in the 1970s, with students more dispersed across a
huge number of different issues, students are still very involved in
activism, according to Hinojosa-Ojeda.

"I rarely meet a student now who's not involved in something ­ I find
a lot of different students involved in a lot of different causes,"
Hinojosa-Ojeda said.


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