We Need Campus Activism

I wote this LTE, the first I had ever written, to the Kalamazoo College campus newspaper, The Index, at the end of Winter quarter 2000. It responded to a ludicrous letter by Ryan Biziorek, who (applauding our camups’s most notorious anti-activist) declared that we should chill out on the campus activism because, apparently, it gets in the way of the rich white boys having a good time by forcing them to be aware. It especially took aim at feminist activism, since Womyn’s Equity Coalition and Women’s Resource Center were the only student groups that took major action over events on campus at the time. This was during a quarter in which men had harassed and physically assaulted women at a women’s self-defense workshop, and disrupted and destroyed several feminist projects and presentations on violence against women. The previous quarter, Neenef Odah murdered his former girlfriend, Maggie Wardle. Women were dying on our campus and yet the boys thought activists were going too far. I felt the need to say something, and say it very loudly and publicly, against the anti-activist tide.

Dear Index staff and members of the Kalamazoo College community,

Looking back at a quarter filled with turmoil over activism, and ahead to one in which we will only be bombarded with more speeches, marches, and awareness weeks, we as a campus community are at the perfect time to consider where we are and where we are going. And considering it myself, I, like Ryan Biziorek, would like to call for a round of applause — not just for Frank Church, but also for Stephen Beights, for all those who attended the pornography LAC, for those who tore down the tee shirts on the Quad, and for Ryan himself. Indeed, these fine citizens of the campus community (or, in the elder Beights’s case, citizens by proxy) deserve more than just applause. Their shining example demands a standing ovation, a public celebration, for all the people responsible for one of the most crude, offensive, ill-conceived series of statements and acts that I have ever had the displeasure to witness.

Better than anyone else who has written on the topic, Ryan Biziorek proves, to anyone who cares to read his odious words, the absurd and repugnant conclusions of the laid-back liberalism that pervades our campus culture. In his response to the conflict of last quarter, Biziorek has deployed a truly impressive combination of complete ignorance, total apathy, and an ability to find the perfect, carelessly appalling phrase in which to frame his complacent attitudes towards gender violence. He has provided the perfect expression of every reason why we, as participants in campus culture, need to get pissed off, need to get involved, and above all need to reject the facile assumption that we live in a blessed age that no longer needs activism.

Writing on the LAC lecture during Eighth Week by Alicia Turner, Biziorek was appalled to find that Ms. Turner was so rude as to IGNORE people who were asking questions about the flip side of pornography. What Ryan chooses to ignore, however, is that in fact Alicia answered questions about the flip side repeatedly, and only ignored those who continued to badger her with the same questions she had just answered, rudely preventing others from speaking in the discussion. He further ignores the disrespectful, hostile behavior of many of the attendees, who chattered incessantly throughout the presentation and discussion, and at one point broke out in laughter at a slide. Ryan goes on to ignore what Turner explicitly said during the lecture, and tell us that he was amazed to find that the speaker favored laws against this and government regulations against that, which I assume means laws banning pornographic depiction. If Ryan had actually chosen to pay attention to what Ms. Turner said, he would have found that she favored legislation which allowed women to seek civil redress for tangible wrongs — harassment, assault, rape, etc. — committed against them in the production of pornography, and that she opposed criminal legislation which bans obscene sexual depiction. Desperately trying to prove that his incomprehension knows no bounds, Ryan asks, Really, isn’t it [pornography] just another form of art? Pornography, by the definition given by Turner and other feminists (whom Ryan has decided to ignore) is not just another form of art; it is the violent subordination of women captured and disseminated to the public. If there is, as Ryan himself admits, harm to women and men and other types of social violence that evolves from pornography, then what other than the moral laziness of laid-back liberalism could ever enable such atrocious complacency, as trying to ignore the problem and look at the other side of the coin? The other side of rape and murder is not art; it is still rape and murder.

The absurdity reaches its height as Ryan wails of how activists do not appreciate the freedom we have as Americans, how we throw statistics at us and talk about laws regulating this and controlling that, how we are trying to regulate this freedom. Believe it or not, Ryan, there is no legitimate freedom to beat, imprison, rape, or murder women, nor to have these vicious crimes made invisible because people are too busy relaxing to care. Presenting lectures (which cannot be shoved down our throats, since attendance is voluntary), speaking out, and acting up against gender violence, are not taking away any freedom that anyone ever had the right to possess — no matter how much it may remind you of being forced to eat your veggies. It is certainly true that If we dwell on the past and if we dwell on statistics, then they only enrage us. They should enrage us. That, of every seven women you know, at least one has been violently raped, should enrage you. That just in the past two quarters, on our own campus, women have been harassed, assaulted, and, finally, murdered in acts of gender violence, should enrage you. Only the dull apathy of the laid-back liberal could allow someone to still tell us to look upon the good times and remember those because we cannot change any part of the bad times. The more the anti-activists of our community tell us to just Chill Out, Man, the more they reveal the insipid bankruptcy of their politic, and the vicious regime of terror and violence in which they are willing to live, so long as they can appreciate the basic everyday things around us, apparently including the lofty achievements of this, that, porn, and cafeteria food.

And it is just this revelation of apathy, incomprehension, and disrespect for which I applaud all those who have given voice to the growing tide of anti-activism on campus. I spent a great deal of time over the past two quarters fuming that such things could be taken seriously in our community. It is primarily because the events of the past quarter that I have finally moved beyond silent anger and begun actively participating in public statements and campus organizations which stand up and speak out in opposition to gender violence, particularly the Women’s Equity Coalition and Men Against Gender Violence. And, in no small part, I have the tasteless and crude statements of the anti-activists to thank for it. Judging from the responses I have seen, I believe that many others in our community feel the same. So thank you, Frank Church, Ryan Biziorek, and all the rest. Thank you for showing us the moral abyss that we must avoid at all costs. A standing ovation for you all.

Charles W. Johnson, K’02


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