By Conner Rettig
On Sunday, April 16, I sent an email through the student listservs calling for action and resistance to our current political climate. I have received a slew of responses to this email; I’m grateful for the thoughtful ones and to have been given the opportunity to respond to and extrapolate on them here.
I composed this email largely with two concerns in mind.
First, a general complacency from the Willamette community to engage in activism and outreach within the Salem community and second, a feeling of normalcy with which we regard the irrational and dysfunctional behavior of our federal government right now.
I want to preface that Willamette very much prides itself on being engaged with the local community and my intention was not to diminish the activism, outreach and service that has already been done on campus. That said, while planning community events and in addition to my work in the CSL office, I’ve found that many community partners see Willamette as a very exclusive and reclusive entity within the city of Salem. We may see ourselves as involved and engaging but that it is not what most Salem citizens see.
Whether politically leaning left or right, I feel there must be greater engagement within American communities if we are to function as a nation. This statement may seem like the antithesis of my politically charged letter, but given our current federal government’s persistent propensity to divide the American people by race, gender, class, sexual orientation and national origin, I believe there is unity in the criticism of division.
There is a difference between political division and division of social groups. Although sexism, racism and classism are of course not new in this country, the means and potential to impede social progress and enhance division by our very own government have never been so evident in our lifetimes. Just because two people disagree doesn’t mean they’re enemies. But at the detriment to millions of fellow human citizens I very much implore those who feel their government represents their values not to fall victim to a narcissism of patriotism.
In the letter I did not feel comfortable talking in the name of marginalized citizens and students, but I very much recognize the faults in not emphasizing the vulnerability of marginalized people in the issues put forth. People of color, disabilities, lower socioeconomic status, cis-female identity, developing countries and people who identify as LGBTQIA are most at risk to the policies and rhetoric those in power are constructing.
My initial concerns were of dysfunctional government policies, global militarization and environmental degradation, which, to me, were the most threatening issues to posit considering their capacity for existential destruction. That said, social and environmental issues should never be placed within a hierarchy of priority but rather within a web of intersectionality.
The Non-Violent Direct Action Training on Tursday, April 20, and Rally for Science on Saturday, April 22 are, I hope, beginning steps towards a more engaged Willamette. We are in an opportune community to exhibit the engagement that is necessary for the change in our country. If you are unaware of the lives that are at risk at this period in human history, we must begin to resist the proponents of division and fully comprehend the stakes that come with our government’s actions.
I would lastly like to apologize to those of the Christian faith that were offended by the email. That the letter was sent on Easter was an oversight and I did not mean to disrespect students’ religious beliefs and traditions.