Lessons learned from the Students Against Peabody sit-in
Even though the protests against Peabody Energy ended last week without achieving any of the protesters’ initially expressed goals, I think the sit-in was one of the best things to have happened to the school during my four years here at Washington University. For the first time since I’ve been here, students were willing to sleep outside, give up large amounts of their free time and take risks for something in which they believed strongly.
As a community, Wash. U. tends to be politically apathetic at best. The only vaguely political controversy to cause as much debate as the Peabody sit-in during my time here was Student Union’s approval (and then rapid un-approval) of Bristol Palin coming for Sex Week three years ago. Many important, far more consequential things have affected Wash. U., Missouri and the United States since then, but we as a community have remained quiet about them. More than that, people seem unaware of many of the changes that affect them. From changes to campaign finance law like Citizens United, to the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping, to the fact that Missouri only has a single abortion-provider in the entire state (and the Missouri legislature is passing increasingly restrictive reproductive health laws), students here are worryingly unfazed by the changes to the world around them outside the Wash. U. bubble. All of these things will directly impact the quality of our lives and the future of both Wash. U. and America.
What was so great about the Peabody protests was not that students were protesting against Peabody Energy and its involvement with Wash. U. but that students were protesting at all. Students here are incredibly involved in a variety of activities, from pre-professional societies to Greek life, from intramural sports to volunteering for various causes, from participating in cultural groups to beating each other over the head with foam swords. And all of those activities are great and there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending time on them. But there is a world outside Wash. U., and it is in our best interest to care about that world.
It is truly laudable that the Peabody protesters not only identified something they believed was wrong with Wash. U. but that they also were willing to make real sacrifices and risks to try to change it. That takes an incredible amount of conviction and courage, and we ought to commend them for it. Even if you completely disagree with Wash. U. divesting from coal or kicking Greg Boyce off the board of trustees, the protestors against Peabody Energy were willing to stand up for their beliefs and actually do something in support of them. They may not have succeeded, but they proved to the rest of the student body that taking actions in support of one’s beliefs is something we are both capable of doing and ought to be doing.
Protesting and political activism need to happen more on campus. We, as students, need to make a better effort to make our opinions and feelings about the issues that matter to us known to the administration and the world. The Peabody protest, while unsuccessful in convincing the University to divest from coal, was successful in proving that Wash. U. students can (and should) successfully organize around issues that matter to us.