W.I.L.D. for social change?
For the first time in recent history, political activism briefly took center stage at this semester’s W.I.L.D. Early in the evening, junior Alex Greenberg spoke on behalf of the Right Side of History, a new political movement at Wash. U. that seeks to engage straight youth in the struggle for LGBT rights.
W.I.L.D. as we know it is a place of carefree, drunken revelry, somewhere our campus has historically united in support of music and good times. The notion of a political speech in this environment initially caught many of us off guard. Greenberg’s speech, however, was delivered with a sense of raw emotion, realness and authenticity that made the political movement relevant to the event.
The more we think about it, the decision to include a political statement in the W.I.L.D. lineup conjures images of Woodstock and 1960s-era protests in which college students combined music and politics in an attempt to achieve social change. Greenberg’s invitation to the student body to join the start of a civil right’s movement “right now” recalls the days when Brookings Quad was the very site of activism on behalf of the black civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
As college students, we entertain a nostalgia for an era we never saw. Our images of the 1960s form a vision of dedicated activism and charged concert environments that we cannot help but envy. Categorically, we admire student activism, particularly when it takes on creative new forms. A political statement at W.I.L.D. is one made with the capacity to engage more students than ever before.
Greenberg’s speech has the potential to be a starting point for true political activism on this campus, and a demonstration of student engagement in response to it may open doors for corporate support of The Right Side of History movement. In spite of the questionable receptivity of its intoxicated crowds, W.I.L.D. unites the student body more than any other event on campus. We commend senior David Dresner and the rest of the leadership of the Right Side of History for their ingenuity in using W.I.L.D. as a political soundstage. Moreover, we commend the leadership of Team 31 for taking a risk and allowing Greenberg’s speech to happen.
This activism, however, does not come without its flaws. Though Dresner was the first student leader to approach Team 31 about using the W.I.L.D. venue to spread a political message, we question whether The Right Side of History was the appropriate movement to change the nature of the event. The movement is very new and largely unestablished, and Greenberg’s speech—though well delivered —only provided inklings at what students may do to mobilize themselves for change.
We want to see more student activism on campus, and we like the notion of W.I.L.D. as a meaningful beginning for mass movements of social change. We also, however, want activism to be as effective as it can be. Greenberg’s speech was delivered early and came as a surprise to many in the audience. Better-fitting and better-publicized political activism could have the potential to cultivate even more passion among concertgoers.
And while we admire the traditions of 1960s activism, we fear that political messages delivered to intoxicated audiences have the potential to become unitary and unquestioned. In order for The Right Side of History’s movement to be effective, we must actively engage with the message delivered, and not simply remember it as a background to our W.I.L.D. memories.
If W.I.L.D.’s mission is to expand from good times into real political activism, we ask that Team 31 carefully consider how the statements delivered best fit into the concert’s format. Saturday’s speech is, potentially, the beginning to a tradition that can be honed and developed—a tradition that brings the social ruptures of our world to bear on a campus that can then begin to treat them politically as well as intellectually.