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Rousing complacent college students

THE WORLD Bank/IMF protest might have shut down D.C., but on campus the news blew by. As I polled people for Views Around Grounds last week, I asked many University students this question: "Would you participate in a World Bank/IMF student walkout?" Most responses went something like this: "I've heard about the protests in D.C., but I don't understand the issue at all. I just avoid reading about it because it's too complicated."

This vague recognition of last week's D.C. activism represents not only University students' inattention to world news but college complacency towards global affairs in general. It was dismaying but typical to discover that a lot of college students didn't acknowledge the World Bank/IMF protests. Events like this demand attention on campus because they are geared towards young, active citizens forcing change.

Protest by college students is a powerful weapon to fight for change because it harnesses the energy of the enthusiastic and spirited masses. Yet students often are reluctant to get involved because it seems like a daunting and dedicated commitment. There are a few main difficulties that activism poses for college protesters, and recognizing them is the first step towards solving the problem of eliciting support.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Maybe it was the relative complexity of the issue that kept college students out of D.C. The World Bank/IMF protesters weren't just fighting for a single point but for many issues such as environmental protection, democratic equality and labor rights. Unless students already were aware and interested in the problem, it was difficult to streamline it into a compact and catchy rabble-rousing call. This creates an odd Catch 22 for students rallying for support on their campus. Their potential fellow protesters must be informed in the first place, even though events like the rally in D.C. are geared towards heightening awareness in the average person.

Me, Myself and I. There is no personal incentive to fight for justice in Third-World countries, and in the job-hungry, grade-grubbing college world, this selfishness must be overcome. Activism needs to be advertised like all products are - by answering the difficult question, "What's in it for me?" World reform and freedom for the impoverished are not very sellable items because they aren't for the protester but for the issue being protested. Activism is an inherently selfless act, more so than charity, which often is done to assuage one's own conscience. It involves not only no gain, but also possible risk. To overcome this disincentive, students need to spark true interest in others so that the issue becomes valuable for its intrinsic rewards.

But I don't want to go to jail ... Activism isn't just the generic image of students chaining themselves to fences or hippies marching for drug legalization, yet that's still the vibe it gives off. College students think that participating in protests like the one in front of the World Bank/IMF meetings last week requires a monumental dedication to an obscure issue. Involvement in global politics isn't just for the brave liberal. It also can manifest itself in simple and risk-free acts like mass mailings, educating others and making an issue recognized through sincerity, not sensationalism. The largest student activist group in America right now is Students Against Sweatshops, and their non-violent activism has moved Capitol Hill law makers to pass several pieces of legislation concerning the matter. Overcoming stereotypes about activism is crucial. Driving home the message that any aid is welcome, no matter how simple, is critical in stirring participation.

But I'm just a little guy. Like voting in elections, the shrugging off of activism comes with the defense that one person can't make a difference, and besides, other people are fighting anyway so they don't need me. In reality, activism is a forum where more than anywhere else, a true leader can make the difference between action and apathy. Activism is a vague buzzword that only becomes tangible when it attaches itself to a person. Desegregation was abstract - Martin Luther King Jr. was real. The Million Man March was a rally - Louis Farrakhan was a leader. The World Bank/IMF protest was an event. It could have been more if it had a person to speak as its voice.

It was great to hear about University students marching in D.C. and representing us in the devoted, protesting masses. College is a time when people are focused on feeding off each other's energy to develop their intellect and critical thinking skills. This is why college students are the best candidates to spark change. We are still independent and unattached to multinational corporations that make us their mouthpieces. College is a time when more than ever people should speak their minds because they are unbound by any obligations. The numbers are huge. The intensity is immeasurable. That's why once these kinks in promoting activism are worked out, there's no telling what a couple of kids can do.

(Diya Gullapalli is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)

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