November 14, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | An Open Letter to Students After the Election

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To the Editor:

At the height of the Cold War, when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were competing in the development and testing of nuclear bombs, an Australian doctor named Helen Caldicott came to the United States. An expert in children’s cancers, she had taken leave of her profession to give three years of her life to raising awareness and urging people to stand up and speak out in opposition to further production and testing, which were both sending strontium 90 into the food chain and increasing the chance of a nuclear war. As she explained to audiences:

  • When I first grasped what a nuclear war would mean, I felt overwhelming grief.
  • Then that grief turned to anger — anger at the “them” who were doing this to our planet.
  • And then I turned my anger into energy; I determined that I would do all in my power to end the danger of nuclear war.
  • And then, I looked around to see who would work with me.

In their grief over this election, some college communities are calling for symbolic expression, such as the American flag to be taken down or lowered to half mast.  I am reminded of the young Vietnam Veterans who climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty and unfurled a gigantic flag — upside down in the international signal of distress. But they didn’t stop with a gesture. They organized a massive rally in Washington, D.C., where veterans tossed their medals of the steps of the Capitol, and they fanned across the United States to march through towns and perform guerilla theater to simulate the experience of war.  Students on college campuses responded.

When we returned to Cornell in 1970 for our 10th reunion, we were met by graduate students who passed out literature and offered teach-ins on the war.  That summer, Cornell opened a lobbying office in DC, where people interested in lobbying could find out where their Senators and Congressmen stood, and after their meetings with their Representatives, return to file a report for others to use.

You are now faced with a challenge perhaps greater than those students faced in the 70s and 80s — that of climate change caused by the warming of the planet.  And we have a President-elect who not only thinks climate change is a hoax and plans to strike down the advances the President has made against it, but also intends to appoint Supreme Court Justices and Federal judges who may curb our right to speak in opposition. Your first reaction was grief, as it was for millions of us Americans. And we now see that grief turning into anger in the streets and on campuses across the land.  You — we all — have a choice.  We can withdraw into our anger, or we can convert that anger into energy and act. You young people have power. You also have tools that the college students in the Anti-Vietnam War and the Anti-nuclear movements did not. You have the tools of the internet and social media which can connect you with students on other college campuses almost instantaneously. You can build a movement of tsunami proportions which will force politicians to listen to the generation that could easily vote them out of office in three years.

So this old Cornell grad is calling upon you to use those tools to lead us into a new age of empowerment of the people.  Commit your intelligence, your energy, your skills into using those tools to build a movement that is directed toward a positive goal — a movement that calls upon us to protect the rights we won in the past and to build a safer, healthier and more just world for the future.

Cynthia Loring MacBain ’60

  • bob young

    PUH-LEEZE! Climate change is a hoax, at least the catastrophic thing caused by human activity, and I say this as a graduate of the Cornell Atmospheric Science program. BTW, the only Vietnam veterans trhowing their so called medals over the fence at the white house were miscreant fraud losers such as Kerry.

  • Paul

    Wow, Talk about creative writing! Cynthia, are you a retired professor?

  • Class of 2000

    Nothing to see here, just an aging hippie throwing tantrums. You lost.

    • CALS ’13

      Who knew the Daily Sun website would be such an accurate microcosm of today’s political climate? On the one hand, you have reasonable people like this letter writer, who eloquently and intelligently share their perspectives. And on the other hand, you have anonymous Trump voters, hanging around in the comments section like dingleberries and blurting out angry, substanceless reactions.

  • Class of 2000

    You call it eloquence. I call it platitudes.

    ‘Empowerment of the people’? People have just spoken.

  • Tag

    Hi, Cynthia!

    I don’t know if you read the comments (conventional wisdom says it’s always a mistake to read the comments) but in my opinion, this letter got the most incoherent and loudest whining from Trump supporters. The idea that Cornell has a humanist, environmentalist, and activist tradition — and that it’s a big part of what makes the university strong — violates their sense of white conservative ownership of American history. Making them face that fact is emotionally hard for them, and that’s part of the reason they’re lashing out. So the comments might be negative, but I think it proves this was a good letter — this fascist movement isn’t strong enough to rewrite history, they can only shake their fists at it.

    Thanks very much for your past and present service to the community and the country.

  • Linda Byard ’68

    Thank you Cynthia for writing to the Sun. Do not be discouraged by those who feel their job in life is to be negative. There are many, many Cornell students who will do just as you suggest. I think having the support and encouragement of older Corenll alumni gives them more confidence and makes their case stronger – and better.

  • Cory Byard ’66 ’74

    Cynthia, This “old” Cornelian (’66 & ’74) affirms your post, a recognition of the deep feelings of “young” Cornelians about the changes promised by Donald Trump. I also hate commentators who use humiliation, insult, and verbal bullying to address thoughtful discourse. They have learned little at Cornell if indeed they even attended.

    Trump promised much about which he knew little. As he learns more about how politics and the world outside of real-estate investments really works, he will retract many of those promises. My fear is that he is a Republican enabler, especially for those politicians who will try to roll back the Progressive agenda that seemed to be working to address many problems of our civil and technological society. Much harm can be done and he and they seem intent on doing it. I am very pleased that our “young”Cornelians are less self-centered, more civic-minded, and more action-oriented than they.

  • Michael

    Some simpleminded people are upset about Trump as a person. Let’s stop dealing with personalities and addresss issues, and let’s keep our minds open instead of swallowing an ideological package deal like the “Progressive agenda” wholesale. Educated people should be able to decide each issue separately on its own merits. I’m proud of my eclectic political views.

    I’ll protest not against Trump but against specific policies he pursues. I won’t refuse to work with citizens on climate change just because they hold a different position than mine on immigration.