If you didn’t see the homecoming parade, you’re not the only one. The crowd was anemic for reasons ranging from weather to unawareness. The procession, on the other hand, was as hearty as they come. In tow were 25 student groups displaying, for Cornell, unusual vigor and costume coordination.
If, however, you bleed Big Red and braved the elements (read: 9:30 a.m. on homecoming Saturday) to attend the parade, you will no doubt remember the efforts of the Cornell Democrats and Black Students United. They marched in solidarity with Kenneth Glover, beloved Ujamaa housing director, chanting all the way. The group’s black clothes and red armbands were a bit menacing, a throwback to the 1970s power movement that I fail to understand. Their signs may have overstated their case a bit, but if you read this column regularly you know how I feel about agitation; and plus, that’s what protest signs do! The affair was pointed and civil, if stylized — exactly what you would want out of a protest, even if you disagree with its core message.
On top of all that, I perceived from the group a light, airy spirit of fun that could be seen in its members’ smiles and peppy step. They were enjoying themselves. So couple that spirit with the groups’ apparent decision to operate within the confines of an American Pie school event — and yet not mock it or make a disastrous scene — and we’re looking at a peculiar sort of protest: one far removed from its ancestry here at Cornell. No doubt, had this event been conceived in the time of the “movement,” the Dems and BSU would have burned a bourgeoisie administrator in effigy, on acid, in front of the dean, dancing with pistols … naked. Always naked. Yet, what we saw was peaceable and, for the administration, manageable.
Just four days before the protest, I sat in a philosophy class taught by one of the department’s veterans. After defending a version of objective good and evil, the professor contrasted the passion, even rudeness, of yesteryear’s student-radicals with our own generation’s “docility.” Apparently, when he taught this course in the ’70s, the students put up quite a fight whereas we merely asked him to move a little to the left so that we could see the blackboard.
I will concede that, as a whole, we appear docile in comparison to our campus forefathers. In my time at Cornell I have yet to witness a true eruption of the radical spirit — no line-drawing or physical intimidation, no sit-ins or hostage situations. The SDS, so far as I know, doesn’t get Student Assembly funding (though that may change after the Community Clause). Last year’s mock funeral for the Program Houses and last weekend’s march for Glover sounded as mere echoes of a louder, bolder time.
So, we’re docile (at least by comparison). But are we radical?
To answer this question I’ll appeal less to the protests that have failed to punctuate my time at Cornell and more to the innermost thoughts of the student body, though not necessarily my own. On the main, do we believe that the earth is becoming dangerously warm and that we can cool it down by “greening our routine”? Do we believe in socialized medicine, ending our foreign wars, nuclear disarmament, outlawing the death penalty, equality of the races and sexes, legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, and the overthrow of many power structures? Yes, yes and yes. In the context of our society, these are extreme views not unlike the ones held by student activists at Cornell 40 years ago. So, where is our radicalism? More to the point, what does it look like? Where is the urge to move and destroy, to protest and to fight the powers that be? Does it sleep?
No, it does not sleep. It waits. Ours is a self-assured radicalism — the heir of one that was not so assured of success, and thus screamed and stomped and popped caffeine pills like so many players on an underdog team before the big game. We know that the realization of our radicalism will come after we graduate from Cornell. You see, our fair University can no longer be seen as the seat of power or the context for struggle. We’ve already won here. We stage a protest within our own homecoming parade and administrators practically cheer! So the modern, self-assured radical sets aside kiddy campus causes to build an impressive GPA and press her business suit. Someday she, the docile student from the back of class, will sit in the seat of power, finally ready to erupt.