With over 740 student-run organizations at Cornell, hundreds of student leaders and thousands of undergraduates involved in student activities, activism in the community has become a popular choice for most Cornellians’ extra-curricular activities. For May Silverstein ’04, co-president of Students Acting for Gender Equality (SAGE), activism is a passion the Washington, D.C. native always pursued — which continues to motivate her involvement in SAGE and incites the involvement of others as SAGE and the greater Ithaca community prepare for Sunday’s upcoming March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C.
Silverstein, currently a first semester senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, explained that her two passions are labor activism and feminism. She first took part in the activist community when, as a fifteen-year-old high school student, she and a friend founded the first chapter of Amnesty International in her high school.
“When I arrived at Cornell it seemed only natural to follow down this path,” she said. “Since I’ve been very young, I’ve always been an advocate of social justice and inequality, and trying to make things more peaceable and harmonious in terms of gender, race and class issues.”
Silverstein’s involvement in SAGE is just one of her efforts on an extensive list of organizations and personal contributions in the realm of social justice. As SAGE co-president, Silverstein also serves on the pro-choice committee of SAGE, volunteers at the local Ithaca Planned Parenthood chapter and the Cornell Women’s Resource Center and worked at Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) as a congressional correspondent.
Recently, Silverstein’s efforts focused on outreach with Planned Parenthood of Ithaca, the Tompkins County chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Ithaca College Pro-Choice Committee to plan for the upcoming March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C.
The march is reported to be the largest march in history for women’s reproductive rights. Over one million people are expected to gather on the national mall in support of women’s rights and pro-choice under the currently conservative political climate that serves as a possible threat to these rights.
Planning for the event began early fall semester. SAGE’s pro-choice committee has organized rallies and off-campus benefit concerts to raise money for the buses transporting students to the event. They have also put in hours of tabling and quarter-carding around the Straight to raise student awareness.
Silverstein is pleased with the successful organization and estimates that close to 200 Cornell students will attend the march.
These students will join Ithaca’s own delegation on the mall. Others involved with SAGE, such as Erica Kagan ’05 share Silverstein’s passion and close alignment with the march’s issues.
“As a woman, I absolutely feel close and connected to the issue of a woman’s right to choose. I also know many women who have personally been faced with this choice and I feel very strongly that the choice should be in the hands of each and every woman for herself, and not in the hands of law makers and politicians,” Kagan said.
Members from groups such as Cornell Organization for Labor Action and Direct Action to Stop Homophobia are also sending student groups to the march.
“Because the progressive community at Cornell is so small, we feel that it is important not necessarily that we have the same events, but that we support each other’s issues to build a larger solidarity,” Silverstein said.
Maura Kennedy ’04, co-president of the pro-choice committee, worked with Silverstein through Planned Parenthood and SAGE and was also highly involved in the organizational process for the march. Kennedy shares Silverstein’s commitment to a campus-wide solidarity among activist groups.
“I think there should be solidarity in the activist community, a sense of mutual respect for the cause itself and the work individuals do for it,” she said.
“I agree that it is important to maintain individual goals and agendas to be able to target specific issues adequately. If there was just one activist group that tried to cater to widely diverse goals, it would be too unwieldy to adequately affect change,” Kennedy said.
Patrick Young ’06, president of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, plans to head down early to participate in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank protest as well. Young explained, “In COLA and SAGE we’ve always believed that workers’ and women’s rights are human rights. The problems we face are so large that there is no way we can address them ourselves. Issues we all look at — globalization, sweatshops, trade — transcend single organizations and single movements.”
Young and other student activists on campus find Silverstein’s work within the activist community highly motivating.
“May is an amazing organizer. She understands the issues and articulately and passionately expresses herself. She’s done a great job at reaching out to other groups and working in coalition. Most of all she understands the most important part of activism — solidarity,” Young said.
Archived article by Sarah Workman
Sun Staff Writer