September 20, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Change in activism

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To the Editor:

Re: “Political Theater Disappears From Cornell Campus, Professors Say,” News, Sept. 18

Rebecca Harris did an excellent job with her article re: student activism and the changes through which the forms of political theater at Cornell have gone. I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed by Isaac Kramnick re: the merits of the forms of activism in which proponents of various sides of key issues put forth their position, sometimes quite contentiously, in close proximity to each other.

However, I am compelled to note that those eyeball-to-eyeball moments weren’t necessarily conducive to reasoned responses. Sometimes, quite the opposite reaction(s) were forthcoming. For example, my concern about the possibility of being shoved backwards off the wall which separated the entryway to The Straight from the ground below (a fall of between eight to 10 feet) prompted me to move to the stump. That’s a bit of relatively unknown background re: the semi-iconic photo.

To reach that position, I had to walk through through a group of golf-club-wielding counter-protestors.

I don’t know if the clubs were drivers or nine irons, but, as you can imagine, being hit in the head by any one of them would’ve sent most normal human beings to the hospital with a fractured skull and, possibly, a broken neck, due to the fall.

Thus, I can understand why many contemporary activists are attracted to online petitions and related endeavors. These forms of endeavor are usually much safer. Perhaps The Sun should consider doing a piece that explores the contentions that “clicktivism” breeds “slacktivism.” (I find groups like Avaaz and fairly effective.)

Let me also suggest that investigative journalism is something which The Sun has usually done quite well. It seems to me that pursuing the truth about an issue (or set of issues) is a laudable exercise of one’s rights and responsibilities. So, it would make sense — journalistically, ethically and pragmatically— to make a substantive effort to run a story about why the Provost overruled the initial election of a new director for the Africana Center and put people at the helm whose relationship to the field of Africana Studies was, at best, tangential and, according to several assessments, dysfunctional.

I apologize to those who might think that this suggestion represents an unwillingness to accept the reality that there’s a “new regime” in place and nothing of note will be accomplished by a close scrutiny re: the process (or lack thereof) that put the current leadership in place. However, I remain an adherent of George Santayana’s observation re: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. I hope those who read this letter can see fit to agree with this perspective.

David Burak, ILR ’67, MFA ’80