Sunday, October 29, 2006

Oh, that 'campus' beat

After having previously profiled what we'll generously call "Eisenhower Democrats" in college last February, The Nation's campus beat turns it's glazed eyes to SNAP in the November 6, 2006 issue (page 14).

Oh, those movers and shakers. They're building a better world, one election turnout at a time. Color us unimpressed.

When not self-congratulating themselves, they offer dopey statements. Such as when Aja Davis explains 'political activism' to readers thusly: "You can't always be chained up to a tree. Sometimes you've got to go and put on a suit and deal with someone you don't agree with" before hastening to explain that she agrees with the candidate she worked for. Sometimes you've got to go and put on a suit?

Possibly. If you can afford a suit. This offensive-on-so-many-levels article ticked us off and we queried on campuses to see how many male or female students had a suit? Answer? Not many. But then it's not really about activism on campus, the article, it's about "power players."

We keep expecting the campus beat in The Nation to evolve into some sort of "Power 100" (though with the space provided to this beat, it would probably be reduced to ten). A Power Issue where they, like Forbes and Premiere, could offer up a list that wouldn't do much that qualifies as reporting but would get a lot of ink from outside the magazine.

SNAP, the article tells you, is making a difference via "fundraisers with supporters including Geraldine Ferraro and Barney Frank", and their "goal was to get young people back on the ground for the 2006 midterms." You go, SNAP, you do that work that the League of Women Voters and countless others having been doing for years before you. The end product to all this labor? "We set out to build power, and now we've got it," says Snappateer Jared Maslin. And what could be more "powerful" than influencing the 2008 Democratic presidential choice, which, for the record, SNAP believes it will. Endorsement! (Union endorsements didn't save Howard Dean, but, hey, when your goals are so tiny, dream big.)

It's endorsing in the mid-terms too! And they 'proved' their power because instead of donating money to a campaign, they provided a salary for a campaign worker from their ogranization. Clearly, they've gone the campus work-study route.

Well, remember, you can't always be chained to a tree. Though if SNAP strikes you as the last organization to be chained to a tree, rest assured, it strikes us that way as well.

Probing the soft, moneyed side of campus 'activism,' the campus beat at The Nation continues to be a joke. And on that topic, their yearly student essay will be coming up shortly. Remember kids, if you want to win, trash everyone your own age.

And if you want coverage in the campus 'activism' section of The Nation remember that it's not about independence, it's about getting the big money and doing very little with it. No dreamers, no visionaries, allowed. You better be a top-down organization interested in top-down processes. And, though not mentioned in the article, being Yale based helps as well.

Out in the real world, where real activism goes on, the campus beat can't be bothered. Which is probably why there's outrage among many students who've read the piece of crap entitled "SNAP!" ("You go, Yale!" apparently was already taken.) Five of us read the article and were immediately disgusted (but it's just the sort of 'insight' we'd expect from someone who hates Alexander Cockburn). The five were Ava, Jess, Ty, Dona and Jim. C.I.'s attitude was, "Well what do you expect from him?" C.I.'s attitude changed while speaking to seventeen groups of students over three days and hearing repeatedly about how much they loathed this article.* Mike and Wally passed it around their campuses to get reactions and found similar aminosity towards the article.

Fitting into the established power structure and begging for a seat at the table plays really well to The Nation's campus beat and that may be the saddest thing about the beat. (We're not just referring to one or two articles.)

As with the essay chosen last year, the 'voice' of students presented seems to be only those who please their elders either by being co-opted (the Eisenhower Democrats) or by slamming their peers. (We'd suggest to Davis that she flesh out her "You can't always be chained to a tree. Sometimes you've got to put on a suit . . ." 'thesis' because it has essay winner written all over it.) Otherwise, their tales are told through 'older voices' such as when the student led immigartion rights movement began last spring (with school walk outs), The Nation offeed up Roberto Lovato's "Voices Of A New Movimiento" (June 19, 2006) which featured a 26-year-old as the 'youngest' voice and ended with an 'elder' telling a story about students showing up at a James Sensenbrenner town hall chanting "Si se puede." Apparently, none of the students could be reached for comment.

What does that tell you? The movement was sparked by mass walk outs from schools and The Nation couldn't find anyone under 26 to speak to? We're all eagerly awaiting the second post-election edition of The Nation with the hopes that it can stop being an organ for the Democratic Party and get back to being a part of independent media. We know that won't happen with the first edition which will struggle to tell us what the election 'means' -- in a higher minded, focus people, kind of manner. Right now, we're plenty bored. The "peace" columinst tells us that this is the "Torture Election." And we're wondering when they'll get a real peace columnist who'll cover the peace movement?

One student explained to C.I. how ticked off he was with groups like SNAP by noting a member of the group had come up to him supposedly to talk but was obviously working from a list of talking points beginning with, "You know this election is really important and it's important that you vote and vote wisely." As the student noted to C.I. and the others present, "I'm a poli student. I don't need some newly converted 'activist' speaking to me in patronizing tones about voting." He said he was sick of it and that's a sentiment we can share.

From Dan Berger and Andy Cornell's "Ten Questions for Movement Building and Reflection" (LeftTurn):

What young people don't want to deal with is patronization or abandonment, people who focus on their glory days or on lecturing 'the youngens.' What young folks do want are older activists who remain steadfast in their resolve and organizing, who seek to draw out the lessons from their years in the struggle (and are clear about where they differ with others of their age cohort without being sectarian), who look to younger activists for inspiration and guidance while providing the same, and who are focused on movement building. Building on the more multigenerational roots of Southern organizing, two older organizers in Greensboro beautifully summed this up at an event in saying, "We aren't done, we're not leaving, and we're in this together."

We agree. And guess what, the 'years in the struggle' doesn't translate (despite the campus beat of The Nation's apparent belief) into electoral politics.

[*Dona also took part in these speaking gigs. ]
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