By Madeleine Orona Burgos
Lewis & Clark students have long had a history of political activism accompanied by frequent, passionate protests. Students have occupied Frank Manor, started massive online organizational efforts and shut down speakers who challenge the school’s belief system. Much like protests off campus, these movements were organized in response to what the demonstrators viewed as an issue that needed immediate attention, for it would have posed a greater threat if they had gone without incident. This sense of urgency is inherent in the nature of protest, stemming from issues that could arise if problems facing their community are not properly examined.
Going back in LC history, all the way to the era surrounding the Civil Rights movement, the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War, students have been involved in on-campus demonstration. Professor Cyrus Partovi witnessed the activism of LC students when he was a student during the Vietnam War era. He remembers that professors in numerous departments, most prominently the English, STEM and History departments, would stand side-by-side with students when conflicts arose with President John R. Howard and U.S. Senator Wayne Morse. When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not accept the presidential nomination for the 1968 election, Partovi recounted that, “You could hear a pin drop.” In his statement, Johnson cited the massive national upset by private citizens, who disagreed with the military draft and America’s military presence in Vietnam. He made this announcement after the 1968 Tet Offensive, where national opinion toward the war had turned. This was a prominent point in history for LC as well as within the national dialogue concerning protest. It not only put LC on the map but allowed the school to take part in a discourse that they felt was greater than themselves.
Fast forwarding to 2015, student organizers and protestors stood in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, MO and their demonstrations against police brutality after Michael Brown was murdered by police officer Darren Wilson. 2015-2016 Black Student Union co-representative Darian Grays was quoted as saying, “I try not to look at all the negative comments on Facebook. We want everyone to know about this. Not everyone has to care. A lot of people don’t even know this happened.” These students, like those generations before them, took part in the national conversation surrounding what they viewed as an event indicative of an issue that needed addressing. They wanted to bring awareness to the police brutality that pervades our culture and most negatively impacts black Americans with their staging of a peaceful protest. With their demonstration they were not only engaging with the history of political activism among students, but the history and culture of protest at LC itself.
These instances in LC history, in terms of student culture, solidify the power that students and academia have to make the voices of the oppressed heard. It is important that when we engage in political activism now, we hearken back to this history to see what we can learn from it and how we can most effectively make positive change. In this way, campus culture is so heavily linked with protest and activism in academia that to forge onward even in the face of unfavorable political odds is to carry on the legacy that has been passed down down to us through the years.