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Young generation embodies activism

By Shamsa Mangalji     2/24/11 6:00pm

A few days ago, I went on a hunt for British policemen. Not only did I want to examine those stereotypical, unique British police caps in greater detail but I also wanted to get an inside look of the interesting crowd of student activists they surrounded. Passionate crowds of students and concerned citizens alike have been rallying around the UK for months demanding a repeal of a controversial education reform bill passed recently. The bill calls for a dramatic cutback of federal funds to British universities. Government officials have cited the economic crisis as grounds for cutting the funds. To make up for lost sponsorship, Parliament has raised yearly university tuition fees from 3,000 to 9,000 pounds. This bite to the wallets and threat to academic integrity has caused thousands of members of the British populace to take to the streets.

I knew I was getting closer when I heard lovely chords of techno, Daft Punk-esque music playing. Upon my arrival to the rally, I was confronted by a huge student donning a bright orange clown wig. He violently tugged a small wheelbarrow towards me with a hideous doll inside it and commanded me to "kick the doll." When he saw the confused look on my face, my new clown friend proudly explained the symbolism behind his request.

"That's what the government is doing right now. By raising the cost of our education to nine grand, they are kicking our kids. Let's show them what they're doing," the clown said. The laughing crowd took turns lightly kicking the doll while eager broadcasters flashed their cameras in the background. Other student activists led passionate, clever chants, shouting "education is our right, they say cutbacks we say fight!" This, I thought, was democracy at its finest.

Our generation is not the apathetic, ignorant generation social commentators have routinely claimed it to be. Prominent writers like Thomas Friedman have made it a point to shake their heads and sigh at us for "failing to light a fire" under the country. They assume we lack the knowledge and sense of activism that protestors of Vietnam War held, for example. I disagree. Just like past activists, we students value our rights. Just like them, we actively engage in issues that affect us personally. Any decision made by leaders which compromises our prized values will be fought.

Though student activism may not completely override undesired legislation, it benefits communities in unprecedented ways. Well-publicized rallies and protests bring attention to an issue. When large demonstrations are held, legislators certainly feel the fire; they are pressured to engage in dialogue with protestors. Rice's own student-led KTRU protest proves this, case in point. Joey Yang, a vocal opponent of KTRU's sale, understands that that the movement could not have materialized "without 250 people showing up in 100 degree heat" to protest the sale of KTRU's tower to the University of Houston. Mark Hoffman, another opponent, knew that the administration's failure to respond accordingly would jeopardize their credibility and spread a "negative" atmosphere on campus.

We can and do fight for our respective causes. But we absolutely cannot take our democratic rights for granted. After viewing horrifying coverage of violent protests in the Middle East, I feel blessed to have the ability to speak freely and fight for whatever I believe in. I sincerely hope that, with time, citizens of these countries will be given the same freedoms that I have.

"Did you do what your clown friend told you to do?" you may ask. Most certainly; I'm proud to say that I exercised my democratic rights with a passion the day of the London protest. I kicked that doll. Hard.

Shamsa Mangalji is a Martel College junior.

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