Enough is Enough: Reflections on Campus Activism

This piece was co-written by Middblog contributors Cody Gohl and Olivia Noble.

Now is an important time to be a member of the Middlebury College community. This fall, we’ve  actively engaged in the discussion of what it means to be a school that divests from practices that operate against our school’s mission statement. We’ve also seen the public trial of five students referred to as the “Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee” (DLWC) over issues of free speech.

Before arriving at the final draft of this piece, we thought about writing about activism in general and what it means to be a “good” activist, but we realized that we’ve got more to say than just that. We’re done beating around the bush – the Shell Protest yesterday by the DLWC pushed us overboard. It was a destructive demonstration of students hijacking what could have been a constructive conversation and turning it into something isolating and embarrassing. Our major issue is not the message they were sending, but the means by which they chose to do it: they used a platform that was not theirs from which to preach and showed zero respect for an opinion that differed from their own.

This semester, the word “activism” has been thrown around a lot, either by the self-proclaimed activists of the DLWC who cite Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi as inspirations for their actions, or by students who believe the DLWC’s activism to be misguided.  It has become a buzzword on campus, a powerful tool whose simple utterance seems to justify any action or statement that is made as long as it was said or done under the guise of being “activism.”

Through the actions of these students, the idea of activism has been warped into something contrary to its spirit.  True activism should (and must) come from a place of love: of love for a people or a nation or a place or a community. It comes from a deep and intense desire to not only change the mindset of a group of people, but to change with them, to grab hands and dive into something new together. It comes from the recognition that there is an inequality and that we do not need to accept the world and circumstances in which we are born. Our rights to free speech, to practicing whatever religion we choose, even our right to vote are all things that were won out of the activist spirit of a group of individuals working together. Activism is a beautiful thing and it should not be taken lightly.

We’re lucky here at Middlebury.  We live in a wonderful place with a confluence of students, professors, and visitors who all tend to espouse the same values.  At times this can be very empowering.  However, we are also deprived on this campus.  We are deprived of people who argue the opposition and push back with that same passion.  In this great community we have cultivated, we are pushed to believe that our solution is the only solution and that those who argue otherwise are not simply of a different opinion- they are wrong.

The community by and large stands behind the message the DLWC promotes.  We believe in divestment and in responsible investing, but actions like yesterday’s alienate an incredible swath of people on this campus.  Despite the assertion that actions like this raise the profile of issues and bring more people into the movement, it is our belief they do far more damage than they do good.

There is a place for dialogue and action, a place for pushing one another to challenge the status quo and there is a place for constructive criticism.  However, there is no place for the kinds of disrespectful activism that has been demonstrated by the DLWC this semester. They do not listen, they do not attempt to push or challenge or grow with the community; instead, they demand attention and villainize anyone who stands in their way.

We have an extraordinary opportunity living on this campus.  We are incredibly advantaged and have more resources at our hands than most others in the world.  To waste that opportunity on angry and destructive actions is an affront to our community and an embarrassment to our college.

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83 thoughts on “Enough is Enough: Reflections on Campus Activism

  1. Definitely a “sweet” and “nice” opinion on what it means to be an activist. From my perspective – not much has been accomplished without pissing people off. This could be said for Shell, except its more like a few atrocious human rights violations. Making a person uncomfortable or embarrassed or ashamed is not a terrible thing, nor is it inherently destructive – if these feelings were felt than it was simply a point proven by the DLWC. If they had burnt down RAJ, this article would have some merit, but their action was harmless and was simply used to express a VERY valid oppositional stance to the questionable practices of Shell. Sure it created some tension, but tension has never killed anyone (which probably couldn’t be said for Shell). AND it’s absurdly ridiculous to accuse these people of approaching their actions without love. These are some of the most passionate and compassionate people I’ve met, and just because they’re speaking for people you can’t see, it doesn’t mean they’re speaking for no one. Though their actions may seem impolite, discourteous, or just too darn mean, I think they’re the ones that are doing the most loving out of all of us – we just get blinded by the arbitrary rules of social interaction which are designed to keep us quiet, nice, and frankly ignorant.

    • They’re just 5 people looking for attention (and maybe a place in Midd’s history). If they really cared about their community, they’d try to work with groups like SRI or Justalks to facilitate discussions and change that people can get behind.

      MLK marched with hundreds of people behind him. Ghandi led a nation. These 5 are so isolating that absolutely no one wants to join them.

      Just an opinion. Good article, but there is clearly more work to be done.

    • I would agree that what they are doing does come from a passion for change but the way they did it was counterproductive. By presenting a fake diploma before the man even had a chance to speak they made themselves appear immature and unreasonable. Later on when they got up and essentially yelled at the man before dropping to the floor their accusations were nonspecific and did not actually give the man from Shell much of a chance to respond.

      I was at the talk yesterday and I was incredibly frustrated by the whole thing. There were students who were there to ask real questions in a respectful manner and who were prepared to engage in critical discussion but once the meeting was hijacked by the DLWC it became incredibly polarized and hard to have much of a real discussion without feeling like you were going to be attacked.

      I, like the authors of this article, agree with the goals that the DLWC promotes. But I found their methods yesterday disrespectful not only to the man who was nice enough to come and speak at our school, but also to every other student who was there to engage in the discussion.

    • “we just get blinded by the arbitrary rules of social interaction which are designed to keep us quiet, nice, and frankly ignorant.”

      The WAKE UP SHEEPLE joke is the vibe i get from statements like this and the behavior of our so-called “activists”. it’s unbelievably pretentious and condescending, and it only turns people off. you can bring attention sure, but this kind of attitude will not be able to generate any kind of real support.

    • What I question more than anything in this conversation is the validity of the argument condemning these actions based specifically on the accusation of disrespect. I question where these judgements are coming from, and whether or not they are based on a moral evaluation or simply on emotion. I question if it is necessary to behave in a calm, cordial, and considerate way in scenarios where one validly doesn’t feel this type of behavior is warranted. I question whether the socially overarching fear of confrontation should be something that limits us or something we embrace to give actions like this an impact. I question whether the negative sentiments expressed in this article, and by many of those commenting, stem from a critical evaluation or a strong visceral response to the action itself: this discomfort with confrontation – the inherent dismissal of any human action that steps outside of our adopted social behavior model that is designed to alleviate tension, allowing each person to exist numbly without conflict. I question if this visceral response simply proves the action successful. I question if, as a man whose job epitomizes the disgusting devaluation of human and natural wellbeing for the sake of capital gain was presented a platform of expertise and authority in front of the student body, our college was simply perpetuating and justifying the atrocities committed by Shell. I question if this man and the platform he was given is reason enough for protest. I question whether we should dismiss this action solely on the grounds that it made us uncomfortable – how it stepped outside of our predetermined conceptualization of how this event should have rightly functioned (based on our ideas regarding social norms) – or embrace the tension created, recognizing that it is from this tension that movement is born. Was this action wrong because these people didn’t adhere to your contrived notions about a) how one should behave at a college sponsored lecture b) how one should be a “good” activist? EXPAND YOUR MIND!

  2. “The Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for someone else’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.” -Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

    • To the DLWC and their supporters,

      I both understand and appreciate your point that it takes more than sitting around a table talking to challenge the status quo. Maybe sometimes it is healthy to make things uncomfortable.

      But look at these responses. Take in the fact that you have angered a decent portion of the student body. Your actions did not come off as bold so much as immature. MLK and Ghandi made great strides by taking the high road when too many were taking the low.

      From your comments, many of you seem like intelligent and compassionate people, and I hope you continue to work towards your goals, but in a manner that reflects these traits.

  3. lets just get one thing straight: these five disillusioned college students are not Martin Luther King Jr, not anything like him.

    • As they stated numerous times during their public hearing, members of the DLWC do not pretend themselves to be MLK Jr. or Maya Angelou or Frederick Douglass (or even well-respected fellow direct activist Abigail Borah, ’13). Every time they used a quote or anecdote, they attribute it to its source. They don’t even claim to have “discovered” inspiration by themselves- “It is true, in fact, that much of our inspiration for our action we learned right here in conversations and classrooms at Middlebury. In one of our classes, for example, we read Paulo Freire’s statement…[a quote follows]…”

      Is drawing inspiration from others contemptible? Is it self-aggrandizing to invoke others’ words? By that logic, we claim theorists’ eloquence as our own whenever we reference them in class, and we pretentiously consider ourselves the Mother Theresas and the Gandhis of the world whenever we refer to their teachings.

      If the DLWC were to purport that these great leaders’ words were their own- well, that would be a different story. But as all good, honest, well-trained Middlebury students do, they cite their sources. They give credit where credit is due.

      Inspiration is not disillusionment; inspiration is humbling. it reminds us that wisdom resides outside of ourselves.

  4. Thank you for putting into words exactly what I have been thinking this entire fall while watching the events that have been unfolding on campus. While I understand the message that these “activists” are trying to promote I am ashamed of the actions that have been taken to achieve their goal. It frustrates me that this group refuses to look past these type of overly showy displays that they seem so fond of. Whether they will admit it or not there are plenty of people on this campus working for causes ranging from educational access to actively helping ensure our campus will meet it’s goals of being carbon neutral to the same goal this group is working towards (divesment.) These students activists accomplish these goals without disrupting the community like the DLWC seems to be so fond of. These actions truly make me embarrassed for my alma mater based on what I view as the sheer lack of respect that this group has exhibited, which I feel reflects poorly upon our entire Middlebury community.

    • Same here! It’s been especially frustrating to see people demonize the Middlebury administration. While not perfect, I do not think it was absurd to look into the DLWC’s actions or hold a public trial against them. It just makes things easier if they view things as “good guy” vs. “bad guy.”

  5. No one is saying they are like MLK (including them obviously). But those who criticize the people opposing oppression rather than the people creating it, are likely the “stumbling blocks” he was talking about here

  6. Oppression? How delusional. There are thousands of more productive ways to help change what is bad in the world than what these five immature adolescents are doing. Sure, who is for oppression or for environmental degradation — nobody. But what sacrifices have these entitled children made and stated publicly to back up their foolish behavior. Do they buy gasoline? Use a computer with parts made of petroleum and petroleum products? Have they given up their cars and longer fly home or to “the islands” for break?

    Claiming they don’t want their tuition dollars invested in the college endowment displays their ignorance: even if they are not on financial aid, their tuition payments don’t even cover the cost of a Middlebury education, which costs more than $80,000 per student. The difference between the $80,000 and the full price ($55,950) is made up by…THE EVIL ENDOWMENT. That’s right. All these self-righteous protesters are all receiving, at the least, a $25,000 scholarship covered by the endowment or annual fund gifts by alumni of this college. Those on financial aid are receiving more than that from the endowment.

    These students are losers. Followers. They are filled with guilt and don’t know of any more productive ways to channel all these feelings. So many other, more productive, ways to help others in need. As my fellow alums have stated, their actions are an embarrassment for all of us, and good for the current students who recognize the difference between doing things the right way and their foolish way.

    • I agree completely. I believe (and hope) that the vast majority of students at Middlebury come to the school to get a wide view of perspectives that they can build from. In fact, that is what a liberal arts education is supposed to provide. These students actions are completely counterproductive to that goal.

      It is much easier to get someone to respect and listen to your views if you respect and listen to theirs. This is something that the Republican party (which I assume these students hate) struggle with, but these students are just the other far end of the spectrum.

      I wouldn’t blame Shell or any other large fossil fuels company if they were hesitant to come to Midd after this incident. These are major players in climate change, development, and a host of other issues around the globe, and they are going to be included in future solutions whether you like it or not. Do we want to become an institution that is so insular that we fail to acknowledge other opinions? If the college were to take that direction, it would be more than just a shame; it would be robbing me of the degree that I value highly.

  7. I hope we can sit down and have a conversation about these responses, because I take them very seriously. But I respect the opinion you have stated here, as I respect the other opinions people shared with me directly after the talk. If either of you had come to the open forums we hosted after every action, you would think twice about writing “They do not listen,” “they demand attention and villainize anyone who stands in their way.” If you had been to the hours of discussion with the people planning this action, (who by the way, were not the DL 5 but larger group), you would understand that we constantly challenge each other “to grow with the community” and welcome a huge range of opinion. When Ljosne came to speak at UVM, the whole talk was shut down and he was not permitted to speak. He is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to respond to people who oppose Shell. At Middlebury, everyone had the chance to hear what he had to say and ask important questions. When people had strong emotional responses to his words and felt compelled to speak up about them, why are they the ones to be villainized?
    It hurts to hear that you believe our activism is all about getting attention. Have you talked to any of the people involved in this about what else they have done and persistently do to stand up to oppression? Obviously, we are not the only ones and I greatly respect the work of DFF, SRI, JusTalks, and other activist groups on campus. I also take many of their opinions into consideration with all the activism I do. I’d be interested in yours too, if you were interested in having dialogue rather than making public accusations.
    -A disappointed friend

    • I was at the talk as well. I think saying that the protesters do not listen is by no means exaggeration. Throughout the presentation one protester who was sitting in the front moved to each side of the room and even left for two minutes in the middle. The fact that you protested the man before he was given an opportunity to talk indicated you were not willing to listen to what he said and engage in civil dialogue.

      Shell is a company that has done some horrible things, but I think a better way of protest would have been engaging in civil dialogue. I got more out of listening to his responses to tough questions then I did from hearing the DLWC diatribes.

      In the end, this group was disrespectful. I would rather live in a community where we operate with mutual respect. How do we get people with opposing views to come to our campus if we treat them so poorly? Yes, Shell is bad, but do you think this man is going to change anything based on your protest? He gets protested daily. We could have gained more by talking to him then we could have by protesting him.

  8. It is concerning that you’re able to write this op-ed without saying a word about the Nigerian people that Shell – a $500 billion corporation and one of the largest in the world – is responsible for displacing. Shell owns the Nigerian government, which explains why they are protective of its atrocities. You are speaking of activism. Shell is responsible for the execution of indigenous Ogoni activists. Yesterday, Ljosne referred to indigenous activists fighting for their rights as thieves and criminals, gang members. They don’t have the privilege of coming here to speak to us. They don’t even have the privilege we have to tell Shell’s public face “no, we refuse to take (and fund!!!) your crimes.”

    It was humiliating and degrading to experience students standing up to protect corporate interests and PR professionals against their fellow students. Let’s face it, he’s paid to come here and greenwash the crimes of his corporation. I’m saying this with great sympathy to any human being with a job. He probably didn’t even express his genuine opinion. He is a theatre actor, but his acting has real implications on human life, and that’s what needed to be called out.

    The regurgitated phrase “we agree with the message but disagree with the means” is an authoritative catch phrase used to de-legitimize any action. Disagreeing with our means is disagreeing with our message. I am sorry you feel uncomfortable with the opinions we presented. Were you comfortable with the content of Ljosne’s lecture?

    I am deeply offended by the fact you didn’t express to us your opinion in person. We’ve held open General Assemblies in the Warner Hemicycle at 4 pm every second Friday (today as well) since the Dalai Lama action. This is a grassroots non-institutionalized attempt to give everyone a space to raise their voice and concerns. You have my email, you cross me on the dining hall. I want to listen to what you have to say. I want you to listen too. Please talk to me before you slander.

    • To be fair, almost all of the coverage I’ve seen of the DLWC has been praising of you guys, so it’s nice to see something that brings up critiques. I think that the presence of this critique is bringing out new people’s opinions and, though public and not face-to-face, can be utilized as a place for more serious discussion on the issues and your activism around them. A lot of people commenting are alumni like me and we cannot attend the open forums you guys hold.

    • Your responses illustrate their points pretty explicitly, don’t they?

      People disagree with your message and you’re quick to label their views as “slander”. Seems like a pretty close-minded reading of the issues to me.

    • “Unfounded public accusation”, as you said on Facebook, rather than slander, is probably a safer way to say the same thing.

      When Abigail Borah does the same action (maybe less creatively), she’s a campus hero. But when it’s in Middlebury’s backyard – “enough is enough”… Thanks for giving voice to silenced Nigerians. Never stop saying the truth even when your immediate audience is unreceptive.

    • “The regurgitated phrase “we agree with the message but disagree with the means” is an authoritative catch phrase used to de-legitimize any action. Disagreeing with our means is disagreeing with our message. I am sorry you feel uncomfortable with the opinions we presented. Were you comfortable with the content of Ljosne’s lecture?”

      I have read your post many times, and it has taken me some time to figure out exactly how to respond to it. I do not feel that by saying I agree with your message, but not your means is always used to “de-legitimize” your actions. I am one of the people who has responded with that exact phrase earlier in the conversation, and I stand by my statement. I understand the harm that these companies cause to both the environment and my fellow man, and I firmly agree that these injustices need to be addressed, and ultimately stopped (preferably sooner rather than later.) I have participated in other forms of activism for these and other causes, both in public and private (including taking efforts to reduce my consumption of fossil fuel.) I have, and continue to do my best to promote these types of causes, but I have never participated in the types of protests undertaken at the Shell lecture. I do not have any problems with protesting, and it certainly has it’s applications, but I do not feel that the forms of protest your group used are necessary, and are sometimes downright unhelpful in that they can turn potential supporters into detractors. I do not think that these forms of protest are the way to go about bringing change. I understand that these causes are urgent, and something needs to happen soon, however something so large as fixing all of the injustices caused by companies like shell takes time, and I suspect that your other goal of divestment may take time as well. I am sure you will argue that we don’t have time, and while that may be true, the actions that you took at one lecture and one college will not fix things immediately. Believe me when I say that you are not alone in your fight (not in larger society, and most likely not at Midd), but not everyone who supports your cause supports the means that you use to fight for your cause.

      I do not mean to attack anyone, or belittle their efforts, and I apologize in advance if it seems that way. I simply am trying to express my own personal opinion, something that I think everyone is entitled to do. I only wish that I was on campus to take part in these discussions face to face, and I assure you that if I were I would love to take about these issues (both protests and the issues your are protesting against) face to face with the members of your group.

  9. Thanks for writing this piece. Middlebury is an extremely homogenous environment, and having a representative of Shell come to campus to express a dissenting opinion is a privilege. I’m as liberal as you can get, but I appreciate being challenged by others– it’s what keeps me involved. You don’t have to agree with or even respect what he represents, but drowning out his point of view with a demonstration to promote your point of view is counter-productive and hypocritical. Anyone can disrupt a speech and forge a document, but not everyone has the ability to prompt substantive change. Use your expensive liberal arts education to rise above the angry mob tactics and fraudulent gimmicks.

  10. It’s honestly pretty sickening to have people who are sympathetic to a senior manager of Shell who’s obviously making a PR appearance to talk down his company’s involvement in some seriously horrible situations.

    To characterize his appearance as simply a “dissenting opinion” that should for some reason be respected is absolutely ridiculous. What you’re saying is, if person A believes in human rights and person B believes that profits are more important than human rights, than person B’s “opinion” is somehow legitimized.

    This is about so much more than dissenting opinions and points of view. This is about people, real people, who can’t be here to defend themselves. This is about a company owning a government and executing the citizens of that government, and you’re sitting here talking about that company’s “point of view”. Do you think that’s going to prompt substantive change? Really?

    Say what you will about the DLWC kids, but the fact is that the world needs people like them if we are ever to move forward past the people like you who feel uncomfortable challenging the status quo or bending some antiquated societal norms.

    And one last thing: what they’re doing is working. It prompted this article, it prompted these comments. More people are aware now than they were before Thursday. Sometimes it takes some controversy to make that happen. So be it.

    • does it count as “working” when people are being turned off by their message and find them pretentious and immature? i’d hardly count that as working.

    • Absolutely. No one who has ever done anything controversial has been universally well received. There will inevitably be detractors, that does not mean it’s not working.

  11. Mike — questioning what Shell and other corporations are doing is fine. It should be part of the liberal arts education students seek at places like MIdd. However, the tactics your heros choose to use deny people the opportunity to hear and judge for themselves. You seem to be saying that if people don’t support DLWC’s tactics or views, they are somehow inferior, stupid, or corrupted by some nefarious group like Shell. Midd kids are smart: they can weigh evidence, but they are entitled to hearing all the evidence, not just the DLWC worldview. The world is so much more complex. Try living right now without the Shells of the world. How does one do that before alternative energy options are here? How does Bill McKibben get from place to place, criticizing fossil fuel production — a magic carpet, perhaps? But I doubt it.

    Protests are great. Causes are great. They do bring attention to issues like unfair practices of corporations. But pushing a cause without realizing the hypocrisy involved, or the unintended consequences of how one is portraying one’s cause (like trying to remove fossil fuels when developing countries have no other chance of bringing literally billions out of poverty rests with using the only energy sources now available — fossil fuels) makes one look silly and defeats the purpose of the well-intended efforts. How about working hard (that is working hard, not resorting to, disruptive, and dishonest tactics) to get oil companies and governments to fund much more alternative energy development? That would be a productive start.

    • I hear you, and I don’t want to attack anyone personally. I guess what I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t look down on disruption. Sometimes being disruptive is just what we need. The manager of shell is trained to deal with questions from people, even pointed and well-informed questions. It’s what he does. Disruption causes discomfort, and maybe catches him off guard a bit. I think that’s a good thing.

      And yes, it would be difficult to live without the Shells of the world. And yes, I drive a car. But does Shell need to cause flagrant human rights violations? Surely you don’t want to argue that. And that’s really the point here. I don’t think the people who are really affected by this would be very inspired by our aversion to disruption.

    • One of the reasons it’s so hard to do without the Shells of this world is because of the Shells of this world. They have threatened, injured, and killed protesters in the countries where they operate and have damaged their ecosystems beyond repair; they have paid handsomely for misinformation so that climate change could be viewed as a “controversy,” thereby critically delaying action on climate and clean energy alternatives; they and their fellow oil companies have torpedoed alternative energy projects, funded political campaigns for government influence, destroyed public transportation (LA once had a model streetcar system). They are liars willing to sacrifice the Earth’s biosystems on which everything depends to be last man standing in the profit hand-out. They have nothing to say worth hearing, no “opinion” to “respect.”

    • Regina: was this post serious or tongue-in-cheek? All the people in all the countries in which Shell operates have been duped? Boy are we all stupid.

      You exemplify the larger problem you seek to redress with the way in which your protest and call for action has been framed: this is no black and white issue. Let’s say the model streetcar system were to continue — the bulk of the world is not highly developed and is in desperate need of energy to fuel subsistence living, and so it represents a drop in the ocean. You and your ilk are calling for the ridding of fossil fuels (and coal, though the worst, is the one most available to the truly impoverished countries), yet doing so will leave the overwhelming majority of humanity worse off and facing greater starvation than so many face today. Have you considered that? Can you locate any of those countries on a map and know enough about the 3+ billion who are living in abject poverty? Do you really think it is all because of the conspiracy of the Shells? If so, Middlebury is failing miserably in its mission.

  12. Olivia and Cody,

    I respect your opinions, but I’m not sure what the purpose of this article was. Calling out the protestors in a public forum or offering them constructive criticism? Your article feeds into the exact problem you are criticizing and accusations you are leveling against the activists: it is angry, frustrated and it keeps the dialogue focused on them as individuals instead of their message. It keeps the dialogue focused on how rowdy and disruptive and terrible these protestors are instead of the human rights abuses of Shell. And that demonstrates your inability to look past a tactic you personally find distasteful and promote the dialogue that needs to happen (which is part of your journalistic responsibility). That being said, a discussion of “good” activism is important and needs to happen. But we need to think about where, when and how this discussion will happen and best engage the people you are trying to engage. Scrolling through the host of angry, destructive and personally attacking anonymous comments, I don’t think this editorial did that.

    What I find most disturbing is that you don’t seem to have personally engaged these protestors, whom you know and some of whom you consider your friends. Instead you have chosen to call them out in a public forum. That is incredibly disrespectful, and does more to create negative tension in our community and shut down dialogue than the protest itself did. You accuse the protestors of not listening while knowingly refusing to engage them personally around these claims before coming public. That is disappointing and I think it holds back your piece.

    Furthermore, these students work on a consensus based decision making model. If you agree with their message but not their methods, work with them to organize the type of protest or statement that you find tasteful and would support or participate in. They are incredibly willing to listen and work with those who are willing to listen or work with them.

    Finally, I must agree with Mike. The “opinion” that leads this man to perpetuating human rights abuses is not an “opinion” that I am obligated to respect or entertain. That “opinion” is predicated on the disrespect of my fellow man and the planet, and to respect it as a “valid opinion” is to disrespect the people of Nigeria and others in similar situations all over the world.

    I look forward to speaking with both of you personally about the state of activism and hope that you personally engage with the students you have chosen to so publicly criticize.

    • Barrett,

      You said in your comment:

      “What I find most disturbing is that you don’t seem to have personally engaged these protestors, whom you know and some of whom you consider your friends. Instead you have chosen to call them out in a public forum. That is incredibly disrespectful, and does more to create negative tension in our community and shut down dialogue than the protest itself did.”

      Olivia and Cody wrote this article with the argument that the way the DLWC protested was incredibly disrespectful. You are essentially saying exactly what they did, that calling out people (or “protesting”) in a disrespectful way creates negative tension in our community and shuts down dialogue about the issues. They are arguing that the DLWC were disrespectful, just as you are claiming Olivia and Cody were disrespectful. This is exactly the problem they have with DLWC. They are disrespectful in their methods and for that reason they aren’t actually creating discussion about the issues. People spend their time talking about the methods they used and no one is talking about the issues they are trying to bring to light. This is clearly evident from Amitai’s comment above, as he is highlighting that no one is actually talking about the Nigerian people Shell has displaced.

      I would ask the DLWC what is your true goal. Do you want to raise awareness of the issues you are clearly very passionate about? If so, you are going to get closer to your goal by learning how to raise awareness in more constructive ways that will better serve your aims.

      Had you criticized the Shell corporation at the talk differently or in a more respectful way, this blog post that Olivia and Cody wrote may have been an article about severing our ties to the Shell corporation instead of one about activism on campus, talking specifically about the issues you want to bring to light.

    • I just had a long conversation with Olivia about this.

      What I’m trying to say is this: if the goal of the article is to call out the activists and say this is not an acceptable form of activism, that is speech that I can respect, but disagree with. I think if they are trying to vent, that’s okay, but they need to recognize that approach necessarily makes the people being publicly chastised less receptive to their message. Which I see as counterproductive for both sides.

      Furthermore, this approach keeps attention focused on the activists or tactics themselves instead of the issues or the content of the talk. Which is what both sides really want to talk about. The authors had an opportunity to set up a dialogue where we find common ground and work together. Instead, what it has produced on this thread is largely a back and forth attack of either the authors or protestors. If the dialogue has been “hijacked” by the protestors, the authors are at the very least complicit for keeping the focus on the protestors.

      Had the article been looking to offer constructive criticism, which I believe would have been much more productive, it could have done that much more effectively. The authors agree with the message but not the methods. If they are seeking to improve and not silence the activism, it would have been much more effective to reach out to the activists themselves before posting something like this. It also would have been much more effective to offer more concrete and constructive criticism. That is where my criticism of this article is rooted.

      It is my opinion that while the former venting can be necessary, it is not strictly productive. I hope that the authors will speak with the DLWC and other student activists on campus and find common ground, brainstorm ways of activism that are more likely to engage our community in the dialogue and create the change that each side wants to see. I just don’t think calling each other out over the internet accomplishes that. It rallies students who are upset at the group, forces the group into a defensive posture, and does not move us closer to productive cooperation.

    • “…they need to recognize that approach necessarily makes the people being publicly chastised less receptive to their message. Which I see as counterproductive for both sides.”

      This is exactly how a bunch of us view the activism, though. I know that Ljosne is a corporate puppet, but in my opinion, diplomacy and dialogue are the most productive ways to get things done. As someone said above, the fact of the matter is that Shell is still a major player in climate change and fixing the current system. And regardless of Ljosne’s reaction to the protest, the extremist nature of the protesting alienated a lot of people. People who feel alienated are not as likely to engage in constructive discourse, so all of us who want to change things (myself included) need to find a happy medium that disrupts the status quo and ignites discussion but which doesn’t push things too far to the point of being counterproductive.

    • Stop bringing homeless men into your freshman dorm and then you can come talk about alienating people.

  13. I’m a little bit frustrated that the authors of this article have taken this platform to publicly chastise a group of students who are working towards a goal that is obviously shared by the majority of the Middlebury campus (one where capitalistic success is not valued over the wellbeing of our fellow humans or our planet). I found this article obnoxiously haughty in its way to suggest to us humble readers how to be “good activists” as the only action pursued by the authors is this attempted moral dismantling of a protest that demonstrated virtuousness far beyond what most of us realize. While these students organized successfully to increase discourse of this controversial topic on campus (an action that is actually one of the more mild faced by this seemingly perceived poor and defenseless Shell executive), the authors sat at their computers thinking up ways from their place of contrived authority to nitpick, complain about, and scold a group of students that are actually working to promote shared goals. I guess I simply just don’t understand. Is this coming from a place of love? For the authors to have any sense of validity I’d say DO something about it instead of posing as peace keepers decrying the actions people doing your dirty work. And even if something is done, there is still simply no need for this sort of unwarranted attack. It’s as if an activist is making a speech and the listeners, though in support of the message behind his words, publicly dissent simply because they are afraid of public speaking. Just because you wouldn’t have used such means to express your opinions (computers do make the expression of opinion much easier), doesn’t make the means wrong or unproductive. Enough is enough with this pointless and annoying grumbling about people that are actually doing something about the wrong they see in the world.

  14. I am a student living practically on the opposite side of the country from your school, attending Arizona State University. It’s interesting to read about campus activism at other institutions, because I can safely say that activism is almost non-existent among the student body here. As a blogger on local protest, I often wonder why that is. A couple days ago, however, some students conducted a protest on the new campus smoking ban (which you can read about on my blog). The “protest” was a few tables with a petition, some colorful signs, and some free cigarettes – very different from the activist climate you describe at your school. Thank you to the authors for their insight, I’ll be looking out for more news from Middlebury.

    Best from Phoenix,

    Annika
    http://jarsofchange.wordpress.com/

  15. Confused: you are confused. Obviously. What is so hard to understand? You are implying/saying any activism is good activism, and others are saying there are good causes, but immature and disrespectful ways to pursue those causes. I was at the presentation and I was embarrassed, not proud of my fellow students. I wonder, along with the alum posting earlier, what sacrifices these activists who are out to save humankind from the ills of Shells and the like have themselves divested of? Cars? Jets? Any specific consumption that is fueled by profits from corporations no worse than the fossil fuel industry? Did they check their parents retirement accounts and clear those of fossil fuel stocks?

    Waiting to hear all about their personal sacrifices before I sign on to believing they truly believe in and stand for change. Easy to take potshots at “college endowments” and “corporations.” What have they themselves sacrificed?

    • A response to the clichéd accusations of hypocrisy in environmental activism (of which this comment is not the first): To say, “how dare you protest big oil when you drive a car!” (or, as Olav Ljosne asked Anna SG, “do you use a washing machine?”) is to suggest that unless you are environmentally pure, (an impossibility in our civilization) then what you have to say about environmental problems is meaningless. This could not be farther from the truth. It’s nice to make personal decisions that appease our consciences because they’re more “environmentally friendly,” but our choices to eat organic peanut butter or use recycled toilet paper are not going to dismantle the fossil fuel industrial complex. If every college in America divested from fossil fuels? That’s a different story. That could have an impact. As 350.org tells us, the top 500 university endowments hold $400 billion- getting that money out of companies like Shell could actually affect the financial markets. So let’s try to go a little deeper with our criticisms and move beyond the simplistic cries condemning Bill McKibben for flying in planes or members of the DLWC for driving cars. We must live in the world while we try to change it. We live in a fossil fueled world, and right now, our best option is to dedicate our time and energy to bringing about large scale change (like fossil fuel divestment) instead of being paralyzed by our inevitable “hypocrisy.”

    • @Jenny Marks: ease your conscience, perhaps, by choosing not to see the hypocrisy of trying to push divestment while saying it is OK to not have to discuss one’s own lack of self-sacrifice. So typical. Don’t be “environmentally pure:” just tell those who doubt you and the divestment movement what, again while NOT being pure, you are doing besides this bandwagon joining, feel-good movement? Call it a “cliched accusation of hypocrisy,” but many are just waiting to hear what you, and let’s leave it at you and not the DLWC, are doing to improve humankind short of pushing for divestment. I can’t wait to hear. Your preaching tone is near impossible to stomach.

    • in the words of derrick jensen:

      “When they don’t have anything else better to do–which frankly seems like most of the time–anti-environmentalists are fond of pointing out the hypocrisy of environmentalists: ‘You live in a house, dont you? You wipe your ass with toilet paper. Your books are made out of paper. Every one of these activities is environmentally destructive. You are not pure. Therefore what you say is meaningless.’ It’s an interesting argument on several levels. The first is that it reveals the weakness of their own position: they cannot rebut the substance of our message, so they simply attack the messenger. It’s one of the most overused rhetorical tricks going. But there’s something even more interesting about their arguments–fundamentally stupid as they are–which is that they’re right, and in being right they make one of my central points better than I do. Building houses is destructive. Manufacturing toilet paper is destructive. No reason to stop there- The industrial economy itself is inherently destructive, and every act that contributes to the industrial economy is inherently destructive. This includes buying my books. This includes buying something from Global Exchange. If we care about the planet, we have a couple of options. The first is that we simply off ourselves. I prefer the second one, which is that we dismantle the industrial economy.”

  16. Before I say anything else: I agree with the opinions of Cody and Olivia stated here. I was included in discussions leading up to this being written, to the point that many phrases that I have repeated several times in the last weeks were used. They wrote this article to bring into the public sphere an opinion that differs from that of the DLWC and others, but one that has only been said behind close doors until now. They chose to voice their opinion through Midd Blog, that came from a place of love for this community and for the members for the DLWC. They also chose to express an opinion held by many community members, which can be judged by many of the positive comments on this article.

    I regret that the DLWC & their supporters feel hurt or disrespected due to these thoughts, but I also think that they must prepared for potentially harsh public criticism after placing themselves so forcefully in the public sphere.

    For the record, I personally have given members of the DLWC very similar criticism to this article in private. I hope this article will open up the possibility of more conversations.

    Lastly, and most importantly:
    When you take a public action, you have to be prepared to respond to feedback in the public sphere, whether it is positive or negative. You have to expect it, even from people you know well, and you should try your hardest to not take it personally. And you also have to respond to all of it, whether you are praised or criticized, with grace and humility.

    I think that last comment applies to all of the people involved in this conversation, and I hope at the end of the day, or maybe after Thanksgiving when people have had a chance to chilllll, a productive conversation can be had about the issues presented – a conversation had with the knowledge that everyone involved just wants to make the Middlebury community and the greater world a more just, loving and equal place.

    • I could not agree with this post more.

      I understand and agree with the goals of the DLWC (as most of the Middlebury community, past and present likely does) and while I think their cause is worthwhile, I find their methods to be less so. While I know there are many on this forum that will disagree with this post, and one I made previously, I accept that because I am willing to post these opinions on a public website that I must also be willing to open myself to criticism from those who disagree. The fact is that when you choose to do something publicly, you cannot pretend that just because you were bold enough to do it in the face of the entire community that it provides you with impunity, and allows you to say that everyone who does not agree with your methods is wrong, or is missing the point of what you are protesting about. As someone said before “Midd kids are smart.”
      We understand the issues, and for someone to disagree with your methods does not mean they do not understand or disagree with the things your are protesting against.

      I think that a forum like Middblog is a great place to start a discussion like this, and I hope it does lead to a productive conversation.

  17. Dear readers and writers of midd-blog,
    Thank you for challenging me to examine the motivations for my actions and their intended and unintended consequences. I understand that by taking public action I must be prepared to “respond to feedback in the public sphere” and at this point in the dialogue the public has certainly given me a lot to respond to.
    A few points in response to your article (Olivia and Cody):
    Let me be clear about a critical point: Olav Ljosne is currently employed as senior manager of communications for Shell, a $500 billion dollar corporation profiting from the destruction of the planet I live on and the exploitation of human life. He is not simply an individual representing an “opinion different from my own”. It is impossible to know where his opinion begins and the official opinion of Shell ends. I am am deeply interested in hearing differing opinions and would welcome the opportunity to hear scholars, researchers, or even former employees of multinational oil corporations, share those perspectives with the college community. I cannot however, sit quietly and allow the puppet of a corporation to espouse an “opinion” based not on facts or feelings, but on whatever will make Shell continue to write his paycheck. Next point: this may be trivial, but I am not a member of the “DLWC” nor was this action taken solely by those five students involved in the DLWC press release. Stating otherwise in such a public forum leads to confusion and does not contribute to an accurate understanding of activism at Middlebury. Finally: if these confrontational tactics upset you, please know, I intended you no personal harm. I would urge you to use these feelings of discomfort to engage in a personal examination of why you might have felt turned off by such tactics, while claiming to agree with the message, and not simply dismiss all tension or confrontation as negative or “destructive”. I hope you will both feel comfortable approaching me to have such conversations as many other students have done over the past few days.

    A few points in response to the internet community:
    Nothing like anonymity to allow for some interesting assumptions and unfounded personal attacks. While detailing the personal steps I have taken to avoid hypocrisy and the personal sacrifices I have made for my convictions, or describing the other ways I have engaged in pursuing change would feel strange in a forum such as this, rest assured that I work to be conscious of the effects of my personal decisions. If it feels important to you to know more about that, please e-mail me at: ashiremangrabowski@middlebury.edu. I would also urge you not to assume that I do things such as “fly to the islands for break” or even that my parents have retirement accounts I would need to examine. To assume these things without knowing me is very unfair and really doesn’t contribute to this dialogue that you purport to support.
    I am sure I will have more thoughts over the next few days and will share them as the time comes.

    Finally, thank you to the students who have chosen to engage me face to face, and to those who are able to express their opinions without attacking me personally.

    And finally at what point do we say: “Enough is Enough! No compromise in defense of earth and life!”

    • Anna- Regardless of your own personal wealth, we are all “riding the panther.” That is, we all rely on Middlebury’s endowment which relies on companies like Shell. While it is unfair to make such assumptions about people, it is hypocritical to criticize others for relying on big companies and fossil fuels when you do the same. If it weren’t for financial aid, many people on this campus wouldn’t be here. If it weren’t for our endowment we wouldn’t have need-blind admissions. I completely disagree with the way we are investing. Could you please present an ALTERNATIVE rather than simply a constant and at this point unbearable criticism. A possible alternative, I might add, not “a capitalist-free, state-less society.”

      I would also like to respond to: “I would urge you to use these feelings of discomfort to engage in a personal examination of why you might have felt turned off by such tactics, while claiming to agree with the message,”

      Perhaps the reason people feel uncomfortable is because there are embarrassed by how their message is represented. You guys are the stereotype of what you represent. Young college kids who will find an excuse to protest anything. Kids- and I use that word intentionally- who see themselves as good fighting evil. The world is not that simple. Things are not black and white. You are not correct while the rest of the campus is wrong. Middlebury College is not wrong while you are right. Shirley Collado is not evil. Ron Liebowitz is not evil. Economics majors are not all evil the same way that sociology majors are not all good. Shell does evil in the world, yes, but there are many intricate details in the system that you cannot either classify as “good” or “bad.” This is bigger than you can comprehend.

      You expect us all to listen to you – to listen and eventually agree. I urge you, listen to other people for a change. Maybe you will spread your message more effectively if you step back from your own head and from your inability to connect with the public. I support ending violence and oil wars in Nigeria. I would love to hear their side of the story. Unfortunately, I am not hearing this from you.

    • I would also like to add that these actions do not challenge social expectations. We fall under 18-24 year olds. We are expected to make a ruckus. We are expected to not fully understand how the world works – to live in our bubble. To say “fuck it” to the bosses of the world. People don’t listen to this. People expect this and they disregard it. Maybe you should challenge social relations by acting like adults.

      I am very liberal and I am very embarrassed by college liberals.

    • @ Feb Disappointed in my Senator

      I am embarrassed that you would write something so personally attacking without the courage to put your name behind it.

      And the DLWC has presented very real solutions to begin divestment, including screens (which Investure already puts into place at the request of other colleges). Take a look at the comment by Tim Schornak below.

      It seems that you have formed a very strong and averse opinion towards this group and anyone associated with it, and I urge you to open your heart and listen lovingly to what they have to say instead of merely painting them as childish straw-men. You can do better than that.

    • Anna and Barrett –

      I would like to apologize for coming off as if I were personally attacking anyone. I have no animosity towards any individual in this group. I am sorry that I do not feel comfortable putting my name on this post. Perhaps this means I have less courage, but this is the only way I could find to express my true opinion. If there were a less intimidating forum in which to present opinions rather than meetings with the DLWC where it seems like an agenda has been already laid out I may be inclined to put my self out there. Again, I am sorry for the angry tone in this post.

  18. Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee News Release
    November 17, 2012

    It’s our pleasure to announce that as a direct result of the many minutes of work we have put in over the last five weeks here in rural Vermont, Nigeria is officially fixed. Shell has agreed to cease all operations in Nigeria, and the government has been turned back over to the Nigerian people. All displaced peoples have been allowed to return safely to their homes, and all internal conflicts have abruptly dissipated. Some called our particular brand of activism “uninspired,” “disruptive,” “counter-productive,” “hypocritical,” and “inappropriate.” Well they can all eat their words now because we fixed Africa.

    In addition, climate change isn’t a thing anymore. It just so happens that when we shouted over that guy from Shell for several minutes it invited major players from all over the world to come together and cease coal and oil production for good.

    Yours truly,
    DLWC

    #activism #divestment #humanrights #DLWC #KONY2012

    • Some people on this thread have tried giving you real constructive criticism, and you are throwing it right back in our face clearly without giving any of the helpful comments on this thread a second thought in your response. How can you expect people to listen to you or take you seriously when you refuse to even acknowledge their comments?

      I would have liked to see the welcoming committee and the many people in it I know to be very intelligent and passionate put forth a thoughtful response as opposed to the equivalent of a big middle finger you just posted to everyone who wanted to help you achieve your goals more efficiently.

    • @Middlebury Senior, please bear in mind that commenters on MiddBlog can hide behind pseudonyms and impersonate others. Don’t jump to the conclusion that this post was in fact written by the DLWC.

    • Whoever wrote this post impersonating the DLWC could have said the same thing in a less deceptive way, but by being provocative it garnered attention. As you pointed out though, it distracts from the conversation at hand. So the method of delivery matters then, right? People are more receptive to messaging when the method of delivery is subtle and cordial. (There is a lot of science behind the methods advertising agencies use to sell their ideas and products). When the DLWC disrupts a speech with theatrics, what people take away from that is not the message being espoused, but the disruption itself. The DLWC has a very noble cause, but if they want to spread awareness and garner support, they must be mindful of which methods are effective and which ones are counter-productive. This fake DLWC news release is counter-productive to this conversation, but that’s probably the whole point of why it was posted. By asking for it to be removed, you seem to be sympathizing with how the college felt when a fake press release was sent out under their masthead.

    • there’s a world of difference between doing it in a space meant to provide discussion and the arena of spectacle in which the press release and the Shell action operated

  19. Being away from campus this semester has clearly meant missing out on something big. Obviously, I can’t see everything that is going on, and most of what I know comes from feedback given on media sources which I have tried to follow as best as I can. Everyone who states: please contact me directly or engage with me in a personal conversation: I hope you understand that this actually is a great place to have a conversation-even a ‘personal’ one. Yet instead of keeping on trying to win this argument (because lets be honest it seems that most of us just keep reading line by line to pick out an argument against the last person who posted), just stop. I understand I am doing this too, but my point is that if most people do agree with the message and not the means then do what you suggest and stop repeating over and over again the same things on which method is right or wrong and actually change the subject. To those supporting the cause (again not the means but the actual message), open a different blog space and tell me more about it. Don’t write back saying you already have a blog and that I should not comment on this blog if I don’t know. It is unrealistic to assume everyone will be up to date with everything you guys have done for this cause. Instead, direct me to it. Don’t tell me I should have known before engaging in this conversation. The fact is that this blog made me aware of something. I want to know about this now. Lets start somewhere, even something simple as start explaining why the cause is important to you and what are its implications- and don’t use the answer to justify the means, I don’t want to hear anything about the means at this stage (even though i’m sure many think that it’s stupid not to think about that, and that I can’t pretend like the way things have been executed hasn’t happened) but simply talk to me- have a personal conversation with us(bloggers) on the cause and its importance- not about who was correct about how things were carried out.

    I am sure you are not naive enough to believe everyone is going to agree with you and that by arguing back on this blog you are going to change everyones mind. I think its more important to focus and try to unite the ones who do. And maybe that means letting someone “slander” you on a blog, but if you really want to fight for a cause as you all say you do, then focus on the cause. I would definitely like to hear more about it. I don’t know enough to start this sort of discussion, but you guys do and you have stated above various times that you are glad to do it, so please do it and stop this. I am asking you to take this turn in a way that is as open as a blog post yet as personal as a face-to-face interaction for those who are not on campus and those who believe that open discussion, when kept on topic, can be the most beneficial.

  20. Olivia and Cody — thanks for this post. It’s weird being abroad and feeling out of the loop and thus really great to read about this new shift in campus “activism” (whatever that means) from a variety of perspectives. Still, this critique feels a bit strange to me as it did to many of the other people who commented above. Coming across your entry after reading the previous one that reported on the action itself (and I admit I was not at the event so my understanding is pretty limited) I am left with two questions: Why/for whom did you write this piece? And who is it benefiting? While I would love to hear your answers to both, I wonder if, as a fellow Middkid, I can speculate a bit.

    In regards to the first question, I it seems like the actions of these students made people feel awkward. At least it sounds that way — the graduation music, the ‘flopping’, the attempted handshake. Generally things like that make some of us cringe. But why did this event make us so angry, I wonder. Is it really because we can somehow tell that their actions were definitively not motivated by ‘love’ as you insinuate? How do we measure when something is or is not motivated by love? Is love quiet? Passive? Is it only practiced in smiley, orderly question and answer sessions? No one at the talk was injured, as far as I know. Maybe Ljosne’s ego was bruised. Is that anti-love? Is that what you are upset about? Probably not. I’d bet that if some high school students from town took the same action this blog post never would have been written. I think these students’ actions make us feel uncomfortable (’embarrassed,’ as you say) because of what it says about us. We can rant all we want about how these radicals are just being fueled by their egos, but are they really? Who exactly is patting them on the back? Part of the student body and maybe some alums who still read The Campus. But our harsh critiques — our declarations that ‘enough is enough’– these have institutional backing. We have rationality and the ever-moderate (or, okay, nominally ‘liberal’) Middlebury status quo on our side. Actions like this make us feel uncomfortable, I think, because we get confused about what’s ‘right’, what’s ‘normal’. We don’t want important people like Ljosne to think that this sort of chaos is our normal. But wait, Ljosne has already moved on from this Middlebury community, so who exactly are we proving our normalcy to with blog posts like this? Ourselves, perhaps. James Baldwin has that great line — “if I am not what I’ve been told I am, then it means that you’re not what you thought you were either! And that is the crisis.” If these students can stage awkward, in-your-face theatrical protests and still be Middkids, what does that say about us? If they can expand this notion of practicing ‘love’ to include making people feel awkward in otherwise eerily apolitical public spaces, then what does ‘love’ even mean? Well, crap. Things start to get messy. And that is the crisis! But does it have to be?

    Maybe we don’t have to react to it as such. Maybe — and this gets to my second question — this sort of angry response is not actually helping anything. And by ‘it’s not actually helping anything’ I mean it’s not actually addressing the heinous actions of Shell and developing the conversation about Middlebury’s relationship to said actions, but it IS helping members of the Middlebury community trying to process this feeling of discomfort (a feeling that often comes with growing political awareness and confrontation with those who are willing to be a little louder and more bizarre than you are) by giving them an easy out, a normalcy-restoring editorial to rally around. All fears assuaged, we know who the purveyors of justice are again — it’s us! It’s those who get to define when enough is enough and what ‘love’ looks like in practice. And it just so happens to look like what the administration and trustees and Shell execs also think about what ‘enough’ and ‘love’ look like… And it’s very quiet. A little too quiet, I think. A little too comfortable. I for one am ready for a little bit of loud awkwardness at Middlebury. Because why the hell not? While it’s a shame (kinda) that some egos will get bruised along the way or 15 minutes might be lost from a talk students are interested in hearing, as brilliant Indian writer Arundhati Roy has said, “However pristine we would like to be, however hard we polish our halos, the tragedy is that we have run out of pristine choices.” And she was talking about the armed Maoist uprising taking place here in her country… so just some perspective about how far we can stretch this addictively simple concept of ‘enough.’

    You say that the methods these students used marred the intentions behind it, but who decides if this is so? You! Us! You had the power to write about the atrocious human rights abuses these students thoughtfully brought to our attention, but instead you chose to focus on the methods. I am not saying that a conversation like this is not worthwhile (it has given me much to think about, to be sure), but this whole thing reads rather like music critics judging an artist’s performance based on her clothes — it’s not really about that, no? It’s about her voice, her song, but can you really hear it when demonizing her alienating hipster shoe choice? And who gets decide if something is ‘alienating’? We do! We get to interpret things however we want. When we feel uncomfortable by the political actions of our peers we can interpret that as alienation and funnel our discomfort into a normalcy-restoring blog post or we can try to transform that discomfort into an engagement with ourselves (“What notions of normalcy and quiet activism have I internalized?”) and with those who risked their egos and reputations as ‘good Middkids’ to participate in such an action (“Why did you choose to do what you did?”). I for one would be excited to see what could come out of conversations between you two and these students and I wish I could be at the General Assembly where this takes place.

    Holy hell this is long. My thesis? Maybe if we all started to embrace the awkward — or at least engage with it (as Anna suggests above) instead of reacting to it in demonizing posts like this — we would be able to flesh out ideas of justice and peace and politics and human rights in some sort of compassionately challenging, harmoniously discordant dialogue that resembles what I always thought college would be like instead of trying to regulate student voices and define appropriate activism. Right now there is a movement growing at Middlebury based on intentions that we all apparently agree with and we can jump in with our critiques in hand and throw those into the mix as we try to figure out how we can contribute (because we all can), or we can sit back and wait for the ‘perfect’ movement to appear. Then again, I could be romanticizing and oversimplifying this whole thing, but I for one am excited to come back to campus in the spring.

    • “…we would be able to flesh out ideas of justice and peace and politics and human rights in some sort of compassionately challenging, harmoniously discordant dialogue that resembles what I always thought college would be like instead of trying to regulate student voices and define appropriate activism.”

      Thanks for saying what I have been struggling to put into words since the beginning of this conversation. Great, thoughtful post!

  21. How about focusing on the local community to help the incredible number in town and in Addison County first? The far flung and hugely complicated issues like fossil fuel divestment might feel good in terms of protesting, but how about making a real impact close by? Are any of the DLWC involved in the local community, or pushing to help out those in need right in their backyward? Not sexy activism; no dropping to the floor to stop a lecture, but a cause for which one can see a great impact and help real people in direct ways.

    • I completely agree that being actively involved in the community is hugely important. So thank you for bringing up this point.

      But, I would also like to point out that organizing around “far flung and hugely complicated issues” is extremely important as well, despite the fact that the impacts of this work may take longer and be harder to see. Middlebury’s divestment from fossil fuels is one step toward creating a world that would be less likely to be destroyed by climate change, which would benefit everyone, including of course “the incredible number in town and in Addison County”.

      But these two things are in no way mutually exclusive! Both areas of work are important and need to be done.

  22. We appreciate constructive reflections on our actions and look forward to engaging each one of you in dialogue as we seek to humbly improve our imperfect actions. We are enthralled by the emerging consensus on the imperative of divestment.

    For those looking to demonstrate a commitment to divestment, beyond the quiet love so poignantly articulated by Hanna, we look forward to creatively organizing together, or, if you feel more comfortable writing President Liebowtiz and Patrick Norton, we encourage that avenue as well.

    Last week we submitted a resolution (http://middleburydlwc.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/investment-committee-of-board-of-trustees-to-review-divestment-resolution/) to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees. In drafting it we received helpful advice from members of SRI and DFF. It is incredible how strong we are collectively.

    Let us urge members of our administration (http://www.middlebury.edu/about/president/pres_staff) and Investment Committee (http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/272334/original/inv_comm_members_9-30-11.pdf) with every ounce of love in our souls that we as a community stand for honoring life and earth. There is a burning urgency of now. Together we can leverage our compounded compassion to a better world.

  23. To all the individuals that have commented on this post, spoken to us in person or sent us private messages – thank you. What you all have to say has forced us to think a lot about why we wrote this editorial and in what capacity we hoped it would serve. A lot of your comments have come from a caring, thoughtful place and we hope that in writing a response we will be equally as caring and thoughtful with our words. It is not our goal to splinter the community or to create a culture of “us” v. “them”; rather, we want to create an open space for dialogue in which we are able to challenge and learn from one another.

    Which is precisely why we wrote this piece and why we chose to display it in a very public forum with fields for comments. Some commenters have expressed disappointment or dissatisfaction with the public nature of our comments- calling them demonizing or attacking. That was not our intention, and if people feel attacked, we apologize. However, we also feel that this forum is exactly the place to have this conversation- to broaden discussion with the larger community. Clearly many people feel passionately and clearly this was a conversation that needed to be had. A line of criticism that we have seen in some of the responses to the piece has been a desire for us to have engaged with the members of the DLWC before publication of the editorial. While we think that one-on-one conversations with the individuals of the DLWC (conversations that we are excited to have) are important and necessary, we don’t believe that we needed to have those conversations before publishing this article. They held public demonstrations of their beliefs and we believe that it is our right to also publically display our opinions. As one commenter points out, would they have wanted us to have these conversations if our editorial had praised their actions at the Shell talk?

    Another critique mentioned was that our article did not touch on any of the issues that the DLWC have spoken out against, namely the human rights violations in Nigeria. It is felt by some that we are demonizing a group of students who are trying to speak out against a great evil and that we (those who critique their methods) are doing a disservice by writing an entire piece devoted to these critiques instead of a piece that talks about the issues. We counter this by saying that we find that the ways in which they chose to act at the Shell discussion took away from the overall message of the discussion.

    How great would it have been if they, instead of leaving the room during the talk or speaking loudly over the invited speaker, had posed difficult and critical questions and, if he had chosen to evade the questions, had been stern and unmoving in their desire for him to answer the questions? What if they had picketed the event outside of the building or, peacefully, tacked posters to the walls of the room with statistics about the kinds of atrocities Shell has committed? Maybe these means aren’t dramatic or showy, but it seems to us that there are a number of ways in which one can protest while still allowing room for the opposition to speak. Honorary degrees and body bags are flashy, but are they serving a purpose if a large group of people (and not just us, the writers of this piece) believes the efforts to be little more than college students performing? Imagine what conversations we could have had, leaving the talk on Thursday. We could have discussed how bad the representative was at defending his company, how culpable Shell is in these crimes, or even how much we learned about Shell’s actions in Nigeria. Instead, the conversations revolved around frustration and anger with the students and the methods. To be fair, we have continued to feed those discussions here, but if activism’s goal is to raise community consciousness of these issues, they are not achieving those ends and that is important to bring to the surface.

    And certainly it is not a question of passion – we are inspired by the passion and enthusiasm that this group of students has. They have moved us to think critically about where we stand on these issues and even moved us to write what some have come to call a “disturbing” piece of writing in opposition to their methods. We may not like how they do things, but it’s got people talking and now, hopefully, in spaces that are outside of closed bedrooms or in hushed whispers in the Proctor booth room. If they can be loud with their message, so can we, and there should be a space for that. It should not be interpreted as though we hate the DLWC or wish to demonize them in the eyes of the college community. Because we don’t and we would never want our actions to be twisted in that way. We wrote what we wrote to publically offer up a sentiment that hasn’t had a lot of exposure. Middblog is a space where the community as a whole is able to leave comments, comments that are valuable and significant and can help to push this discussion forward. Like the DLWC, we put forth a stance that we know several people will agree with and several people will disagree with—it is not our goal to have everyone “side” with us in opposition to the DLWC, but to challenge and complicate the conversations about activism on this campus.

    In her comment, Hannah Mahon puts it beautifully: “Right now there is a movement growing at Middlebury based on intentions that we all apparently agree with and we can jump in with our critiques in hand and throw those into the mix as we try to figure out how we can contribute (because we all can).” This is exactly what we were attempting to do with our post by offering a different perspective on the climate of activism currently at Middlebury. Reading through the now over 50 comments on this post has inspired and frustrated us, has made us want to engage with individuals and begin discussions about difficult, complicated, uncomfortable things.

    We wrote this editorial because we want to actively participate in what is going on; however, we do not believe that by not agreeing with the DLWC does this make us regulators of what is good or bad activism. We’ve got an opinion. We wrote an article. We hope that the conversation doesn’t end here.

    Sincerely,

    Cody & Olivia

    • Cody and Olivia, I support this sentiment whole-heartedly, and I hope that you consider publishing a version of your editorial in the next print edition of the campus as well.

    • “we think that one-on-one conversations with the individuals of the DLWC (conversations that we are excited to have) are important and necessary”

      So that is why you have avoided our texts and turned your eyes away from us in Proctor? We are eager to talk and have reach out to you.

      We as a community need to grow in our emotional intelligence. We need to care to honor our fellow beings as human. We need to carry our actions with as much compassion as we comfortably bleed from our pens. We have the power to move the world when we begin to truly honor the hearts of one another.

  24. Cody and Olivia, and the other contributors—Thank you for writing. The DLWC was clear in our original action that we wanted to encourage dialogue around the endowment and activism, and dialogue is certainly incomplete (not to mention insincere) without criticism.

    The discussion about various tactics of activism is an important one, and I think it’s essential to keep this conversation solution-oriented instead of demonizing tactics that we disagree with. So, instead of saying, “there is no place for the kinds of disrespectful activism” that the DLWC has done (as the original op-ed says), we should be saying, “where are the other groups who care about these issues?” At the Shell lecture, where were students from SRI or Divest for our Future (or any unaffiliated students, for that matter) staging a human oil spill after the lecture, or holding signs saying, “Carbon Neutral = Invested in Shell?” or doing anything to question the paid presence of a Shell executive on our campus, even if in a less vocal or “extreme” way than the DLWC?

    Cody and Olivia—in your comment, you ask how great it would have been if the DLWC employed these different methods, but it doesn’t make much sense to me to place the sole responsibility for the perfect protest on one group of students, especially when so many others claim to care about these issues as well. How can we ask others to fight our battles for us, and then complain and criticize when they do it “wrong”? Perhaps the most important question, and perhaps the scariest one, is why not you? There is nothing stopping you, or any Middlebury student, from working on these issues. In fact, we desperately need people to be working on divestment from different angles. If you think, however, that the DLWC’s methods are compromising the efficacy of the overall campaign, then I can guarantee that they’ll be more than willing to hear you out.

    It seems to me like we are witnessing the construction of a false narrative—a dichotomy between “radical activism” and “respectful dialogue.” These are not the only two options for working on change at Middlebury or elsewhere, and our definitions of radical and respectful are both subdued by, as Hanna discusses above, our internalized notions of normalcy. If students are intimidated by the radicalism of the DLWC’s actions, I think we need a serious reality (or history) check into what radical activism looks like. It’s a tribute to the general complacency at Middlebury that these actions (the press release, the shell protest) are seen as so extreme—let’s remember that there is a long history of student protests in the U.S. effecting change with tactics that achieved FAR more than a little discomfort or ten minutes of a lecture’s disruption. Let us remember that far more severe reactions to student protests than disciplinary hearings or dissenting articles have result from activism (read: 25,000 at SDS protest, Kent State Massacre…) Let’s keep in mind that we have accomplished nothing yet in the realm of divestment, and that this momentum could die down without any tangible change. I personally hope that as activism on campus continues, we can recalibrate our notions of normalcy and radicalism. I hope that we will continue to reflect on the risks we are willing to take for the causes we care about.

    While it’s constructive to write articles expressing our opinions and keep the conversation going, I would really love to see more action and solution oriented work. Talking about the issues can only take us so far in any activist campaign. Divestment is a massive goal that is going to need all of the brilliant and love-driven students it can get working on this together.

    Let’s be clear about one thing. If Middlebury is actually going to divest from fossil fuels or war, it will be ONLY because there is overwhelming student support and pressure on the administration. If we want to see this movement succeed, we must be willing to employ a variety of methods that many students can be involved with. I agree that actions that alienate students or deflate widespread involvement are not ultimately going to effect the change that we need, but I would hands-down prefer a protest that makes people uncomfortable than no protest at all. Apathy is far more dangerous than discomfort. So, to those among us who “agree with the message but not the methods,” I encourage you to fashion a method that you are comfortable with and join us in the common cause. We simply cannot not afford to be divided.

    • Jenny,

      Really good point, and I agree with you that we will need unity if we are to accomplish these very lofty goals. However, I think you would also agree that it’s possible to have a diversity of opinions on what the best way to achieve this goal is. We probably do need a certain group of more radical students, working raise awareness on the subject, and for that I am very appreciative of the DLWC, or however else you would like to call yourselves, even if I think this particular action was misguided. On the other hand, we also really need people who are willing to engage in respectful dialogue, and work patiently with the college to achieve our goals. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to solve things diplomatically.

      Also, I would like to point out that my friends in the SRI and other groups were, in fact, at the talk. They were respectfully asking really tough questions, and putting facts out to the audience. They are the ones I learned the most from.

  25. To all people engaged in this conversation, please take some time to read the new post from beginning to end, and share it if you can: http://midd-blog.com/2012/11/18/guest-post-between-gaza-nigeria-and-middlebury/

    ‘Students and administrators have said repeatedly that they agree with the message but disagree with the means. To me this is a commitment to keep things as they are, in status quo, in “peace,” meaning that there is no disorder, disruption, doubt, discomfort, no justice. “War is peace,” as Orwell said, right? So let’s break the ends and the means and see what’s going on here. With our means we disrespected the $458 billion corporation’s right to express its opinion (of course, here Shell had more than enough time and space to express their stance, unlike at the University of Vermont, where the whole talk was disrupted). Our message is for divestment from unjust corporations and apartheid regimes in order to contribute to a world in which Arabs and Jews live in peace and equality and multinational giants like Shell Oil and Exxon Mobil don’t exist and resources are shared equally by all people regardless of their color and gun power. Divesting from Shell is disrespectful to Shell which in itself is disrespectful to humankind and the planet. The ends are as disrespectful as the means. Both means and message are about respect for basic human dignity and the environment and all living things. Therefore, if you don’t believe in our means, you don’t believe in our message. Separating the means from the message is intentionally misleading and disrespectful to victims of corporate crimes.’

  26. One should question whether accusations of personal injury and claims about people’s feelings have much value in a debate. Emotions can’t be argued with; facts and positive assertions can. Hiding behind emotions is counterproductive and craven. Make a claim; don’t cry offense. Of course this post offends the activists. Indeed, the students should be offended. But whether someone was “attacked” or not isn’t the issue here. The issue is whether this sort of activism allows for reflection and critical thinking. Based on the sometimes superficial conversation above, one is inclined to think it does not.

    • The superficial parts of the conversation above are disappointing to me, too. That’s the problem with intermingling personal accusations with critical analysis. This article could have been so much more productive if it had stuck to solution-oriented critique. The off-topic discussion has more to do with this framing of “angry” people doing “disrespectful” activism than it has to do with the activism itself.

  27. Emeritus faculty member–

    Thanks for your ad hominem attack! And no, I didn’t learn about that and the other logical fallacies in your response to my post here at Middlebury–I’m not a student and I went to another tony liberal arts college back in the day.

    My post was not in the least tongue in cheek, nor was it a call to action. It was a statement of how the fossil fuel companies and the industrial growth economy they drive, and in which we are all entangled, leave us with fewer options than we need to create a healthier life. They do it deliberately, often secretly, and have for decades and therefore do not merit our respect or attention except to bring them down. Which is hard to do, given they have determined in large part how our infrastructures are built. I don’t know what you’re trying to say about my LA streetcar example–if LA still had streetcars, other people would still be impoverished, so what’s the point? All or nothing? It’s not worth it for the LA poor to be able to afford to get to work and to breathe cleaner air? And hungry people around the world will have less food if they don’t have oil? How’s that? Many burn wood to cook and don’t have cars or use petroleum-derived fertilizers. Before you insult me (and my “ilk,”)and our map-reading abilities, consider how many millions of poor people have already become refugees due to drought and flood exacerbated by climate change. I’ve traveled over many decades, have been an activist for many decades, and know plenty about world and domestic poverty.I didn’t say “all” our problems were due to “the conspiracy of the Shells” and that “all the people in all the countries were duped”–you did. Don’t put words in my mouth and then deride me for it.
    Enjoy your retirement.

    • It was an attack against your bringing attention to a cause without offering a true solution — one that does not cause further suffering among those you claim to want to help. Just crush the Shells and all the MNCs who have ruined the world and all will be fine. Or, didI miss your solution in your original post?

  28. Thank you Harvard for giving me a degree worth something….Middlebury has become a breeding ground for fringe political actors who specialize in bullying and moral hypocrisy…

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