Resurrecting Campus Activism of the ’60s

Mar 9, 2016 by

by Dr. Duke Pesta –

For nearly no provocation, college agitators now routinely call for resignations, apologies, and restrictions. Though abjectly foolish, such campus intolerance was just a matter of time.

Ever since the 1960s, folk music and campus protests have gone together hand in glove. The dulcet harmonies and vapid lyrics of many ’60s folk tunes provided the perfect mood music for the simplistic tantrums that engulfed American universities during that turbulent dec­ade. Take a nostalgic listen sometime to the cringe-worthy lyrics of such songs as “If I Had a Hammer” and “Big Yellow Taxi” to sample the rather callow spirit of the age. It was tempting to hope that the era of such preening lyrical fluff met its end when John Belushi unceremoniously smashed into a wall the folk singer’s guitar in the 1978 movie Animal House, a statement that seemed to punctuate the demise of folk rock the same way that Disco Dem­olition Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park spelled the end of disco in 1979. And though popular music continues to evolve, not always for the better, the same hackneyed campus discontent continues to flare up from the embers of the self-indulgent sit-ins and hyperbolic demands of 1960s protest culture, as new generations of impressionable students arrive on campus to fuel the flames of social unrest.

Cold Missouri Waters: How Show Me State Radicals Opened the Floodgates

The flashpoint for this latest iteration of campus discord is the recent protests at the University of Missouri, an upheaval that has spilled over to campuses across the country. Formal protests broke out September 24, 2015, at a “Racism Lives Here” rally that sought to draw attention to a number of alleged racial incidents on campus that, according to protesters, were inadequately addressed by UM administrators. The incidents, spanning a period of five years, include anecdotal episodes and things that did not even occur on campus, such as student government president Payton Head’s claim that racial slurs were directed at him by unidentified individuals driving a pickup truck outside university property. Other notable incidents include two white students arrested for dropping cotton balls in front of the Black Culture Center in 2010. The students were charged with tampering in the second degree, a Class D felony upgraded because of a hate-crime classification. Further reports detail a drunken student using a racial slur and racially charged graffiti in a dorm room, dating from 2011. A critical escalation of campus tensions took place on October 24, 2015 when police were summoned to a dorm where an unidentified person allegedly smeared feces in the shape of a swastika on a bathroom wall.

Angry that UM system president Timothy Wolfe did not initiate wide-scale campus reforms to counter these episodes — cited as evidence of systemic racism — student protest organizer and activist Jonathan Butler undertook a much-publicized hunger strike to force Wolfe’s resignation. Shortly thereafter, during recruiting day on the UM campus in front of hundreds of prospective students, protesters interrupted the university tour to stage a “mock tour” where they read a list of racist incidents at the school and scattered cotton balls in front of the Black Culture Center (this time, no one was arrested or charged with a hate crime). The next day, primarily black players on the football team vowed not to practice or play until Wolfe resigned, even threatening to forfeit their upcoming game against Brigham Young University. Almost immediately, Wolfe resigned and the school’s chancellor announced his impending retirement.

An interesting side note to the story is the background of Butler, who has matriculated at the UM campus for the last seven years, and who comes from a family of great wealth. His father, an executive for Union Pacific Railroad, made $8.4 million in compensation in 2014, and the family’s estimated worth is $20 million, a portfolio that enables young Butler to enjoy a lifestyle well beyond that of most of the white UM students whose privilege he seeks to expose. Butler had already earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and was working on his master’s degree at the time of his hunger strike. He is also a veteran of the Ferguson protests and called the resistance and subsequent riots “monumental in terms of how it influenced me,” and called his activism at UM “the post-Ferguson effect.” Not surprisingly, non-student activists from the Black Lives Matter coalition were prominent fixtures driving the ensuing protests at UM.

Source: Resurrecting Campus Activism of the ’60s

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