Campus Protests Then and Now | Opinion

Photo via Pixabay.

If I was in college today, with the same longing for peace and equality I had then and have now, I’d be in a tent protesting the slaughter of 34,000 women and children by a country with limitless weapons of war. In fact, I did.

Many people my age marched in great numbers to protest the American War in Vietnam. Pictures of crying children running from napalm bombs stirred us to action. “Get out now.”

As a freshman, I picketed for Free Speech at the cancellation of a talk by Allen Ginsberg because he was homosexual. As a sophomore, I was in a sit-in to protest racist behaviors on campus. Junior year was the anti-war movement. Senior year, I was yearbook co-editor and I got to write challenging copy to disrupt the status quo at Marquette.  

When I see the students protesting today, I see the rites of passage to adulthood. Leaving your dorm room for a tent with your peers is the beginning of the hero’s journey. Had I been asked to explain all the intersecting issues of the Vietnam War, I could not have done so, any more than college students today can explain all the issues of the Israeli-Hamas conflict. The bottom line is, “Stop killing people.”

In Boston, Anita Bryant was coming to speak, and the gay community planned a huge protest. Ray and I would have been on the front lines, but the organizers of the event, not wanting to pass up an opportunity, added all sorts of other social issues to the purpose of our protest. Doing so made it impossible for many of us to participate. 

Most young adult protestors today don’t know the meaning of the phrase “From the river to the sea,” no more than they do the checkered scarf they’re so eager to wear. Their reason for protesting is not that they oppose the nation of Israel, nor that they don’t like Jews. They hear 24/7 that people in the West Bank are starving and being blown to bits. “Cease Fire now.”

You don’t have to know or be able to explain all the issues in a conflict in order to stand up against oppression. That’s true for us with the multiple dynamics under the umbrella of “transgender.” Ask most gay men and lesbians to explain the term “nonbinary” and they’d be at a loss. What’s the difference between “gender queer” and “transgender?” Recently, I had a college-age transsexual man tell me that my terminology was outdated; that people used the term “transgender” as opposed to “transsexual.” Hmm. 

The terms we use and the awareness we have of an issue shouldn’t stop us from protesting the efforts by some Republican state legislatures to ban the discussion of transgender issues in elementary school, ban the provision of gender-related medical services until adulthood, ban transgender athletes, and ban drag queens. Ah, the last one gets our attention.


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