The Courage to Protest

Last week I went to see a speaker named Gloria Feldt. She came to campus as part of the annual Sex Week, and, since she is a former CEO of Planned Parenthood and was speaking about women’s rights (which I am a full supporter of, in case anybody was wondering), some students actually came out to protest the event.

They stood outside the auditorium holding anti-abortion signs for the entire hour and a half that Feldt was speaking. At first I was annoyed by this, because they glared at me as I walked in and because I felt that they should’ve at least listened to what Feldt had to say (after all, her message was primarily one of female empowerment and had almost nothing directly to do with abortion).

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how relieved I was to see actual protesters on this campus. Because, let me tell you, that doesn’t happen often. Sure, there’s the occasional rally–yesterday was Take Back the Night, the infamous anti-rape rally, and a few months ago the Living Wage Movement (which seeks to provide a living wage to all of Northwestern’s employees) held a rally.

But see, it doesn’t take much courage to hold a rally against rape or supporting a living wage. Most people at this school will either agree with you or keep their disagreement to themselves (or, occasionally, post immature, ignorable comments on related news articles).

Protesting abortion, however–now that’s going to get you some dirty looks.

Maybe that’s just because this is a liberal campus. In a more conservative area, maybe holding a living wage rally would be gutsy and controversial. But here it’s not. And I, too, support things like abortion, rape prevention, and the living wage. But I still like to see people taking a stand for what they believe in, even if it’s not what I believe in.

The last time we had a protest that actually seemed controversial was way back at the beginning of the year, when some random people stood around holding signs that were meant to highlight the fact that low-income people do indeed exist at Northwestern. However, the way they went about this was questionable. While there are certainly people here who are struggling to get by (and people who have to work fulltime to put themselves through college), the protesters instead chose to hold signs saying things like “My top 3 sororities didn’t want me” and “I can’t afford North Face.” Haha. Well, honey, neither can I, and I’m hardly disadvantaged!

(Also, personally, I would be absolutely honored to be rejected by a sorority. Means I’m not a carbon copy of somebody. But that’s a topic for another blog post.)

(Also, while not evidence of actual economic disadvantage, the North Face sign could perhaps be viewed as a protest against Northwestern’s homogeneous fashion sense. But I don’t think that was the point.)

That protest also included signs about race relations on campus and the fact that they need to be improved, but honestly, nobody can seriously argue with that. That fact that one of the protesters was asked if she wears her hijab in the shower is pretty sad.

In any case, I’ve yet to see someone publicly display a controversial viewpoint on this campus and face the possibility of scorn and ridicule. It’s a completely apolitical campus in that sense. Until now. And honestly, it restored my faith in this school a little bit (after it was gradually shattered over the course of this past year). I guess there really are people here who care enough to stand up for something–and I mean, really stand up for something. As in, stand in a group of just several people and hold signs while dozens file into an auditorium and sneer at you. That’s a far cry from attending a big feel-good rally that represents the opinions of 90% of the campus with your twenty best friends.

The truth is that, as much as I disagree with people who oppose abortion, I’m proud to go to school with them. I’m proud that at a campus where it often feels like everybody’s on a mission to look, talk, and act like everybody else, some people still aren’t afraid to stick out.

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