I live off campus, close to my university. I take the bus there daily, and I take the bus back, getting off at the same stop each time. This is because I am a Liberal Arts student, and the majority of my schedule is concentrated in one area of campus, thus helping me avoid panic-induced jog sessions between classes.
This geographical concentration of my classes does something else for me: I remain unfamiliar with many of the buildings, courtyards, and general areas on campus. This is why, a couple of months ago, I was especially taken aback to hear that there were anti-abortion protesters on campus. If that caught your interest, imagine my surprise when I found out that they had been there for years, on and off.
I had my first encounter with them on my way back from a lecture: a man was sitting by the center walkway, equipped with what I perceived to be two large, yellow banners and quite the set of vocal chords. He was so rowdy that I could hear his cries through my earphones: phrases such as “you are all going to hell!” And “Jesus hates you,” both of which are obviously untrue. This did not bother me much at the time. I continued on my way to class, steering clear of him.
However, as the days passed, something did begin to bother me. I did not care very much about the yeller, or the people that he had brought with him. Obviously, he was giving religion quite the troublesome reputation, and I did hope that he was not disrupting any classes or other learning experiences that could take place on a college campus, but he did not occupy a significant part of my mind. What I was taken aback by was the overwhelmingly aggressive response from students.
The first time I experienced this specific type of rhetoric was in a class of mine. Many of the students were declaring their distaste for these men, and through this I found out that many had been “counter-protesting” them, with materials and chants of their own. While I respect the fact that many young people are upset about hate-inducing rhetoric in a learning environment, at the time I was suspicious about the means they used to relay that.
Growing up in the very active Los Angeles Muslim community, I had been to my share of rallies and protests. As I began to grow older, I wondered why and how some rallies were more effective than others. The answer is simple. Well-organized rallies, with passionate, selfless coordinators who are serious about their cause and who truly yearn for change, are the ones that do the best. They do not think of themselves and their image. They are not opportunist activists. They are dedicated public servants who will move mountains for their cause.
Opportunist activism and Western youth activism in general is a multifaceted idea with multiple causes and outcomes, one of which is the desire to be “relevant.” We have all heard of voluntourism: the delusion that Westerners can solve or improve the conditions of foreign peoples, fueled by a multimillion dollar network of non-profit and missionary groups. This is not dissimilar to activist culture, both being largely driven by the desire of privileged youth to further self-beautify.
It is understandable that young people want to care about something real, and that they want to stand out in a crowd; we all feel this way at some point or another. However, it becomes a problem when one feigns loyalty to a cause and abandons it the moment it ceases to be relevant or useful to his/her quest to self-beautify. This is hypocrisy, which cannot be respectable even in the apparent good it names as its intention.
This is not to say, of course, that every young activist is a charlatan, or that those to which the above applies are “bad people” in any way, seeing as the majority of them lack malicious intention. As is the case with many seemingly far-fetched ideals, the desire to be dramatically different begins with a legitimate foundation of ideas that have been fed to us through our cultural and societal upbringings, supported not only by the aforementioned millions of non-profits but by the literature and media that we grow up absorbing. This ranges from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland to contemporary favorites such as The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. The important part of this analysis to remember is that the hero complex in such stories are not the problem; they solidify the story, and it is a natural phenomenon for children and youth who read these stories to desire that same difference and singularity that the characters possess. The problem, as said before, is the hidden intent of some of those affected to use certain issues to self-beautify, rather than to resolve them.
These students may possess good intent, and they may wish to express their upset at such disruptive rhetoric being spewed, but vocal and physical counter-protesting is not effective when its inception is opportunist in nature, and this has been proven over the years that these men have been here, I have learned. Young people are passionate, and we are not meant to bottle up that passion, but there is a time and a place for everything. What is happening here is opportunist activism. What should be happening here is dedication and sincere desire for resolution, which can and should be fed by education, communication, research, and a supportive community of motivated and genuine individuals.
In addressing the short-term, a tactic that has been proven time and time again is the displacing of attention. If you stop giving somebody attention, they will begin to whither. In the case of the abortion protestors on campus: they feed off of our attention, so just don’t give it to them. Our lives will continue whether they are there or not, and the only difference that will be made is whether or not we allow them to significantly bother us.