VC activism should spark national youth movement

By now anyone familiar with Vassar College knows about the protest scheduled by the Westboro Baptist Church. We are targeted because of our inclusive community and acceptance of LGTBQIA students. You have most likely heard of the enormous response, as students and alumni join to turn this into a moment of unity and pride in defense of love and inclusiveness. And to this I say: good for Vassar—especially the students—for responding so resoundingly and positively to such a hateful, distressing antagonism! I am proud of my community and its immediate outpouring of love, support, art and activism..

But it is not enough. This attack is not isolated, but emblematic of a larger social issue. Although WBC is a fringe hate group condemned by nearly all, their views are merely more extreme, offensively stated versions of beliefs shared by many, including politicians.

Vassar students have been able to use the WBC attacks to catalyze a great coming together, a positive movement many say they will carry on past this one protest. I say go for it, and then some. Some have commented about the media attention the WBC is likely to draw, and the ways in which we can harness this attention and communicate our message of inclusion and equality. I say go for it, and then some. The young people in this country have already shown their power with the immense impact our votes have had in recent elections. I say go for it, and then some. Let’s do more than vote; let’s set the agenda!

It’s about time our generation rose and stood up for itself and its beliefs. Why not take a cue from many of our parents and make hipsters the new hippies? Both movements have distinctive music and style, and are nonconformist subcultures that arose in similar demographic bands, albeit in different decades. The outpouring of love and art I have seen on campus in response to the WBC attacks is reminiscent of nothing so much as the peace and love center of hippie-ism. All that hipsters still need in order to have the same immense cultural impact is social and political activism. So let’s take this energy and run with it, going beyond the hippies by reaching across subcultures, demographics and political parties to unite around this issue. Young people favor the freedom to love, and want to eliminate discrimination on that basis (70% of Americans under 30 favor gay marriage rights, according to the New York Times).

Gay rights is the civil rights issue of our generation. It is time to look outside our bubble and see how far we still have to go before we can truly reach “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” “liberty and justice for all,” and “created equal.” It’s not enough just to wait around for things to somehow fix themselves, or even until we are old enough to be counted among the ‘adult’ demographic in national polls. As hippies stood up to protest the Vietnam War, I call upon young people across America now to stand up and rally for the rights of all Americans to be who they are and love who they love. Let the energy generated at Vassar in response to the WBC be the catalyst for a unified, motivated youth social justice movement. It is true what people say—this is bigger than the WBC, bigger than any individual one of us, bigger than Vassar, bigger than New York. As the phoenix is reborn from fire, let us take the weapons of hate and transform them into tools of peace, the kind we can believe in. So to those at Vassar who are already working: keep spreading the word. To everyone else: join us!

What makes this incident different from all others? Why should this spark off a national movement when so many other atrocities have not? My answer is: why not? Energy is already being generated. People are already standing up to say: ‘enough’. So do so, peacefully and wisely and gloriously. And don’t let the energy wane. Let it grow and spread our joy and openness to others, asking them to hear the call and rise up in defense of all rights. Like the hippies, let us be the youth who changed the country with a simple message of love for all. We’re not so different from them. I mean, hey, we both love rainbows.


—Mira Singer ‘14 is an independent Storytelling major.

One Comment

  1. With respect to the author’s clear and well-articulated beliefs, I have to disagree with a number of points in this article.

    To begin with, the Westboro Baptist Church, though emblematic of a hatred born of obsession, are not really associative of any other organization or political viewpoint. They are the most radical of the radical fringe of their own radical world. They embody neither the most conservative viewpoint (which at its most extreme still does not go about targeting soldiers’ funerals) nor the most libertarian viewpoint (which would balk at the theology), nor the most liberal viewpoint (which understandably has an issue with most of the WBC’s positions). I think most political scholars would place them somewhere between the Rajneeshees and the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord – a hate group that borders with theological or cultish qualities; possibly dangerous, but not overtly so. I think it is a stretch to try and assert their views on any mainstream or even radical organization.

    As for the “freedom to love,” that has actually been an essentially settled point since 2003, when the Supreme Court decided Lawrence v. Texas. In striking down an anti-sodomy law, the Supreme Court noted it lacked any rational basis and cautioned against legislation for the sake of a singular moral view. Gay marriage itself is up in Windsor v. U.S. and Hollingsworth v. Perry, the two seminal cases whose oral arguments are upcoming and should be decided by June. Looks like the Court may toss Perry for lack of standing without making a decision on the law itself, but Windsor would be a good indicator of how the court will treat another case working its way through the 2nd Circuit that challenges the entire DOMA prohibition.

    To be honest, this is kinda why the hippie movement didn’t really…work. Why on earth would we want to become the new hippies? Yes, some of the events of the hippie movement were undoubtably fun beyond belief, but too often do we romanticize the sixties and seventies. The hippie movement was a desperate cultural shift brought about by a combination of cultural uncertainty, civil rights challenges, massive overseas conflict, and increasing cynicism over the brightness of the future. Indeed, one could make an argument that this generation’s “hippie movement” is better known as… the Tea Party.

    But I digress. The most important thing to remember about the hippie movement is that it ended – failed, according to some. Despite our rosy view of it now, at the time the country was shocked by the degree of violence asserted by many associated with the movement, including the events of Atwater, the trials of the Chicago Seven, and the Manson family murders.

    There was a dark, savage undertone to the hippie movement – a great anger that was combated by bouts of mass mania. This undertone is lacking in the hipster movement of the modern era; a movement that is mostly based out of the ennui of the suburban youth. There is no desperation from hipsters – there is fetishism of that which is “new” or “vintage” or anything other than the norm. Indeed even the name “hipster” invokes the “hippie” movement itself, a play on the old in lieu of originality.

    And how could the hipster movement “set an agenda?” Can hipsters somehow miraculously insert 300,000 new jobs per year, across all degrees of educational and technical skill levels? Can they demonstrate how to economically balance a state desperately trying to provide necessary servies to its citizens with money it doesn’t have? Can they somehow unite a party so desperate to hang onto their pet entitlement programs that they would continue debt spending ad infinitum with a party so desperate for a political win they are willing to sacrifice the welfare of their countrymen for their egos? Can they deal with an increasingly passive-agressive China, an India whose industry has slowed to a halt, a Pakistan which is going increasingly off the rails while still maintaining nuclear arms production, not to mention an increasingly antagonistic Russia, which pines for the days when it was treated with the same deference as our own nation?

    What about campaign finance reform? Can that be balanced with the freedom of speech for those who wish to contribute to politics? How about the drone strikes (because that white paper just released should be terrifying to everybody)? But if we don’t use them, how do we stop an increasingly chaotic terrorist network? What about energy reform? Can we really afford shutting down the millions of jobs that the coal industry provides in order to promote natural gas? What about pandemic diseases? What about the non-pandemic diseases that will become ones soon? Autism? Alzheimers? And what about the companies that maintain patents on treatments to justify the billions they spent developing them? How do we reconcile that with ongoing suffering for those unable to afford said treatments?

    … And that’s just the stuff I can think of now.

    See… the thing about the Westboro Baptist Church is they are easy. They’re an easy problem that can be combated simply in the way Vassar has so aptly demonstrated – by reminding ourselves that we are a caring species, if we take the time to think of it, and by ignoring them. But when you get to the real challenges – the issues that aren’t problems but the combined, decades-long work marathons of hundreds of experts, lawyers, politicians, cultural icons, priests of every faith, reporters, campaigners and yes, the occasional protest – then…

    …well then you might just be able to win on gay marriage.

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