Oberlin Blogs

A Happy End?

May 19, 2014

Ida Hoequist ’14

I've put a fair bit of introspection about my activism on this blog. The time is right for my final post on the matter. To start, a brief personal history:

I can't pinpoint the moment at which Oberlin turned me into a human construction zone, but my hunch is that my peers started politicizing me the moment I set foot on campus. I count that consciousness-growing as part of my activist life because my actual involvement in activism would never have happened without that process, and my continued improvement as a human is pretty crucial to my continued involvement as an activist. It's not the active part of activism, but it's necessary.

So, my brainscape began to change, with the help of my peers (and also tumblr. Tumblr is an amazing resource if you know how to navigate it). Then, March 4th, 2013 happened halfway through my junior year and provided me an entry point to involvement in campus activism, and the fall of my senior year, I became a point person for one of the working groups that came out March 4th. That's the place my last post about this was written from. It was not a good place. It was a desperate, awkward place of wanting to do work but having this crippling aversion to deciding, by myself, what work to do, because I didn't feel like I had the authority to make that call. (Also, the prospect of taking on a project alone was entirely overwhelming.)

In retrospect, I think at least part of that aversion was born during March 4th; one of the main purposes of the day was for campus to shut up, sit down, and listen to the communities on campus who are marginalized and don't usually get listened to. That imperative - listening - was essentially the birth of my activism, and I can trace a direct line from that to my unwillingness to act without hearing anyone else tell me what to do (or at least tell me my ideas are worth acting on).

Fortunately, a year after March 4th, the working groups and a ton of other students and organizations involved in March 4th put together a commemoration week with loads of speakers and fora and panels, and one of those - a faculty panel that included some faculty members who'd also spoken during the 2013 organizing - changed everything. Instead of listen, I heard do. Literally, someone said the words "don't wait to be told what to do." And "Solidarity is not enough." And "Take ownership of your world." It felt like they were speaking directly at me. That conversation took the rhetoric of the original March 4th - solidarity, allyship - and went beyond it, questioned the very concepts. Because what is allyship? Allyship is saying "you have a problem, and I think it's bunk, so I'm going to help you with it," but if this violence is happening in your community, how can you say it's someone else's problem?
A hefty kick in the rear, yes, but that's what I needed in that moment.

So, in the spring of my senior year, I started actually getting my pet projects moving. I already knew what I wanted to do, that faculty panel just kickstarted me into doing it. I also realized, thanks to that panel, that yes, I was going to screw something up along the way. I realized that fear of getting it wrong (which is what the need to listen boiled down to for me) is a terrible reason to not be working on dismantling oppressive systems, because there is no way to do it perfectly. The key is to do it in such a way that 1. people can and will call you out on it and 2. your work will improve as a result of being held responsible for your screwup.

For the past semester, I've been gathering support and laying out plans for an activist hub. The gist of it is outlined in my previous post, so I won't rehash here; the important part is that it's happening, and - this is exciting - will keep happening next year! At some point in the future, Oberlin students will have a wiki with basic, easily accessible information on what activist projects are being done and where (and how) best to step in and help. That's my dream. That's my baby. And it could go so many cool, useful directions - turning itself into an activist archive! serving as a measure of accountability! generating ideas for future projects! - so I really hope it stays alive. In a perfect world, this hub could become the ultimate tool for staying connected. From what I've heard, similar things have been attempted in the past (never exactly this, though!) and have flopped simply from lack of interest, but that doesn't worry me overmuch; during my time in Oberlin, I've seen coalition-building slowly grow and become a priority in almost everyone's activist work, so I'd say people are invested in linking up with each other. As Alex so quotably shared, "You are not meant to do things alone."

Is this actually a happy ending? If I can call it an ending, then yes, I'd call it a happy one. It's a small point of pride, a process that I can call productive. I say this without losing sight of the fact that it is still embedded in the deeply complicated and definitely-still-messed-up fabric of institutional oppression in Oberlin (see: the administration changing the financial aid policy in a way that screws over a lot of people who need the most aid without telling anyone. Which, yes, led to protests and organizing and fora and has catalyzed its own whole section of Oberlin activism).

But, even if my hub withers away, even if it never really gets on its feet, I still have one thing to be deeply satisfied about: I started a lot of conversations. That's a first step I'm proud of.

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