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Penn State Activism, the Little Engine that Could

“What’s going on at Old Main?” asked one girl, decked in a blue poncho.
“Oh, I think it’s like one of those rallies for tuition,” another girl answered, squeaking away in her polka dot rain boots.

They didn’t seem like the types for political activism, but I at least expected them to know the news. However, they quickly shuffled right by a gathering crowd of djembes and chant sheets.

While several hundred students convened on the steps of Old Main for the Walk Out For Penn State rally, another several thousand nonchalantly passed-by on their way to their Monday classes. Some 40,000-ish didn’t bother to attend, not even on Facebook.

Why is that? It’s not that Penn State is unmotivated. We raised over $9 million for THON. We also pack Beaver Stadium with 108,000 people on home game Saturdays. That seems like a far cry from apathetic.

We’re not dumb. Penn State topped the Wall Street Journal‘s top recruited graduates list. We also have one of the best Engineering programs at a public university.

So, what can be causing this state of disinterest? I believe the priorities of the students have shifted.

Who actually watches PBS? Who has intently followed President Spanier’s appearances at appropriation hearings? Who even fully understands the scope of the proposed budget cuts?

While newspapers die due to withering readership, shows like Jersey Shore make celebrities out of meat-heads. People would much rather read Texts From Last Night than a TIMES article.

In the 60’s people would gather around LPs and talk about the issues that were taking place in their worlds. They would dream of changing something and hopefully bettering the human condition because of it.

Now, however, we hurry by “the radicals” standing up for something. We shuffle by refusing to take an hour out of our routines to address a social problem. It’s just not important to us.

This is where the criticism begins. I get pegged as the neo-hippie liberal in hemp shoes and a PETA t-shirt. I’m ‘that guy’ who stands outside of Hollister with a bullhorn complaining about sweat shops. In the eyes of the average Penn Stater, I’m disconnected. I’m a rabble rouser looking for a podium to speak from.

A lot of students see protests as pointless. They scoff at ‘hipsters’ gathering for a cause. They brush it under the rug, discrediting their efforts as an ineffective annoyance.

Former IFC president, Max Wendkos, said on Twitter that the legislators in Harrisburg are laughing at the protesters. Maybe for him, balancing his frat’s Natty Light budget is more important than balancing the budget of the university.

But that mentality is far from uncommon, even in people you would expect to be ready to “fight the system, man.” Penn State just doesn’t believe in the power of assembly.

I do. I believe in the cause. Not because I’m some Green Peace-loving democrat. Not because I was particularly stirred by any of the speakers at the rally. Not even because I firmly believe that cuts to higher education are wrong for Pennsylvania. I believe in our first amendment right to gather in protest, and I believe in the efforts of student activists because an increasing number of people are being informed of the cause.

Let’s be honest, how many people even knew that there were two rallies before Monday’s? (You don’t count if you’ve already pre-ordered your Obama 2012 pins). The answer is not many.

Newly elected UPUA president TJ Bard was even scrutinized during debates for his failure to attend previous demonstrations. I, personally, didn’t even know about the first few rallies and I pride myself on my political engagement.

The fact that an increasing number of people are starting to catch wind of the student-led movement is satisfying enough for me. We’re fighting for the right to be educated. Let’s step back and look at these rallies as a chance to educate rather than a chance to relive the 60’s protest movement.  The number of supporters has risen steadily with each protest. Each rally is more effective than the last. State College mayor, Elizabeth Goreham, was even in attendance at Monday’s protest. (Graham Spanier must have been busy at American Idol).

Gaining support is a major accomplishment. Hopefully the ‘news’ will get out and more people will realize that their time to get involved in the political climate of their world is upon them. More people will feel the need to stand up. There will be more people holding signs that say, “I’m Pissed.”

It’s working, Penn State. Slowly but surely. The over 500 attendees at Capital Day proves that. We’re finding outlets other than rallies to have our voices heard.

To all of the naysayers, be patient. We’re all in this together. The pressure of a $182 million in cuts would ripple through the entire student body. Even if ‘mom and dad’ can make up the tuition hikes, decreased funding to programs would be damaging to your academic experience.

Instead of attacking the student movement, stand up with your fellow victims and become engaged. Use your voice to make a difference. Just because change doesn’t move as fast as your 4G smart phone, that doesn’t mean it won’t come at all.

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Staff Picks: Grabbing A Drink With A Prominent Penn Stater

If you had the chance to hear about Penn State from (or throw down at a State College bar for a night with) some of its most prominent figures, who would you want to grab a beer with?

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