The Importance of Activism
Act '97 Seeks to Address Vital Issues
This coming weekend, students and activists from throughout the Northeast will converge on Harvard's campus to discuss some of the most pressing, deeply-rooted social problems confronting us today--problems that impact disproportionately on individuals and communities of color.
ACT '97, a conference jointly sponsored by UNITE!, Education 4 Action, Minority Student Alliance, Asian American Association, Black Students Association, Concilio Latino, RAZA, South Asian Association, Amnesty International, is directed both toward educating participants about issues facing people of color and cultivating the organizational skills necessary for effective future socio-political action.
Just as importantly, ACT '97 seeks to transcend traditional ethnic and racial boundaries so as to address collectively and in an informed way problems which affect all historically disenfranchised groups.
The conference centers on five main issue areas: ethnic studies and affirmative action, immigration, environmental justice, poverty and police brutality. Presenters, speakers, facilitators and trainers participating in ACT '97 are among the most knowledgeable, experienced and skilled activists and organizers in the Northeast. We hope as many members of the Harvard community as possible will participate in this valuable series of learning experiences. For those who cannot attend, there are still many reasons (and opportunities) to show support. Although the conference aims to foster activism among communities of color on and around campus, the issues being addressed are of vital concern to anyone, whatever their background, who hopes to live in a just society.
The fact that prisons take one-third of African American males by the age 20 signifies the urgency to understand and then address both the socio-economic difficulties faced in our society and the nature of our largely unquestioned prison system. So, too, does the fact that almost 15 percent of U.S. citizens live in poverty. The passionate efforts of Harvard students last year for an ethnic studies curriculum, as well the daunting success of California's Proposition 209 last November should suffice as reason for sustained and intensified student dialogue about ethnic studies and affirmative action. For society and politics to responsibly address these issues, student activism must reassert its commitment to socially suppressed viewpoints.
These issues, which impact disproportionately people of color, need persistent voices and an extensive effort to receive the kind of political attention they require. As students, we have a unique opportunity to contribute to this effort.
The weekend is oriented towards fostering and sustaining effective student activism. The conference aims to integrate a range of activist skill trainings, issue seminars, educational sessions and group discussions with the personal experiences each participant brings to ACT '97. Many students will have experience with political organizing, and many others will bring an untested passion for change. Many will arrive simply to discover a way to contribute to a much needed campus and community political voice on these issues. ACT '97 aims to develop viable strategies for organizing from these perspectives.
The question to address today is not the quality of existing activism but the lack of far-reaching, comprehensive activism that can have substantial political implications. The development of "plans of action" and an extensive network of earnest students and community members will allow for the beginnings of more effective activism on these critically important issues that will last beyond this weekend.
Paul N. Lekas '99 of Lowell House and Stephanie I. Greenwood '99 of Quincy House are organizers of the Act '97 conference.