1960s Activist Counsels New Generation

Visiting scholar urges students to examine their motives

During his sophomore year at Yale during the 1960's, Jim Sleeper said he discovered what it meant to be a radical activist.

He watched three young men give their draft notices to the college chaplain and proclaim, "We are not criminals. It is the government who is criminal to conduct this war in Vietnam."

Immediately, Sleeper said, he was attracted to the spirit of radicalism. In an informal speech last night to around 25 students in Harvard Hall, Sleeper described the methods and politics of activism.

The president of the Harvard College Democrats, Joseph N. Sanberg '01, introduced Sleeper as a man with a "maverick political outlook."


Sleeper received his doctorate from Harvard's Graduate School of Education and then became a journalist working as a reporter for the Village Voice and, now, the New York Daily News.

Throughout his talk, Sleeper urged the audience to examine the motives behind activism. He warned the audience of the evils of "moral posturing"--the pursuit of morality in activism without really grasping why the issue is moral.

"You have to understand," he said. "Who you are and why it is you are engaging in activism."

He described the figure of Rosa Parks during the Civil Rights Movement, saying that her moral witness shamed people--she stood behind something that was morally right without expecting a tangible reward.

"This is the kind of act that brought her nothing more than a larger affirmation," he said. "We have to find strength to take a stand against the powers that be."

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