Wake Up

A conversation with an activist

As I walked into the Science Center earlier this semester, I was confronted by a motley mob of students, all partaking in some sort of protest activity: signs waving, slogans being chanted, flyers being thrust in front of startled students. Removing my iPod’s ear buds, I scowled skeptically at the group for a few seconds and listened. Satisfied that this was nothing terribly new, I lowered my head and began to work my way through the crowd to class. As I was about to push my way through the revolving doors, a flyer-wielding youngster—probably a freshman—stopped me.

“Wake up,” she said.

“Excuse me?” I scoffed, sipping my coffee.

“Please wake up. Please pay attention. I’m begging you.” She had an intense gaze and an earnest face, and she had placed herself directly between me and Pinker’s next lecture.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t have time for this,” I muttered as I started to put my ear buds back in.

“I know we annoy you,” she said, “but we don’t have a choice. There’s no other way to get people to listen. No one will listen. Why won’t you listen?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why won’t you listen to what we’re trying to say? Why do you ignore us?”

“The protests? Because all you do is talk, and I don’t have time to listen to you whenever you want to talk and protest something new.”

“But have you thought about what I’m protesting?” She asked, pushing her yellow quarter sheet toward me. “I know you look at me and think ‘huh, another hysterical protestor,’ but have you considered what I’m saying?”

“I have considered what you’re saying,” I responded, beginning to feel frustrated, “I don’t agree with you, so why should I waste my time?”

“Because it’s important. And after all, what would be the point of me doing this if you already agreed with me? Listening takes more than the fifteen seconds you took glancing around. I know you’re busy, and I know that our tactics annoy you. But you don’t listen, and I don’t know how else to speak. You complain about the world, about our President, about the media, about our broken system and this broken world, and then you walk by me without a second thought. I don’t get it.”

“Well, you complain about all of those things, write your complaints on a sign and a flyer, wave them about and then move on to the next issue. I don’t see how you’re any better. Where’s your brave progress? Where’s your social change?” I asked, exasperated and taken aback by this intense and earnest stranger.

“I’m trying,” she said. “I may not be perfect, but it would be a hell of a lot easier of you’d help. If you’d at least listen.”

“Why would I help you? Your argument is wrong. Your approach is wrong.”

“And yours is so much better? Some of my arguments are wrong, but so are some of yours. Some of our approaches are wrong, but so are some of yours. Look, we’re not going to agree on everything, but don’t you think we need each other? You won’t see what you are wrong about unless you listen, and I won’t see what I am wrong about unless you speak—and vice versa. And how will we ever work together, figure each other out, come together to work toward social justice, if all you do is complain about our protests and dismiss us as hippies?”

“Oh please,” I said. “All you do is complain about my complacency. All you do is label me a sellout, throw around stereotypes about politicos and unthinking supporters of the status quo, rant about the IOP and mainstream party politics. You’re not better than me. You’re no less prejudiced and no more willing to listen.” With this, I checked my cell phone for the time and took a sip of my now lukewarm coffee. It was time to go.

“I’ll listen if you will,” she said, putting a hand in her pocket and cocking her head to the side.

A full 15 minutes late, I threw up my hands. “I’m sorry, I can’t deal with this right now. I’m really late to class,” I said quickly, putting my ear buds back in and turning the volume up. As I pushed through the revolving glass door into the Science Center, she went back to flyering as if nothing had changed.

Andrew H. Golis ’06 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears regularly during reading period.