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ISSUE 120 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/9/2007

Letter to the editor

By Letter to the Editor
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dear Editor,

There was a controversial display up last week in the hallway between the library and Buntrock Commons. While I fully agree that the media can misrepresent peaceful protests, I would argue that this display is an even greater misrepresentation. Perhaps it is a simple matter of confusion over the definition of “peaceful protest” that has led to confusion.

Direct action is a form of political activism that seeks immediate attention and action for perceived ills, as opposed to indirect actions such as electing representatives. Direct action can include actions such as strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations, boycotts and street theatre. In more extreme cases, direct action protests can employ graffiti, sabotage and vandalism to promote their causes.

Nevertheless, at heart, peaceful protests should be models of non-violent direct action. Made famous by Mahatma Gandhi in India, non-violent direct action is simply any form of direct action that does not use violent tactics. More recent examples of this type of protest are the civil rights protests of the ‘60s and the very recent environmentally-themed marches on the Capitol lawn.

In 1963, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. described the goal of peaceful protests in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” A peaceful protest does not seek to destroy a community as the hallway display suggests, but rather to inform and to activate its citizens.

The pictures of the protest used as an example by the Counterpoint group are not of a non-violent direct action protest. This is evident from the impolite words used on the posters which detract from the protest’s original anti-war message, the implied violence of the Bush effigies and the use of Molotov cocktails. The protest pictured is instead only a direct action protest and, unfortunately in this case, it is therefore not a peaceful protest. This is a very key difference and one that the group should not have so easily overlooked.

Perhaps if the group had wanted to truly support their argument, they would have done adequate research before putting up their display. Overall, it is highly disappointing for an institution such as St. Olaf, which prides itself on academic integrity.

– Amber Collett ‘07

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