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ISSUE 121 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/22/2008

Alcohol defeats activism

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor

Friday, February 22, 2008

Last Saturday marked the annual ceremony of glee and legal drunken debauchery: the 100 Day March. As I joined my fellow senior classmates marching down St. Olaf Avenue in a state of stupor and excitement, I couldn't help but think back to the days when people actually marched for legitimate causes -- legitimate causes other than drinking alcohol, that is.

After taking classes on American history and reading about a time when the University of Wisconsin at Madison was associated with protests against Dow Chemical and napalm instead of binge drinking, I wonder: will anything other than the prospect of drink specials and random hookups ever galvanize hundreds of college students to march together again?

The impetus for this train of thought originated in a peace flag that I saw some of my friends carrying down as we all marched along. The flag was rainbow-striped, a symbol of inclusivity, and said PACE (Latin for peace, pronounced "pah-chay") in bolded white letters.

This was clearly meant to be ironic, making fun of the fact that we were all marching for no reason, and a several students began drunkenly singing "We Shall Overcome" as a shout-out to past marches (these people are all peace activists on campus; in no way was the act meant to be offensive or disrespectful).

One young woman turned around, and instead of acknowledging the gesture as an ironic statement, she questioned her friends, "Is that, like, for keeping the pace of the march steady?"

Are we so far removed from the peace movement that we don't recognize what were once universal symbols of peace? Are we really so caught up in our own lives that the only thing that will motivate us to march (or even to go on a walk outside, for that matter), is a walk to the bar?

I was as much a part of the march as everyone else, and admit that I have only been to a few peace marches -- all in high school -- so I fully take blame for perpetuating this system.

But it's a system that gets our generation in trouble; we've been dubbed as apathetic and apolitical, and so far most of our legacy as a youth culture in history involves our obsession with celebrities, material wealth and alcohol.

To assess (very unscientifically) how uninvolved St. Olaf students really are, I decided to do a little Facebook research. These results are subject to the accuracy of whatever search engine Facebook uses, but searches for "beer" and "booze" (separately) yielded large Facebook groups at St. Olaf: "Oles for a Wet Campus" has 187 members and "Froggy Bottoms" has 108. The group titled "Chicks and Booze" has 25 members (okay, not that large, but I found the group, as well as the photo for the group, amusing. And a little depressing).

Searches for "peace" and "justice" (also entered as separate searches) yielded two actual groups about peace and justice: "Oles who Support Burma" has 18 members, and "Unitarian Universalists" has five members, one of whom is a fictional profile for author Kurt Vonnegut.

I relate to these statistics: I'd rather use Facebook as an outlet for humor and lightheartedness than a site for activism, and people can't be expected to have their lives revolve around justice, even if they are activists. Fair enough.

But in a world where North Americans comprise 6 percent of the world's adult population and use 34 percent of the world's resources, in a world where approximately 1 percent of the population is fortunate enough to attend college, is getting drunk really our number one concern? Have we come to a point of such apathy and individualism that war, poverty and inequality all over the world don't motivate us to rally together to march, but alcohol does?

I don't mean to incite guilt with this article, or to place blame -- I plan on being as much a part of senior festivities and rebellious youth culture as my classmates. I do love good camaraderie based around drinking-related events.

I hope that St. Olaf is one day a wet campus, though I know the argument will probably never end. I also sincerely enjoy Froggy Bottom's Pub.

I just hope that as students about to emerge into a world where we are given privilege because of U.S. citizenship and college education, we can recognize that there are more important things in life.

News Editor Miriam Samuelson '08 is from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in English and CIS in Writings of Social Change.

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