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ISSUE 116 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/18/2003

Soul of a Citizen’: Loeb encourages civic engagement

By Julie Gunderson
News Editor

Friday, April 18, 2003

Students and community members were issued a call to action Wednesday evening as author and activist Paul Rogat Loeb spoke to the audience about civic engagement.

Loeb’s lecture focused on grass roots democracy, as he encouraged soft spoken and common individuals to become involved in issues they care about. Loeb cited that one reason people shy away from activism is because they feel like they are too uninformed.

"There is a misconception out there," Loeb said. "People feel that they need to know every last detail of an issue before they can stand on it. I call it the perfect standard effect. People are hesitant to get involved unless they have a perfect grasp of the issue, and that is just not how it should be. No one can live up to that perfect standard."

Loeb gave the example of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who got a C in one of his college philosophy courses.

"What does that say to us?" Loeb said. "If King can get a C in philosophy and then go on and become a great activist and do all these great things, then there is hope fore the rest of us."

Another challenge for activists, Loeb said, was overcoming self doubt. "The beauty of these movements," Loeb said, "is that you start out in one place and you end in another. You may hit a wall of confidence when you think you have gone as far as you can, but then you keep persevering and you are starting to see things get done and your confidence builds."

Loeb called for the need to bring people together to create activist movements.

"Action is not accidental. We need to understand that we are not acting alone but that we are part of a larger stream working toward change," Loeb said.

Loeb, who is the author of the book Soul of a Citizen, in which he discusses activist movements, had high praise for the St. Olaf community.

"I’ve spent a wonderful day here," Loeb said. "This is a place that takes seriously its relationship with the world. You don’t find that everywhere."

Loeb said that he believed one reason why more people aren’t civilly involved is because the activists movements of our country have not been properly taught.

Loeb used the story of Rosa Parks to illustrate his point. Loeb said that the Parks story is taught as it being one woman acting alone.

"But that’s not how it was. She had actually been involved in the Civil Rights movement for 12 years and she was a secretary for the NAACP," Loeb said.

Loeb sees a danger in how students are taught these important events in how democracy and activism work.

"We don’t learn about the process," Loeb said. "We learn about the outcome and what happened. We learn that the slaves were freed and women got the vote, and so on, but we don’t learn the stories behind all of these events."

Loeb, who is also a board chair of Washington’s Peace & Justice Alliance talked about the war and peace movements that have been going on in the United States and around the globe. He said that activism in these trying times is very important.

"With all that is going on in the world today, these are the most difficult days that I have lived in," Loeb said.

Loeb had harsh criticism for the Bush administration and its handling of the situation with Iraq.

"I do not feel any safer," Loeb said of the war. "I look around at all the rioting that is happening in Indonesia and Pakistan and other places around the world and I get concerned."

Loeb spoke about how the ending of the war has caused some activists to lose hope on the issue.

"I have talked with some people who are feeling demoralized in the wake of the war," Loeb said. "And I know it is hard, but to be a true patriot is to ask the hard questions during the difficult times. We cannot just shut up and go away."

Along with his evening lecture, Loeb also gave a chapel talk in Boe Chapel Wednesday morning.

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