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Students finally show they care by demonstrating

Jonathan Gair

As I wrote this column by candlelight Sunday night, I thought to myself how trying power outages can be. I know the initial reaction to that sentence, as we have seen in general reaction to the Monday night student demonstration, is to point to the Gulf region-to the past disasters of Hurricane Katrina and the current natural disasters in Texas and Louisiana-and lambast Miami University students for their insensitivity and irrelevance in the face of real crises. What this argument fails to capture, however, is not only that the human animus can be examined during any situation in which our lives are disrupted, but that to ignore this massing of students is to ignore the phenomenon of Miami students finally doing something when a crisis presents itself.

After coming back from Russia-a country where people are still waiting for the ability to get landline telephones-I found myself in Chicago in early August when a major storm not only dropped tornadoes near the city, but knocked out power in my home. For a week. In that situation, I bailed to a friend's house in order to survive and continue my suburban existence with minimal interference. Taking a lesson from this August experience, as the Oxford power outage spilled into Monday I knew I had to make it to the one place where I knew there'd be power-the Duke Energy main offices in Cincinnati. As I enjoyed a burger and fries on the Ohio River, I heard of the developing situation in Oxford. This is my experience.

Speeding home to get back to U.S. Route 27, we saw the abandoned gas stations that flanked the highway-out of gasoline after the rushes to the pump that the outages spurred. After hitting Colerain and heading north, reports from campus intensified-a SWAT team was being considered, the generators were being overloaded, there were arrests and dozens of police. The call that power had gone out again on campus coincided with my car being passed by seven county squad cars. Their destination was obvious.

Arriving to a scene of approximately 50 police cars, it seemed that what was billed as a writhing and explosive student mobilization was nothing more than a loosely packed spectator event where those bored and without anything to do came up to see if anything would happen-this was our mobilization? Let us analogize the events of Monday night to the Paris student riots in 1968, just because we can for the sake of the following comparison. In the lead-up to that mass movement, philosopher Jean Paul Sartre was seen as the man who would embody the students' unrest and lead the burgeoning movement. In the end, Sartre retreated and was unable to live up to his role outside of criticizing the same leftist movements that he had emerged from. So what about our Sartre? We now know that the original intention of the sit-in was quashed within the opening minutes after 9 p.m.; Associated Student Government President Mike Scott's pleas were drowned out by chants from the same body that elected him, and even our favorite Hub-based peace protestor was reduced to nothing more than mining students for voter registration information.

It seems as though all anyone can focus on is how dumb of a reason to protest Monday night was, but they're missing the point that finally-after faculty and students alike constantly complain about the lack of student activism-there was some kind of movement on campus. Apart from a handful of arrests and other isolated harmful behavior, there was no flashpoint. Police armed with K-9 units, batons, riot gear and paintball guns did not have to use any of those. While there were some comments from non-Oxford police departments wondering if the only cause for this demonstration was the closing of the uptown bars, what we have is a community of students who were able to quickly and more-or-less peacefully assemble despite enduring a frustrating situation in our college town. An ominous countdown to midnight turned into nothing more than a starting point for a loosely choreographed version of "Happy Birthday" and at one point, a beer can thrown at a police officer was quickly displaced by the emergence of inflatable beach balls.

No matter how bratty, spoiled or irrelevant you may think the students are or the situation is, at least they did something and caused a buzz. There is, however, so much more work to be done. The initial request to meet with someone-anyone-from the administration was largely ignored and any dialogue with students Monday night was underwhelming. To allow the situation to burn out with police enforcement still does not give the students answers to the questions that they calmly asked hours prior to the attempted sit-in. One would think that in a situation such as this, there would be face-to-face conversation between the administration and the students instead of sparse text messages and e-mail updates. Students may not have gotten the conversation that they wanted, but at least they may not roll-over and go back to sleep when the next crisis hits close to home.