In response to “Students Should Broaden View of Political Activism”
As the current director of the Political Student Assembly, I read the criticisms that Luke Phillips, my successor, presented regarding recent campus protests and sit-ins with a mixture of excitement and concern. Though much of what Luke points out has a great deal of merit and purpose, I do not think he gives full understanding to the issue.
Serving for the past two years at the helm of the Political Student Assembly, which as Luke points out is the primary advocacy group for student political action in Program Board, I can assuredly say that the capacity for student voice at USC is concerning. As I leave this campus and student involvement behind, I hope to impart some advice and bring to light key facts that Luke ignored.
The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation is a member organization of PSA and as such should be provided the continued and unbiased support of our resources, made up of student fees. Luke was not an active member of PSA last year, when SCALE’s 13-year-long campaign came to an end. For 13 years, SCALE continually urged USC to sign on as an affiliate of the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization that aims to ease some of the injustices dealt to marginalized communities by our exploitative global capitalist economy of which they are not a part by choice. For 13 years, the petitions, demonstrations, letters and protests of SCALE students were ignored. And in that time, 182 other universities, including every Ivy League institution, became affiliates of the WRC. Finally, SCALE successfully convinced USC to sign on in the spring of last year. It baffles me how USC thinks it can compare to its competitors when it so clearly dismisses its students.
This year, SCALE initiated a new campaign against JanSport and the global clothing conglomerate that owns it, VF Corporation. The complaint against VF Corporation is not, as Luke claims, simply that it owns and operates factories in Bangladesh, but that it specifically has not signed on to the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
In order for a country to grow and enable civil society participation, as Luke suggests our global capitalist system allows, isn’t it important that we help leverage labor protection standards to help accurately reflect the “equal competition” we need for capitalist economics to work? Luke, however, makes a very good point; even if USC cut its contract with JanSport, this would only be a symbolic gesture and the next bidder would soon fill our space. As the director of PSA, however, this theoretical debate should be irrelevant.
Greater value is given to Luke’s claim that SCALE’s campaign is partially hypocritical when one does more research — VF Corporation is a parent organization of other brands such as Lee, Nautica, North Face and Vans. I am not certain if USC has contracts with these brands in addition to its contract with JanSport, but it does seem that protestors do not see the full scope of the system they so detest. I’m certain that many protestors would be unable to dress themselves in the morning if they saw all the metaphorical blood spattered on almost every material good they own.
The idea that injustice is a part of human life, however, is not something that our generation has to accept. Student protesters in organizations such as SCALE are the core part of our generation that believes this. On April 15, 18 students occupied Bovard Auditorium after they were denied a meeting with President C. L. Max Nikias for the nth time this year. These students were met with threats of suspension, revoked scholarships and even phone calls home. The fact that Department of Public Safety officers were called in to remove protestors, occupying Bovard during daytime hours, due to the fact that the mass body of protestors presented a fire hazard, is even more ironic — why is it that fire codes are more important here than in other parts of the world?
The second activist event occurred on April 23, when more than 60 students simultaneously occupied four administrative offices on campus. This event was precipitated by the “Occupy Bovard” experience a week prior, but instead students echoed a more general message demanding greater appreciation for student voice. This sentiment is unquestionably something that PSA must support.
I look forward to the future of PSA and political activism at USC, and I hope that future students hold PSA to the high standards of supporting political voice no matter what. But I must leave a suggestion for activists at USC — we barely exist, and it’s more convenient for administration that this continues — so choosing a cause with various degrees of separation and fundamentally debated principles might hurt our capacity for student activism more than it helps.
Meanwhile, students stand by as fences are built around us, budgets are slashed from student affairs and community building activities, and projects to the north of our campus threaten to displace affordable local business and further gentrify the community. We can’t just hope that the administration suddenly opens legitimate dialogue with its students, and it is naive to think this is likely. If students want to see a fundamental shift in the way our university operates, then they must seize it.
Here’s to hoping.
Outgoing Executive Director of the Political Student Assembly