Elizabeth Bonham, staff writer
“…but maybe you’re not every one,” the Warren Wilson marketing slogan calls out to punks, radicals, and protesters.
Much of Wilson’s allure lies in its self-proclaimed image as a community oriented towards social and political activism. Students enroll here fresh from high school or crusty from hopping trains with the same passion: to change the world. The organizations in which we participate — SOA protests, the Enviornmental Action Coalition, Rising Tide, Food Not Bombs — have their roots in historically established political ideals. Often, it seems, we cage our well-intentioned actions in extremist language that does not accurately reflect its true origins.
Junior Sarah Malphrus was one among many students to protest discrepancies between WWC’s projected principals and its genuine activity. “When I looked at WWC I thought it was a punk school,” she said “but when I got here I was disappointed.” To what degree have Wilson students continued talking the political talk, and inaccurately attached it to an altruistic, but unpolitical walk?
One campus group, Food Not Bombs, is a chapter of a national anarchist organization. The national group adheres to its philosophy strictly: members use found, vegan food products, cooked communally, to serve and eat with any one in need, in protest of hunger. The campus chapter uses donations from Earthfare and scraps from Gladfelter (including fish), and drives a school van to a tiny, policed gathering in Pritchard Park.
A Food Not Bombs trip on Feb. 7 had students serving a minuscule five people in downtown Asheville, sitting quietly and benignly next to a cop car for one hour. Certainly, their work was based in the same spirit of service and good will. But attempting to label simple acts of kindness with rhetoric widely acknowledged as having political implications is hypocritical. Not only is the Wilson Food Not Bombs effort disconnected from its intentional philosophy, it is isolated within the student body, and totally distanced from the local community.
When asked for their opinions, Food Not Bombers voiced in a dejected monotone their protests of campus political action. “There are no radical politics at this school,” exclaimed senior Teddy Gerlach with disgust, “and all the teachers with radical views have left or purposely been driven away.”
Students with similar views champion the academic manner of Political Science professors DongPing Han and Frank Kalinowski, and mourn the losses of philosophy professor Mark Cobb and writing professor Gary Lilley, claiming that the college political atmosphere is progressively declining to become more moderate and less exciting.
It seems that fear of getting a bad rap discourages Wilson students from self-identifying as anarchist, communist, or socialist, especially within the national political climate.
“The school was going shits over Obama,” said Malphrus, “when I didn’t vote, shit hit the fan.”
As students and professors discourage abstention from the democratic system and as Obama’s presidency creates complacency for the political left, pressure to modify extreme views increases. If there is no sense of community support to create an outlet or forum for shared political views, use of the rhetoric that belongs to them is embarrassingly hypocritical.
“We have a huge potential for radical activity because this is a free thinking environment, but we have no leaders, no effort,” said senior Doug Young.
Wilson has become a school dominated by the white upper middle class, with a hierarchical structure and a pathetic sense of political drive. In their current situation, Wilson’s radicals are isolated from one another, largely uninformed and inactive on a group scale. Perhaps part of the problem is that there is no connection to political groups within Asheville — groups like the Firestorm collective and Rising Tide which are exclusive and secluded. Possibly it’s that we have minimal effort to combine and produce literature or encourage discussion within a space that doesn’t necessarily belong to the Triad. Whatever the case, no individual can truly make a difference by expatriating himself and living in a tree sit for the rest of his life. Power lies in unity.
Is there a remaining interest in diverse political activism at Warren Wilson, and is it endangered by a seemingly improved national politics and a general disconnectedness among the student body? At Evergreen college, part of the library is an info shop with student volunteers that distribute and discuss alternative literature. We are a community constructed of resistant culture, but without substantial means for unification without a place and vocal demand.
Wearing patched clothes, dragging lunch out of the Citi Bakery dumpster, and sewing one’s own sanitary products makes no impact if it occurs on an isolated, nonvocal basis. Living in a free thought community offers us a unique opportunity to be vocal and involved with our views. If we do not take advantage of that opportunity by organizing, we have no right as individuals to act the part.