Too often, Princeton students remain silent on the most important issues affecting both our country and our world. We tend to shy away from activism of the most demanding kind; we tend to remain quiet on the issues that demand pressing reactions from us — the student body and the youth. Especially in this cultural era, students and young people are taking charge as the leaders of national movements for change. In this societal context, Princeton students must become more passionately positioned on the front lines.
On March 14, Princeton Advocates for Justice organized the massive student rally on campus in response to the Parkland school shooting and the inflamed outcry against gun violence championed by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who faced horrifying gun violence. The “We Call BS: Princeton Rally for Gun Reform” event brought over 350 students, faculty, townspeople, and even local government representatives to Frist Lawn in a show of strength and solidarity to further the cause for common sense gun regulation in the United States against the ravaging epidemic of gun violence. The protest was far-reaching in its involvement, and protesters demanded their voices be heard.
How many other protest movements on campus have amassed similar support and turnout? How many other causes have we, as Princeton students, stood up for and championed? For many of us, this was the first campus protest of its scale that we had attended, and there are few similar movements that have rallied such passion from the student body.
Universal student activism needs to be reintroduced at Princeton because we have remained far too silent as a collective student body. This past protest was a monumental step in the direction of how campus activism at Princeton should progress. It was an issue and a deliberate cause toward which students — over 350 in full solidarity — put their full support. We have to embrace the intrinsic notion that protest is as much about standing up and showing up as it is about discussing the issues. In order to truly make change, we must devote ourselves to the causes for which we care deeply.
What I am calling for are more massive student movements in response to the most pressing issues that affect our country and our world. As students, we should be organizing and marching for gun reform, police accountability, climate change, equality for all Americans under the law, refugee rights, and current immigration legislation in America, among other causes. We must make our voices heard and our bodies seen in response to incidents such as the shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police or the failure of President Trump to ensure the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Substantive action must follow such protest movements to ensure that tangible change takes hold, but I must emphasize the vast symbolic significance behind the act of protesting. To protest is to take the initial stand and to embark on the path of change most directly.
This type of universal direct activism can be hard to find at Princeton. We can all understand the constant weight of courses, independent work, extracurricular activities, and the desire to also enjoy ourselves and relax. But I would add that while activism and protest might not always be convenient for our busy schedules, it demands a devotion and dedication above the stresses of our course load and daily agendas. The Princeton gun reform rally was held on the Wednesday of midterm week, and despite this timing, the crowd was massive. Under one of the most strenuous times of Princeton’s schedule, students put activism over academics. The causes for which we must fight do not bend according to our schedules. They must be met at every hour, on every stage, despite the daily stresses of life. We must give our time — no matter what — to stand up for the change we wish to see.
I do not mean to neglect the work that numerous student groups on this campus do in order to effect change for the causes central to their group. Princeton Advocates for Justice (PAJ), for example, is an organization composed of 25 student groups that foster diverse focuses to a spectrum of causes. Each of these groups represents an individual, deliberate step towards noticeable progress. But the massive mobilization represented in an organization such as PAJ demonstrates a grand leap forward.
While PAJ has fallen under criticism by my fellow columnist Ryan Born for its inability “to reach the right people and so have the maximum possible effect,” its attempt to “address many liberal concerns” at once, and its failure to do “little more than react,” I would argue that this far-reaching, mobilizing step for student activism is exactly what the University needs. While PAJ amasses such criticisms, its fundamental embrace of activism fosters this sense of timely reaction much needed and much missed on this campus.
Born is a senior opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
This sort of universal student activism is something quite powerful to absorb. Through such a massive move of participation, change is possible, and progress is reachable. We must come together more as a student body for the causes that afflict, touch, and inspire us to show our strength, make our voices heard, and take a direct and undeniable stand. To be students in “the service of humanity,” we must act more boldly, more passionately, and more powerfully as advocates for the change that we wish to effect.
Kaveh Badrei is a sophomore from Houston, Tex. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.