"Power to the People"

Student protests echo national unrest and uncertainty

Published Nov. 17, 2016, 1:49 p.m. - 389 views


On Wednesday, Nov. 9, St. Olaf students awoke to the reality that Donald Trump had won the presidency of the United States. Many were blindsided and immediately began planning events offering like-minded students a place and time to process the events.
In the morning, a large number of students gathered in the Buntrock Commons Crossroads, where they spoke about their frustrations and fears with the present political climate and its possible future impact.
“When we were all in Crossroads we were talking about a lot of things, we were talking about love, empathy, compassion, equality,” Tia Schaffer ’20 said about the gathering. Seeing that unity inspired her to schedule a candlelight vigil later that night. The vigil, which began at 10 p.m. in the plaza outside Buntrock, emphasized peace and inclusivity, offering a sense of community to those struggling. 
“With this election, although it separates a lot of us and has tensions high all over the country, what I wanted people to understand is that at the end of the day, before all of these traits and characteristics that make us different, we are still human, and I think that where humanity has fallen short is this idea of compassion and love,” Schaffer said. “I do believe there is a lack of that in the world overall, and I feel like if people had more of a sense of that, the world wouldn’t be as crazy and as hateful as it is.”
The following day, Thursday, Nov. 10, there was a protest titled “Speak Out for Change” in the Buntrock Crossroads at 11 a.m. The demonstration provided students an opportunity to share personal stories and frustrations and offer ways in which students could enact change in a political environment with which they are dissatisfied.
The demonstration was preceded by a dance performance that offered spectators an expressive reaction to Trump’s victory.
As the dancers cleared out, protesters began to chant “power to the people,” with claps reverberating as the chanting spread through the building. As people quieted down, a student addressed the crowd, informing them that there was security present and that, if they wanted, they could take a sign from a pile. The signs, when placed on a dorm room door, signify that those who live there are willing to offer refuge to students who feel threatened elsewhere.
As the protest progressed, individual students emerged from the crowd and stood on a bench to address those present. Cosi Pori ’18 took the floor and affirmed fellow protestors.
“We are all afraid, all right. But the fact that we are all here, and the fact that we are all in this space together and that we are all paying attention, that should make them afraid and they should fear us,” Pori said. “The greatest threat is the moderate, the greatest threat is the people who stay silent and who choose to do nothing in times of trial.”
Pori also referred to a message sent from President David Anderson ’74 to the student body, in which Anderson recalled a promise he made in a speech to the class of 2020.
“I promised new Oles that they would be safe at St. Olaf, but warned that they may not always be comfortable,” Anderson wrote.
Pori took issue with the message.
“I, as a queer trans non-binary person, am not uncomfortable. I am in fear. The audaciousness of this president to say that we might be uncomfortable is disgusting. It is disgusting,” Pori said, elaborating upon their frustration with the administration’s use of messages as a primary means of addressing campus issues.
“I don’t want a message, I want him here. I want him here right now, or I want a better president,” Pori said.
As the protest grew, students filled up the bottom floor of Buntrock and a growing number pressed up against the railings on the second and third floors to see and hear the speakers standing on the bench. There were also several interruptions, including one heckler yelling “Trump” as a student spoke and others cutting through the crowd towards the Pause while expressing disdain for the protest.
Other students also expressed anger, such as Demetrius Brown ’18, who preceded his speech with a chant of “Dump the Trump.” 
“I am black, I am gay, and I am here to stay. I don’t give a damn who the president is, this is not the white man’s land, we will not be driven from it and I beg you all in these dark days just keep your head up,” Brown said. “I don’t like that this place forgets that politics involves ethics. I do not have to listen to your f***ing position if it is oppressing me.”
As the protest ended, one student led the crowd with a call and response of “It is my duty to fight for freedom. It is my duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” With each repetition the chant grew louder until it stopped and the assembly slowly dissipated.
Later that day, Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton sent an email to the student body with the subject “I am concerned.” In the email, she quoted a message she had sent earlier in the year, condemning hate crimes. In the new message, she added that she upheld the previous sentiment in the current context of election results.
“To turn your fear into angry, hateful speech and threats aimed at any members of this community who did or might have voted differently from you is unacceptable,” Eaton wrote.
A number of students took issue with Eaton’s email, inciting a series of charged emails over St. Olaf extra. Among the students frustrated was Pori, who expressed respect for Eaton but also dissatisfaction with the email, arguing that it did not fully reflect the reality of marginalized students on campus.
“All of the rhetoric of fighting hate with love is only being directed at us, and only being said to those who are dissenting. No one is telling the Trump supporters to do that, no one is telling them to be loving and open,” Pori said.
Eaton defended her original message with a call for campus dialogue.
“We have got to remember that we are a community that has to continue to remember to support each other, and to understand that absolutely we have differences and absolutely we have issues that need to be addressed. We are not a perfect community, but to be threatening, whether you voted one way or voted the other way, is wrong,” Eaton said. “What would be an ideal situation is that if as a community we had a conversation about what it is that we are afraid of.”
As the post-election week continued, other students also offered space dedicated to processing the results and looking forward, including Jack Langdon ’17 and Adam Sanders ’17, who gave a concert in Boe Memorial Chapel on the night of Saturday, Nov. 11. Langdon performed “Find” by Eva-Maria Houben on organ and was then joined by Sanders on euphonium for an improvised performance of a chant by Hildegard von Bingen. Langdon shared his desire to offer a meditative space for students reacting to the election.
“We wanted something that everybody could come to and experience in a different way and it wasn’t about a climax or prescribing an experience,” Langdon said, “but it was about this is a space that we are designating as a time for peace and solidarity and the hope was that everybody would get something different out of it ... Although music is not the most important way to resist and to protest, it is a part of the whole superstructure of culture as a whole, and if you start ignoring responsibility to act all the way down then it is just not going to work out. If anyone wants to have any hope of changing things they have to change the whole idea of how they live.”

campbe1@stolaf.edu

About the Author

Conlan Campbell, class of 2018 is a English major.

cambe1@stolaf.edu

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