It all started when students experienced a series of racist and sexist incidents on campus. The university reacted to complaints with a yawn. Or at least failed to address these issues seriously.
Eventually, Black grad student, Jonathan Butler, began a hunger strike. He wanted the president to resign. Then, the Missouri Tigers football team threw their support behind Butler’s protest. They refused to play or practice until Wolfe stepped down.
The news of the boycott soon spread throughout social media. And mainstream media. Some faculty members joined in the protest. They were upset about gender and racial pay disparities. That left President Wolfe with few options and no friends. He was forced to accept the inevitable.
This thing reached a conclusion fairly quickly. Butler’s protest and hunger strike only lasted 8 days. Things really moved once the football team and faculty got involved. The threat of losing one million dollars due to a missed football game was just too much to bear.
The power of protest.
I never doubted that college students could create change if they stood together. But believe me, I’m very impressed with the unity and courage shown by these young men and women.
It’s encouraging to see students of color, women and LGBT students recognize the power of protest. And use it wisely. The U of Missouri is not the first campus where students have stood up to demand change.
But this situation is kind of unique. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of top college athletes joining a protest movement. Especially one that doesn’t involve athletic issues.
The football team’s involvement, by itself, marks an important change in the awareness of Black athletes. I realize we’ve seen individual athletes speak up on some occasions. The killings of Trayvon Martin. The death of Eric Garner. The shootings of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown.
But normally high profile athletes choose to remain silent about such issues. They’ve got too much to lose. Especially when they haven’t yet reached the pro ranks.
Lets’ be clear. No way was the Missouri uprising a “Black Lives Matter” protest. But, the students on campus had to be influenced by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. A place just a few hours away.
Dr. King once spoke of a “marvelous new militancy” that was sweeping the nation in the 1960’s. Maybe that energy is starting to return. Maybe protest is in again.
Say what you will about the Black Lives Matter movement. We know it’s not perfect. But it seems to have had a positive impact on young people. They’re engaging in political and social activism at a level not seen in decades.
Another hopeful sign was the coalition created by these protests. It wasn’t the same old campus rabble rousers. It was also the student body president, Payton Head. Black alumni. The faculty. And the athletic department supporting its football players.
The support of powerful allies can make a difference.
This has worked in the past. In the 1980’s there were South African divestment protests on many campuses. Dartmouth University was one of them.There was much controversy. Months of negative headlines. Student protests. And a vote of “no confidence” in the administration. Soon the President of Dartmouth was forced out. The students had protested and won.
That wouldn’t have been the case without a coalition of students, faculty and concerned citizens. It’s clearly a lesson that Mizzou students have now learned. And one that seems to be spreading like wildfire. There were more student protests across the country last week. With many more to come.
One more important element of the Missouri movement was the way it combined issues. Butler, the hunger striker, repeatedly spoke about racism. Sexism. Homophobia. And low teacher salaries. Whenever he spoke to the media. He made it clear that he understood the connection between these issues.
That approach is often more effective than self-focused organizing. And one group protesting about one issue.
Its been proven that multi-issue campus coalitions can really work. Some very effective partnerships have been forged over the years.
Blacks. Latinos. Native Americans. Asian Americans. LGBT students. Women. And students with disabilities. Student organizations representing each one of these groups have worked together effectively for years.
We got the power.
The point is that students have power. Students of color have power. Disenfranchised people have power. Black people have power. All of us have power to create change. But we need to use it.
That’s important to remember. Just last week the Republican Party made big gains just because our side didn’t show up at the polls.
African-Americans make up 13 percent of the nation’s population. And we’re growing 35 percent more quickly than the total population. We have $1 trillion in buying power. That’s according to the latest Nielsen Report on Black consumers. And we have enormous untapped political power.
It’s time for us to remember that power. From the youngest college student to the oldest senior citizen. Any of us can make a difference. Protest can make a difference.
This message isn’t just for African Americans. The left is constantly losing out because we refuse to flex our muscle.
Just look at all of the Republican governor-ships. And all of the GOP dominated State Houses and Congressional Districts. Conservative control over public policy is expanding. Not shrinking.
Trust me. The other side isn’t afraid to raise their voices in protest. Conservative protests gave birth to the Tea Party. And that’s not all.
They protest on talk radio. They protest on social media. They make themselves heard in school board meetings. In boardrooms. And at the ballot box.
This is why they’re so powerful. In addition to rich, powerful allies.
But there’s always hope. These student protests have given me hope.
As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”