Where Picket Signs Go to Die

Claremont McKenna moderated me. In my past five semesters here I’ve undergone a substantial transformation: from an impassioned first-time voter who painted the iconic Obama “O” on the back windshield of her beat-up Hyundai (dubbed “the Obamobile”) and who dreamt of devising media strategies for top-tier candidates; to an historian-in-training, who accidentally ditched class in mid-November because she lost herself examining German-language primary sources in Honnold-Mudd’s World War I section. (And I wonder why my friends call me a librarian.)

I suppose I’ve never been much of a radical, but I never expected to turn into an historian. If anything, I thought I’d pursue a career in investigative journalism and fight “the man” through stealth reporting and Pulitzer-winning pieces. At CMC, however, I began thinking that I was “the man.” I realized this a mere month into my freshman year, when, donning a suit on the way to Karl Rove’s Athenaeum talk, I became the target of protesters from the other colleges. In response, I did what any other proud CMCer would do: I brushed them off as “crazy Pitzer kids.”

Many criticize CMC’s dearth of activism – and they have a point. We neither act nor look like activists. When injustice runs rampant on our campus or in our nation, where are our carefully orchestrated megaphone chants? Where are our picket signs, our wristbands, our ever-stylish “Save Darfur” t-shirts?

These visible signs of discontent, I think, are deliberately absent. If we truly view ourselves in opposition to “crazy Pitzer kids,” our means of protest must necessarily evolve into something different.
Some say CMCers work within the system to promote meaningful change, but I think we can, and do, work without it. Like my 18-year-old self, many of us strive to hold, or help others attain, elected office. Countless others aspire to lobby for a cause, devise policies, or evaluate the government’s potential courses of action. While this commitment to public service is admirable, it should not limit our definition of purely pragmatic activism.

Too often does the binary trope “CMCers work within the system, and Pitzer kids try and fail to work without it” cloud our acknowledgment of our campus’s hidden activism. Senior Ashley Scott, for instance, stands outside Collins Dining Hall without fail every Friday morning – 35º or boiling – and sells challahs to benefit Sudan relief and local charities. More broadly, last summer’s 24 Human Rights Fellows, and others with humanitarian internships around the globe, bettered society through extra-governmental channels.

And here at the Port Side, we practice activist, progressive journalism that panders to no administration. Like me, this publication has undergone a transformation. Throughout my tenure as Editor-in-Chief, we have elevated our content from what often amounted to a regurgitation of New York Times editorials to an increased focus on campus news and opinions. Why? Because trying to change what we can actually change makes us much more realistic activists.

So, as I say goodbye and depart for my historian-in-training semester in Vienna, I know that my activist spirit will live on in the Port Side’s pages – even if my appearance and actions scream, “Librarian!”

Michelle Lynn Kahn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Port Side, is a senior History-Government major at CMC. She just spent seven months in Europe, where orange juice has no pulp -- and is glad to be back in the Land of the Free and Home of the Fro-Yo. When she's not writing her senior thesis on Germany and Namibia, strategizing how to finagle her way into top history PhD programs, or learning French with a bunch of 5C freshmen, she'll be writing her new regular web-column "Schweinerei."

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Published with support from Generation Progress. genprogress.org

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