Last week at our Passover Seder my family got into a political discussion (read: screaming match). Someone brought up Israel and before you knew it Grandma was foaming at the mouth yelling something about Palestine. Though this is pretty standard, the convo shifted when my Grandmother asked if I had seen any of “this pro-Palestinian student organization happening on college campuses in Philadelphia.” Organizing? I don’t know what you’re talking about Grandma, these days college students aren’t politically active like that. After all, campus protests are so Vietnam War.
Now that G-ma mentioned it, Israel’s recent decision to build more settlements in Palestinian-controlled territory incited lots of controversy, which should’ve inspired a reaction on college campuses. At a university with such a significant Jewish population and groups such as Penn for Palestine, where was the activism? I had always known that students here were disinterested, but I figured most 18-22 year olds felt the same way. Now I’m being told that students at other schools in this very city care! Why the apathy Pennsters?
As I contemplated our school’s lack of political activity, I thought maybe our activism manifests itself in other ways. That’s when I became more aware of Penn’s public displays of activism and soon began to notice a visible political presence on campus. Last week a pro-life campaign’s posters decorated the green opposite Van Pelt. A few weeks earlier signs scattered across College Green protested the Iraq War. OK, so we don’t picket, but we clearly still care.
After assuaging my guilty conscience (you certainly won’t find me protesting outside Van Pelt), I was told that Penn undergrads had nothing to do with organizing these campaigns. There went my theory! My cynical self deferred to thinking nobody here cares.
But then it hit me: Penn students might not break out the poster board and Sharpie, but they are active in other — possibly more effective — ways. Like, by taking classes that challenge the way we think about these problems, that facilitate research and that inspire students. And even if you don’t work at Civic House, at the very least your Penn education provides you with the tools to confront your issue of choice.
Ok, so maybe I’m being a tad too optimistic. But, I’m going to accept this thesis for now. Or at least until the next round of OCR, or the next time I walk into Huntsman, or the next time I see a lone woman tying signs to trees.