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  • Up to a thousand students of Ithaca College, a private school in upstate New York, walked out of their classes to protest.

    Up to a thousand students of Ithaca College, a private school in upstate New York, walked out of their classes to protest. | Photo: Twitter | Omar ‏@OKshid

Published 16 November 2015
Go students! Go activists! Go and never stop!

I well remember the paternalistic condemnations we had to overcome to keep our boots moving when I was in college. "You are disruptive, disrespectful, violent, a disgrace." "Be civil. Cut out the dissent." "Grow up, grow up, grow up."

Truth be told, my reaction was, "Fuck you…" Not the best reaction possible, but also not the worst.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

I explained: "Your rules and structures disrupt my life potentials and so I disrupt your rules and structures."

"You don't respect me so you don't deserve the respect I have given day in and day out, all my life - until now."

"I am not violent because I believe violence for overcoming injustice is ineffective and I reject too many byproducts of violence. You support carpet bombing and ask me to turn my cheek to injustice that benefits you. Of course I don't take you seriously."

"Being civil is a fine value, I agree with you about that, but only if one exists in civil circumstances. Society's wars, racism, sexism, poverty, alienation, hypocrisy do not provide a civil situation."

Finally, I would conclude with a scream and a glare, "I am already grown up and the whole point of my actions is precisely that I am thinking of my future. I would like mine and everyone else's to be what we decide and not what you impose."

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Again, way back when I was in school, we weren't steadfast enough to accomplish our chosen tasks. We didn't get our eyes fixed onto a prize that we could pursue consistently and persistently enough to actually achieve a fully liberated future for you who are now awakening to protest and rebellion - and I am forever sorry for that failure.

And yes, by all means way back then we were sometimes too violent and very often too dismissive, too unyielding, too a lot things, but our  errors were made while pursuing justice. And they were errors only in that our acts sometimes unintentionally damaged our prospects because of how they could be exploited to weaken our outreach. They were never intentional acts of gross violence pursued to defend a deadly system - but it is true that we would have done better without them.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

I admit - is it age and disconnection or is it insight - that when I hear stories about contemporary students wanting safe spaces, or trigger warnings of discomforting content even in books, or seeking explicit top-down rules against certain utterances, I shake my head in wonder  and have some doubts. But, when I see students leave their prescribed patterns to protest, confront, disrupt, and demand, I say whatever flaws may accompany such courage, hopefully these activists can learn to diminish and overcome those flaws, more so than my generation did, and not be deterred but instead deepen their expectations, desires, and demands even as they get more militant and radical.

Those of you who are railing at the students for  their supposed free speech violations or incivility - get a grip or admit your true motives.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

By "get a grip" I mean if you are really concerned about free speech but you also support the students' efforts against racism, against rape and sexism, against war, against demolishing humanity via global warming, against wages that destroy dignity and impoverish families, against corporate and government spying, against corporate profit making, then say that very clearly and then exercise your concern about free speech not just where you think some possible act may in some minor way diminish your personal options but where it is utterly obvious that massive state and corporate incursions against free speech operate. You might also want to consider that today's students are routinely seeing their friends and neighbors shot down in the streets, losing their homes to vile banks, reduced to threadbare poverty. These students look side to side and see friends who will be saddled with enormous debt, friends who have been harassed or raped. And then consider that they live in a society where violence is the norm, where disrespect is rampant, where paternalism is celebrated. It is a wonder they aren't immolating their environments. They are, instead, merely trying to do better, much better.

And if what you object to is not presumed free speech incursions, but simply that students are in motion, admit that you don't like them trying to change their campuses and their country in the only ways at their disposal. Don't hide behind values that you don't apply to all, like free speech, civility, and the rest. Admit your true motives.

Finally, those who are demonstrating - can I offer a little bit of advice that hopefully has relevance even though it comes from far away in time and space?

What happens right now will tend to monopolize your feelings and minds. That is natural. It is also a dead end. This is a long struggle. Without a long view, the best intentions will peter out.

On the other hand, when I see that your gatherings all display banners for race issues, gender issues, economic issues, war issues, and ecology issues - it tells me that even while you may be immediately focused on one part of an overall agenda, you know that all parts matter, that all are worthy, that all deserve your support and should be giving you support. That is a giant step you have already taken.

When you encounter what feels like opposition, can I suggest that you not rush to assume that you face an enemy or just an ass. Why not assume legitimate confusion. Assume they may even be you before you became more aware and confident. Reach out. For those whodo prove to be enemies or asses, there is no great need to rush to that conclusion. For those who aren't enemies or asses, or who need not be, there is every reason to try to reach them.

And please, don't make another of our big mistakes. You have no binding ethical responsibility to educate those who are ignorant or hostile. You are not required and it is certainly a burden to be patient and bring along others and to experience even their racism or sexism or classism and then smile and patiently but compellingly explain and instruct rather than getting mad and walking off. But even if it is a burden, it would be unwise to avoid educating others based on your right to avoid the task. Instead, for your movement to win it is necessary to educate others. Indeed, it is paramount. Growing your movement, developing ties precisely to those who earlier did not agree with you and were even hostile to you, depends on reaching out effectively. It is prerequisite to winning, and winning is the point, not simply dissenting.

Things are often complex. You might hear someone say, "what the fuck are you doing, what about free speech," or "what are you doing, you don't know what the hell you want, I don't know what the hell you want." Sometimes this will be said by those who are trying to obstruct you, to derail you, to re-subordinate you. But the truth is, there will be others who will say much the same things in real and sincere ignorance and with honest concern. These latter people are quite reachable, if you put in the effort to convey compelling answers.

Call it an old guy's fetish but I can't help offering words from one more song… I hope you have your own songs, but some of my generation's aren't too bad…the songs that is, not always the singers.

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it's for real
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then they'll raise their hands
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharaoh's tribe
They'll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.

Transform your schools, your communities, your towns, your country. It will take time. It will not be easy. But it is possible. 

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