I will admit I am not an especially active activist. In fact, most people would be hard pressed to call me an activist. I tend to get wrapped up in my own work and achieve a type of tunnel vision that guides me from my computer at home to my computer at the office and the classrooms in between.
Which is one thing that’s caught my attention of late: the number of protesters around Bloomington. It is, in a word, refreshing.
Refreshing is probably not the word you expected me to say, but the presence of protesters outside Starbucks reminds me that politics are an important part of our life. You see, I might not actually agree with the protesters, but it is invigorating to me to witness people using their First Amendment rights to speak out.
Take, for example, the Protect Griffy Alliance. I actually agreed with them — once. I wasn’t in favor of the golf course, and I was pleased to see the golf course stopped. But since their slam-dunk victory, and what a victory it was, the group has insisted upon pounding IU’s administration into the ground. I thought it was enough to embarrass the trustees into taking the issue off the table before a vote could be taken, but the group continues to pursue the issue.
While I do not agree with their goal, this development is refreshing because the leaders of the group did not disband the organization once victory was achieved; they continued to focus and refocus on other related issues. That they are doing this forces me to continue to question what I think.
Another group that has been protesting a lot is the group outside of Starbucks. I never quite understood this group, but at least they made me question my coffee-drinking habits. Did I want to enjoy the overstuffed chairs and pretentious environment of Starbucks, thus dooming 12-year-olds to picking more coffee beans, or did I want to continue to enjoy SOMA with its quirky and charming environment? I don’t know where SOMA gets its coffee, so I don’t know if any child labor is involved.
The Education for a Sustainable Future group that protested outside Starbucks, McDonald’s, Ben and Jerry’s, Taco Bell and Subway, this past week almost convinced me single-handedly to shop at each one of the five stores. The group complained about the union-busting record of McDonald’s, along with usual (and unusual) complaints about the other businesses.
McDonald’s has a union-busting record? I didn’t know about it, but perhaps I should shop there more often. While some unions are good, many unions want businesses to be unionized just so they can get their greedy hands on the employees’ wages. I know this sounds bad coming from a liberal, but not every business is out to screw its employees over, and, believe it or not, some employees actually think that their wages and benefits are great, without a union “negotiating” for them. That said, I think a union for IU’s Associate Instructors might actually be a good idea.
This activist period in Bloomington has been extremely refreshing, and it mirrors, to some extent, what is going on nationally. The WTO protests in Seattle, which some IU students and Bloomington residents are taking part in, have led to protests in Washington D.C., with 600 people getting arrested Saturday outside the World Bank headquarters.
Regardless of whether you agree with these protesters, they have managed to put on the table a number of topics that previously had been overlooked. When I chat with my friends we are just as likely to talk about the protesters outside Starbucks as we are to talk about the weather. That in and of itself is a remarkable victory for the protesters.
The dynamic marketplace of ideas is hard at work in Bloomington, and we are all better off because of it. Discussion about all of these issues (and non-issues) encourages the democratic process and when really important issues arise, it means that we are more likely to discuss them. I-69 is a good example of an issue more important than Subway’s marketing techniques, which is what the Education for a Sustainable Future was protesting against. I can only assume they don’t like Subway’s exploitation of Jared Fogle, the senior who lost weight using his “Subway Diet.”