“I am large, I contain multitudes.” —Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
What is community?
Community is an idea. Community – that absent and encompassing body that you can give to and receive from and yet often never actually see. Community is shared dirt and trees and buildings. Community is the kitchen, the radio station, the hardware store – the classroom.
And yet this thing, this pervasive entity that so regularly works its way into our rhetoric, is often ignored as the most integral part of our discourses.
This brings me to the events of and leading up to November 10, 2011.
There is something about collective experience that unites people uniquely and solidly. Suddenly, those you barely knew are your ardent supporters, colleagues, friends. Time can bring people together slowly, but certain experiences can vilify a group in the course of a few minutes. The later, for example, has been the aftereffect of violence on our campus.
Perhaps all of our interactions will soon be reduced to violence – not merely of batons, but of words, of actions, of our violently pervasive apathy. I’m not talking about political apathy. I’m talking about our fear of human connection. We spend our lives in fear of rejection from the perceived amalgamated whole of the people around us.
As soon as you accept the inability of a few qualified students to attend university, you accept an entire ideology. Why should an underprivileged student with high marks be denied over one with ability to pay? So should be the mantra of a public university. When we stood together on November 10, we did so for ourselves, certainly, but also in defense of the rights of others. Because regardless of the increase, the truth of the matter is that most of us will not be directly affected by the hikes. Which is why, when I think about the truly life-changing peers, professors, and opportunities I’ve had access to, I’m thinking not about maintaining them for myself, but for absolutely anybody who has the drive and the desire to experience them as well.
Whether we say it or not, this is what we’re talking about when we talk about MUNACA, AGSEM, AMUSE, or any of the other groups whose voices are being silenced on campus. We must acknowledge, accept, embrace the fact that the current power structures are strong, except for their ignorance of the fact the we are many. Whether we were physically or emotionally hurt, pissed off, or complacent, we care deeply about each other.
In the preceding weeks and months before November 10, I have seen some of the most strident examples of human activism, cooperation, and kindness imaginable.
At the peaceful assembly on Monday, November 14, (including those who watched online) nearly 2,000 students, professors, staff, course-lecturers, TA’s, and community-members showed, in a very visual way, what a forum looks like. Surprisingly, this is not community. Community is larger than that. It is intangible, and all encompassing. What I actually saw at this event was a myriad of bright, burning individuals. For this is another misconception. Community is not a group or a label. It is the undulating mass of fiercely strong, individual personalities. It is that group that actualizes the self, makes us stronger. It amplifies our whispers, listens patiently at our dissent. Community is not something you can walk away from, like a rally, because it fosters (indeed it is dependant on) your agency within it.
Community is Campus Crops. Community is the Gaming Guild. Community is that patch of sloping lawn on lower field.
For, again, community is unthinkably large – it is all those who could possibly be touched by you – all those who have moved you. Which, again, is why it is inside all of us.
What the administration does not understand is that self and community are one and the same. When I speak, I think of all others, and yet think only of my self, for they are contained within me. I support those on strike not because of the way it directly affects me, but because of what I see of myself in them.
This is what we talk about when we talk about accessibility of education. This is workers’ rights. This is any concern based on what is, fundamentally, a suppression of voice. We must recognize future students as our peers, wherever we may choose to live after university. I see their struggle coming and I feel the need to do whatever I can to help.
What, then, can be done? The answers are many, but the most important are the simplest. First, reach out. The more you come to know and experience the truly wonderful people that make up this world – the more you internalize – the larger your community becomes. And, true, with this exposure comes the weight of realization. Namely, the concerns multiply.
But it is also grants one shares in the collective strength of the group – a group of people that are not brought together by a border or a workplace or a university, but by something much more human. Call it empathy, love, kindness – whatever you’d like.
Finally, you can speak out. Know, intimately, the words of those in our community who cannot speak them loudly enough on their own. Because whatever action is decided upon, what’s more important is that the administration (or, more broadly, those who hold power – who reject voices) knows that we are selfless and yet fully, wholly ourselves. For an autonomous, alienated governing body cannot do that which we hold so dear – it cannot love. It cannot embrace. It cannot internalize the hopes and dreams and concerns and voices of every single one of us.