Keep the change coming

By Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

I remember less than a year ago, we were working with students all across the state along with, in fact, 89 percent of Minnesotans—for a 20 percent by 2020 Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). We rallied at the capitol after three weeks of whirl-wind planning, brought in 150 students from across the state, lobbied state legislators, and filled media outlets with stories. At last it passed the Senate, by a narrow margin. And then Governor Tim Pawlenty decided the ‘mandate’ language in the bill was too rigid and with the house majority (Republican at the time) leader, made sure it didn’t go anywhere. Our voices were choked, just like that.

Now things are easy. Tim Pawlenty, still Governor, has decided to take charge of the energy revolution. A recent study, commissioned by the state and financed by the utilities declared that transmission for 25 percent wind energy was not only feasible over the next 20 years, it was feasible now. The stakes were raised, heading for 25 percent Renewable Electricity by 2020, 30 percent from Xcel (Macalester’s power provider) because it already has a 10 percent mandate, and 20 percent for everyone else. A rash move? A few weeks ago, the RES passed the state Senate, and not just passed, it passed 63-3. On Monday, it was voted on in the state House, and passed 123-10—it’s headed to Pawlenty’s desk next. In four years, Macalester will get 15 percent of its electricity from renewable energy (it’s now about 3 percent) – and that’s not even counting the turbine we’ve got in the works. We are now the national leader on renewable energy policy—we’re moving America’s heartland back towards the sun.

I remember when there were parties mocking race, class and culture, or even our ignorance of the night sky and dangerous streets and global shipping, and no one seemed to mind. No one spoke up at least. I know that I. for one, was probably asleep by that time of night—but hey, I’m weird like that. No one seemed to notice that our orgs were mostly white, except those orgs that never thought about anything else. There were lots of divides: radicals and liberals, athletes, cultural orgs, activists getting cynical because of everyone else’s apathy, and no one ever talked about the students of faith, or the white rural folks, or Republicans. We all talked about that weird new Institute for Global Citizenship, the one that no one, even the organizers, knew anything about; but the question of our own global citizenship remained silent.

Now we have a campus forum on the non-PC party, because those most offended stood up and realized we had to figure out what this means for the whole of Macalester. While once we saw reactionary ranting against administrative policy, now we ask where we as a whole should be going. The dialogue last Tuesday was incredible; for a rare moment a pretty big section of Macalester’s community opened up, sat down together, and was simply honest with itself. This could be an incredible beginning. I wish you were there—a new world seemed so easy.

Last week the Mac Weekly hosted an opinion piece by a rape victim. Why never before? Are we suddenly open; do we now suddenly let the pent up torrent of real emotion and the deep realities in which we live come surging through this gap in Macalester’s routines? I certainly hope so—it is time to speak the unspeakable, for only then can it be confronted. Macalester fails if at this moment we give in to the pressure of the press coverage and the angry criticisms from community members. We fall if we just hang our heads in shame, and shut up, and act like except for this one incident, we really are a haven of justice and peace.

But you see, Macalester is a global college. We are the world. The fears and conflicts we now face are only symptomatic of global challenge. It is not just KKK outfits that can outrage the human soul, it can be our assumptions about wealth and poverty, about our relationship to the land, even the frivolity with which we can accept our place in the world. Down there are questions about our lives and futures themselves.

At the dialogue, I heard repeatedly the desperation of an illusion—Macalester as a place safe from the social challenges, inequities, and systematic abuses of the world—shattering. I feel for you who feel it breaking—I was there long ago, and it was the realization that there is no escape that has brought me to where I am.

Macalester is not a quiet haven to hone the skills that will insulate and protect you in this rough world. I pray for the fools who envision it as such—our future will not accept padding.
Macalester is a battleground. We are at the front lines of a new way of living, one founded in the brilliant intensity of a compassionate and impassioned humanity.
We can’t let the fires of this recent uproar die. We cannot smother them with normality. So speak! Be bold and lend your voice; yes, here in these pages next week, and around the table in the cafeteria, and even in your essays. Say the things too often left unsaid—so someday rape victims will not have to be anonymous. Maybe someday you will hear me be brave enough to tell you how I feel about consumption.

Strike when the iron is hot. Things are never, ever, this easy. The silence is usually deafening. Now the fractures in our community are open—the brokenness revealed—so get in there and build something. Change is so easy these days—just believe it and step up.