The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Think protest is 'distasteful and innapropriate?' Try war

By David Seitz

My favorite scene in the 1950 classic “All About Eve” comes when a rather drunk Bette Davis complains bitterly of her working class upbringing in front of monied guests.Suddenly and sardonically, she interrupts herself:

“I’m being ‘rude’ now, aren’t I? Or should I say, ‘ain’t I?'”

Rude indeed. Even at Dear Old civically engaged Macalester, talking about a sticky issue like class-much less owning one’s own position within that issue-can get a person shushed in the name of la politesse.

Take the war, for instance. In last week’s issue, we ran a letter to the editor poopooing the timing of a brilliantly executed protest meant to actualize in some small way the daily horrors of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. As part of a nationwide effort for a war moratorium, students in Macalester Peace and Justice Committee-Students for a Democratic Society spray painted the outlines of bodies on the snow across campus.

The authors of the letter argued that the staging of the protest right after a shooting at Northern Illinois University was “distasteful and inappropriate.”


The need to mourn the horror that took place at NIU is unquestionably heartfelt and deep.

But let’s unpack this. Is grieving the violence at NIU really contingent upon our willfully ignoring daily experiences of violence in Iraq-violence in which many of us who are U.S. citizens understand ourselves to be complicit?

Do we imagine the suffering at NIU as “more important” or “more real” than the ever-rising Iraqi civilian death tool in Iraq? If so, why, and further, how, did we come to understand some persons touched by violence as more deserving of compassion than others?

This isn’t about setting up a comparative framework of who has it worse. But even temporarily shutting down the conversation won’t help.

Not thinking about what role we can play in ending systematic violence in Iraq doesn’t point us toward an adequate way to heal from an isolated incident in Illinois.

The authors contend that “just like every other action, there is a time and a place for protest.” Exercising better judgment about when and where to protest, they suggest, would result in an outcome that benefits everyone.

But isn’t it obvious that the availability of such choices is a privilege? People living with, navigating and resisting occupation in Iraq or any U.S.-occupied corner of the world, can’t necessarily afford to not think about U.S. occupation in the name of that which is “tasteful.”

Framing the context for protest as a question of discretion or taste falsely suggests that protest is a luxury rather, than a form of accountability to our positions in morally urgent political realities.

The project of students in MPJC-SDS is nothing more than to sting us until we wake from sleepy and willfully ignorant complicity in human suffering. This strikes me as a deeply humane and conscientious response to our privileged positions within the machinery of war.

“Distasteful and inappropriate?” Well, okay. But who ever said rude was constitutively wrong?

Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. Sometimes, as peace activist Pema Ch”dr”n points out, it’s about being a mosquito.

Contact Opinion Editor David Seitz ’10 at [email protected].

View Comments (6)
More to Discover

Comments (6)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • K

    Kevin ArnoldSep 7, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website? My blog is in the exact same area of interest as yours and my visitors would truly benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Appreciate it!