KWOC deserves respect for putting activism into practice

Last week, the Macalester community witnessed the culmination of KWOC’s yearlong campaign to demand that the administration move its p-card money from Wells Fargo to Sunrise Community Banks. As many of you already know, President Brian Rosenberg did not ‘cut the contract’ with Wells Fargo. I found this out while reporting on the rally held during the meeting in which Rosenberg and several KWOC leaders discussed the school’s decision. When I saw Rosenberg and David Wheaton walk out of the Campus Center toward Weyerhaeuser followed by four stern-looking leaders of KWOC, I could tell right away what had transpired in the meeting. Rebecca Hornstein’s ‘13 statement that followed confirmed my suspicions.

In that moment I asked myself, did KWOC fail? I’ve given it some thought, and I believe that the answer is no. When tensions between KWOC and the administration were escalating, I had several enlightening and reflective conversations about the group’s actions and what the implications were for the rest of the community. Time and time again, these conversations led me to understand that regardless of whether or not I align myself with the group’s goals and whether or not I endorse its tactics, I must respect them.

Until the KWOC sit-in last week, I had never truly witnessed direct action activism. My assumption is that I am not alone in this admission. I feel uniquely tied to KWOC for two reasons: as a co-editor-in-chief of the Mac Weekly, I am intimately familiar with the group’s public actions, and as a close friend to some of KWOC’s leaders, I have witnessed the emotional investment these students made during the campaign. And because I got caught up in the energy of the group (as I believe many students did), I felt particularly thoughtful when I heard the school’s final decision. Part of me feels critical of the group’s approach. Weren’t there better ways of going about this? Wasn’t there a way to get the administration’s attention without antagonizing the president? Another part of me deeply admires what the group has done. For the first time in my four years at Macalester, I saw students going to extreme lengths to stand up (or sit in) for what they believe in. The group may not have achieved their central goal (yet), but it demonstrated to the campus the power of community building. Yes, KWOC made mistakes, but the group can still serve as a valuable example of activism that so many students profess to respect, but very few actually participate in.

Perhaps the most important of all is the fact that KWOC has started a broad range of campus-wide conversations. I’ve overheard and participated in discussions about activism, banking, administrative responsibility, activism at the institutional level and the role of students in influencing administrative decisions. Some students I’ve talked with have expressed frustration with the group, criticizing the members for having unreliable data. Others praised KWOC for its energy and dedication. The group’s action might have elicited mixed responses, but the point is that people are responding.

It does not matter if you approve or disapprove of KWOC’s central goals and its direct action tactics. The students involved deserve respect, because ultimately they are putting into practice what many of us here at Macalester have been taught: to stand up for what we believe in. My intention is not necessarily to say whether or not KWOC’s strategies are ideal for Macalester, but I do believe that making significant change on a campus like ours requires the energy, determination and vigilance that KWOC demonstrated.