Student activists, a.k.a. peaceniks or hippies, are all over the place. You know who they are and when to avoid them when they sit at tables outside the CAF trying to sell you buttons, t-shirts, and even cookies. What you may not know, however, is the great work that they actually do on campus. There are so many organizations that make real differences - grassroots style.
The League of Pissed Off Voters organized a voter registration drive and voter bloc campaign this past fall. They were part of a larger national movement that was focused on getting marginalized people (women, youth, and people of color) to vote in this year’s presidential election. There were over one 100 people on the League’s list-serve, but none of the group’s success could have been achieved if it weren’t for the loyal eight to twelve students who spent their time organize. Although George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 2% nationally, Winneshiek County went blue by nearly thirty votes because of the work that the League accomplished. A few people can make a huge difference – even if the end result is not desired.
Ever wonder how to attract more people to be involved in your organization? PRIDE (People for Rights, Inclusion, and Diversity of Expression) has managed to increase its membership tenfold. At the beginning of the year there were over 80 people that came to the first meeting. The meetings not only average around 20 members weekly, but they manage to organize two themed weeks every year that are geared towards educating the greater campus community on LGBT concerns that affect us all. This past weekend, PRIDE sent a group of 22 people (roughly 1% of the Luther population) to the fifth annual Midwestern Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Ally College Conference in St. Cloud, Minnesota. PRIDE leaders and members also presented two workshops at the conference that were geared towards helping other groups reorganize their leadership structure as well as increasing the effectiveness of organizations on small, religious, liberal arts campuses. A few people can make a huge difference – on and off campus.
In January of 2003, a handful of Luther students involved in SDAC (Student Diversity Action Coalition) had a vision of collaborating with others to create an entire week dedicated to peace. “Peace.” The idea was simple, but its purpose would go far and beyond the ordinary themed week. Each year, it has progressed in to something larger than it was before. Peace Week proves is an example of the power and ability of grassroots organizing. A few people can make a huge difference – and that difference can be sustainable.
Student organizing happens on colleges and universities world wide. But what exactly motivates students to become involved or not? These are the kinds of questions group leaders and members ask. However, they are questions we should all be asking ourselves. I’ve noticed that involvement in activism fluctuates like a rollercoaster. The greater the sense of urgency there is about an issue, the larger the turnout. There is a lot of work that needs to be done at Luther, in our communities and the rest of the world. This work is not meant to be left up to solely those in positions of power. A few people really can make a huge difference if they organize around an idea that people can be passionate about.