We applaud the Ithaca College students who felt compelled to take to the streets of Ithaca recently to protest and to bring light to national issues of racial and social injustice. It brings us hope that, when their time here is just a memory and the world of mortgage payments and kids’ braces has replaced the world of dorm life and finals, these young adults will have grown into mature adults who still have this drive to bring positive changes in society.
We are discouraged, however, that the protestors and Ithaca College students in particular felt that disrupting the lives of common, law-abiding citizens and depriving them of their rights to travel freely and to conduct business were justified by a perceived loss of the rights of an individual. It is likely that it had a negative impact on some that shared the views of the protestors. It is difficult to agree with a group that is preventing you from getting to work or possibly making you late for a job interview. It is almost certain that those who disagreed with the protestors have not changed their minds.
Where do the rights of one person stop and those of another begin? We wonder if these students realize that by breaking the law, they only encourage lawlessness. We wonder if the students truly believe that their actions will bring about lasting change. We also wonder if these same students have taken any actions toward actually changing the system they believe is broken.
Have these students been involved in the political campaign of a candidate they feel will further their cause? Have these students gotten involved in a campaign to convert disenfranchised citizens into empowered registered voters? Voters have power. Non-voters are victims. Have they gone out and actually encouraged citizens to vote? Have they encouraged citizens of color to become police officers? Have they become involved in mobilizing these disenfranchised citizens to take part in and make changes to the system they feel is broken?
The ethnic makeup of Ferguson, Missouri, is 60–70 percent black, yet one complaint being voiced by the citizens of Ferguson is that all of the elected officials are white. Are we the only ones that see an obvious fix? Why weren’t students out in the streets mobilizing voters? Why aren’t the outraged civil rights advocates encouraging qualified candidates of color to run for office? One election could change the entire climate of that community. The local- and state-level political systems are where true change takes place. They are also the easiest for citizens to become involved in and to change. Because of the active involvement of motivated young people, Ithaca elected a 24-year-old black man as mayor. The mayor is an example of what can happen when one person seeks to make a difference.
A problem without a solution is only a complaint. We encourage these motivated young people to stop complaining. We encourage them to seek, find and help implement real solutions to the issues. Taking to the streets, yelling slogans and carrying signs is easy. Doing the work it takes to bring about real change is hard. We challenge young people to get involved in the hard work of social change. We challenge them to stay within the law while working to change the law. We encourage them to fight for the rights of all citizens.
David Newport is a military veteran and currently works for the City of Ithaca, and Kathleen Newport is a former childcare worker for children in residential care. Email them at [email protected]