In Oregon, self-designated militiamen have been occupying a federal nature center that had been closed for the winter. This act of civil disobedience is being led by two of Cliven Bundy’s sons, who are singularly inept and inarticulate. The Bundys are not from Oregon. They are acting on behalf of two ranchers who don’t know them and, because they are already facing jail time, don’t want the Bundys or anyone else to commit acts of civil disobedience on their behalf. Moreover, the Bundys and their supporters have picked a site so remote that reporters have had a hard time reaching it and an even harder time maintaining even basic cell-phone service from it. In essence, no one really cares that they are staging a protest in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the winter. And no one, least of all the residents of the communities near the nature center, can easily delineate the local and broader issues that these protesters have failed to connect in any persuasive or even coherent way.
In contrast, in November, students at Amherst College occupied Frost Library “ to show solidarity with students at “every other institution across the world where black people are marginalized and threatened.” Here are some highlights from an article by Sue Dickman that has been published in the Academic Newswire newsletter distributed by Library Journal:
“[The students] created a Facebook event and made posters advertising a sit-in to be held the following day in the lobby of the Robert Frost Library, a building at the geographical center of this small bucolic campus in western Massachusetts.
“The women had contemplated holding the event instead in the Keefe Campus Center—where the Multicultural Resource Center and Women and Gender Center are located—but decided that students of color were already very comfortable in Keefe. They wanted their event to “transgress the space,” they told LJ—to disrupt daily events. . . .
“Practically speaking, they also hoped that if they were sitting in Frost in the middle of the day, other students passing through might want to join in. . . .
“At 1 p.m. on November 12, students began to gather in Frost. The event had been billed as a one hour sit-in, but almost immediately, according to Librarian of the College Bryn Geffert, the event ‘took on a life of its own.’ After the organizers read a statement, student after student began to speak about the challenges they faced as people of color at Amherst, and no one wanted to leave. ‘Students began speaking, their talks prompted more talks, word quickly got around campus what was going on. More and more people flooded into the library and the more people that came, the more people who wanted to talk,’ said Geffert. By late afternoon on Thursday, more than 900 students were occupying the library—half the student body.
“Amherst President Biddy Martin had been en route to Japan on college business when the sit-in began. Several hours into it, she cancelled her trip and returned to campus, arriving at Frost at 9:30 that evening. While waiting for her to arrive, a group of students had drawn up a list of demands for her to address, and the group now known as Amherst Uprising was created. There were 11 demands in all, ranging from apologies from Martin and the president of the board of trustees “to students, alumni and former students, faculty, administration and staff” for past injustices to a formal [statement] “that condemns the inherent racist nature” of Amherst’s mascot Lord Jeff. Amherst Uprising leaders announced that they would remain in the library until their demands had been satisfied. They would not leave for nearly four days. . . .
“For those four days in November, the Frost Library was the epicenter of the movement. In addition to being the physical center of campus, the library became its charged focal point; approximately 1,200 students occupied it at the peak of the protest. The Center for Humanistic Inquiry, a new faculty center located on the library’s second floor, became Amherst Uprising’s media center. The Outing Club brought sleeping bags; faculty and staff brought food. A weekly open mic usually held in a dorm was moved to the library. Administration members, including Dean of Students Alex Vasquez and Geffert, spent the night.
“On his part, despite the disruption to the library’s normal daily functioning, Geffert was supportive of the events that took over the library: ‘I was actually gratified that the students chose the library,’ he toldLJ, ‘and most of my colleagues felt the same way. We really want the library to be seen as a place of inquiry and debate. We believe that research skills are important skills for addressing real issues and real problems. We saw the work that was occurring in the library from the students as absolutely consistent with the mission of the library and a realization in practice of the kinds of ideals that libraries espouse.’ . . .”
Sue Dickman’s complete article is available at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/12/academic-libraries/amherst-college-protesters-occupy-frost-library/#_