By Andrew Milmore Special To The Hoya

I am, by most measures, an activist. My spare time is usually devoted to stuffing letters, pestering the Dean of Students, quoting Harry Wu and hanging up flyers. Let’s not forget writing long emails and tabling in Red Square. In addition to the normal lessons one learns in a year and half in college, I’ve learned how to write a press release and picked up a bit about how to slug through the red tape that insulates Healy Hall from campus.

The main issue I have pursued here has been Georgetown’s complicity in sweatshop production around the world. I think the experience of a year in a campaign like turns one into either loopy and optimistic super-progressives or self-satisfied and cynical realists. Many people presume that I belong with the former, convinced that any group called the Solidarity Committee must be a bunch of vegan socialists.

Incidentally, it’s not, and I’m not. Our president is a carnivorous business school student, and various GSC members are also involved in athletics, Academic Councils, drama, the Pep Band, the IRC and the Gospel Choir, to name a few examples.

If anything, being an activist of any type at this university steers a person toward the latter category, toward the realm of the cynics who call themselves realists. Consider how students are excluded from university decision-making at nearly every level. The GSC, for example, used to receive calls from various administrative offices telling us to stop sending them letters. In recent months, administrators have been more receptive, but I can’t help but wonder why a long and often expensive effort is necessary before students feel like we’ve gotten through, or had a direct effect upon our surroundings. College life really doesn’t need to be this way.

I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t mention that some conversations with my friends and classmates also threaten to drive me away from activism forever. There’s the simple short-sighted force of the “why bother?” argument. More disturbing still was the girl who told me she believed in the cause, but she was too scared to write her name on a petition for fear of law school interviewers nailing her on it after graduation. It’s not that the anti-sweatshop campaign is in anyway illegal, it was just her fear of publicly committing herself to her own judgment. That fear is not uncommon – most of us just express it in less obviously absurd ways.

So what’s a normal person to think? The decision-making offices of the university seem to be, and are, inaccessible to the great majority of students. Our frustrations with each other as students have proven more than sufficient to fill thousands of campus newspaper commentaries.

But there is a positive side to this picture. Individual students and student clubs benefit from the time and ideas of professors, campus ministry staff and, yes, even administrators. For example, for the Jan. 19 forum on Georgetown’s sweatshop connections, three professors plus Dean of Students James A. Donahue generously agreed to serve as panelists on just a few days notice. The Economics Department lent its video equipment to the event. Many offices volunteered their Xerox supplies when things got hectic at the last minute.

I feel pushed toward optimism because cooperation like this is quietly going on every week between students and those university employees who haven’t lost sight of how Georgetown should be.

As for frustrations with other students – the infamous Joe and Jane Hoya, perhaps – I can’t help but think of an incident in Red Square last April. As everyone but first-years might remember, there was a day when two workers came to campus from a sweatshop that produces those white baseball caps for Georgetown and other colleges. The workers, Roselio Reyes and Kenia Rodriguez, were both fired for speaking publicly about the brutal conditions of their factory. After their speeches, which had attracted a curious crowd in the Square, a hat was passed around to collect some money for Kenia’s college tuition.

Somebody on this campus wrapped a $100 bill in a $1 bill and tossed it, anonymously, into the hat. Overall, more than $200 was raised in less than five minutes. This type of generosity and empathy – though inspiring – is not uncommon among students here. It is what stops me, for one, from abandoning all hope that our university will interrupt business as usual and do the right thing on the sweatshop issue. It’s what makes activism in general not a completely foolish enterprise.

Yes, I’m more cynical now than I was on move-in day last year, but I’m also more optimistic in a fun, unrealistic way. Chalk it up to the Georgetown experience that we talk about so often, but so seldom appreciate in its entirety.

Andrew Milmore is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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