Raising Our Voices: Three Weeks of Activism at St. Lawrence University

By: 
Emery Younger
Class of: 
2017

At 7 p.m. on Election Night 2016, my plans for the day were going perfectly. Roughly ten vans of students had been driven to St. Lawrence’s polling place, close to 200 absentee ballots had been mailed out in the weeks prior, and well over 500 red, white, and blue balloons were blown up and ready to be dropped at the moment that Hillary Clinton was declared the 45th President of the United States.

As a government major and the president of SLU Democrats, I was ready to join with some of my fellow students to celebrate an almost certain electoral victory. By midnight, however, the Student Center was hushed and it became clear that SLU Democrats’ plans for the next four years were going to have to be revised.

My immediate reaction was a sense of shock and disappointment as an election that seemed to be a guaranteed Democratic victory had been lost.  As we popped our now useless victory balloons and ripped down our Get Out The Vote posters, however, each member of the organization began to realize that this defeat was a new opportunity to engage in political activism.

Over the past four years at St. Lawrence, I have been given countless opportunities to express my opinions on current events, through both classroom discussions and real world experience. Last year’s election ushered in yet another chance to become more active in my local and global community.

Many of the civic engagement opportunities that I have participated in have been facilitated by SLU Democrats, but this is not to say that St. Lawrence only embraces students with a liberal political ideology. Our campus is also home to Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Independents, and plenty of students who are still refining their political opinions. As students, we find ways to unite even when our political opinions divide us. In recent years, this collaboration has been put on display as members from both SLU Republicans and SLU Democrats come together on the anniversary of September 11th to cover the Brush Quad with American flags. As Laurentians, we embrace not just acting on a personal political belief, but also collaborating with others, even when we may not see eye to eye.

In the days after the election, I struggled to determine how to best react to the incoming president. As someone who calls New York City home, I am used to having major political demonstrations within a 20-minute subway ride. In a small town like Canton, however, finding ways to impact global issues is not always obvious.

In late November I learned that I would be able to join SLU Democrats in our first event of post-election activism, by attending one of the largest U.S. demonstrations in the 21st century. With the support of SLU’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, SLU Democrats made the trip to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March. Standing on the National Mall, surrounded by close to one million individuals from every state in the union, I was empowered by the sense of unity and hope the permeated nearly every inch of the nation’s capital. I returned from Washington energized and prepared to continue to stand up against policies that I found troubling.

For me, The Women’s March also kicked off a three-week stretch of activism that allowed me to voice my opinion each week on concerning national and local issues.

Just nine days after my return from Washington, President Trump issued an executive order that prevented residents of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. Within hours, some of the country’s largest airports were overrun with protesters who challenged the legality of the new law.

Although far away from these major metropolitan areas, SLU students and residents of Canton still showed our opposition to this policy. Empowered by my experience in Washington, I created a sign and marched with fellow Laurentians to Canton’s Village Green. There, we joined roughly 200 community members to listen to speeches from individuals impacted by this ban.

Our protest may not have been as large or as publicized as rallies in Boston or Los Angeles, but it was just as impactful. The Canton protest showed both our campus and community that we support individuals of all backgrounds and faith traditions. Our local activism also allowed students to express their feelings towards the government without the cost of travelling to another city or state.

Engaging in activism isn’t just about make your voice heard about national or international issues. Activism also involves being responsive to local issues and concerns.

Recently, a local politician made a racially insensitive comment about President Obama. This action offered another yet opportunity for me to participate in a local activism event alongside SLU Democrats. About a week after Canton’s rally to support Muslim immigrants, ten of us headed to a session of the County Legislature to voice our disagreement with the local politician’s comments. Testifying in front of a packed room, our members respectfully criticized the legislator not just as St. Lawrence students, but also as Canton voters.

I was amazed not only by how many residents of St. Lawrence County turned out for this meeting, but also how peacefully every attendee acted. Even when our country seems more divided then ever, local activism allows us to engage in conversations about issues related to the future of our community in civil and respectful way.

As activists on both sides of the aisle continue to determine how to react to the current administration, Canton has shown me that you don’t need to be in a major metropolis to be engaged in major issues. At St. Lawrence, I have engaged with contemporary concerns not just through theoretical classroom conversations, but through concrete actions. With the of support St. Lawrence’s active political community, I have been able to make my voice heard, speak out for the causes I care about, impact the world around me, and ultimately learn from those around me.