The Price of Being an Activist

On Monday’s class, we had three guest speakers: John McAdams, Kelly Wilz, and David Vanness. They shared with us their own experiences of being a scholar activist, mainly focused on three big questions: why do they become scholar activists, how do they perform their activism, and what’s the price of being a scholar activist.

John McAdams opened his blog in 2005, and he has been spreading his voice out aloud about the events around Marquette since then. Why open a blog? He said because it was such a easy way to make your own voice. I assume it came from his belief, about what’s right and wrong, and he couldn’t keep silent when he thought something wasn’t done in the right way. Some behaviors are corrected through his blog and his efforts, like the require of opening more 8:00 classes in Marquette, was canceled after his investigation proved their hypothesis wrong. After 11 years of blogging, now he’s considered as a “columnist”(defined by himself) who is “worth leaking information to” by many people, so he has his “sources”. Some of his articles were reproduced by other websites, aroused a lot of attention. However, it also caused him much trouble. His colleagues are afraid that he might write about them, the university doesn’t like his blog, want him to shut it down, but he didn’t cave. Now with the “issue”, his tenure is threatened. I think that’s one of the most costly price a scholar could pay for their activism. Was it worthy the risk? I didn’t ask him, but I sensed that he didn’t regret for doing what he believed was the right thing.

Kelly Wilz performed her activism through a blog and a website. Kelly said, when she Started blogging, she didn’t think much, only wanted to put up things happening around Wisconsin, and blog was really easy to use. But she ended up getting a lot of attention, which brought her both highs and lows in her life. She got 7 minutes to speak on the radio, which brought donations for their university, but also brought criticism to her colleague, made her feel sorry. Many of her articles were reprinted by other medias, she also got the opportunity to move from her own blog to “the academic blog”. But hate mails and personal attacks are also coming. As for the website and other activities, she can only work on them in her own time, they’re not in the job contract, though she works for the benefits of her university, and the other universities. It’s simply because she felt obliged to do something for all those hard-working but low-paying coworkers, and for higher education.

David Vanness regards himself as “on the quiet side of activism”. He’s not using blogs or websites, so luckily he’s been “left alone”, without those threatens or criticisms so far.

Our teacher Sara was also attacked, and even called to be doxed for her activism. They shared their solutions to those attacks — — one is “to ignore them, and move on”; the other is to fight back, write back to those critics, and knowing there will be only few people like that.

As they were talking, I was wondering who were those people attacked activists? And why would they attack scholar activists? Is it possible to get legal protection for scholar activism from personal attacks and threatens? Almost all of the scholar activists we’ve met, share a common belief: Nobody has the right to shut up others just because they are saying something they don’t like to hear. Maybe those attackers don’t have this kind of tolerance or belief, that’s the only reason I can imagine. If that’s true, then how can they gain tolerance of different voices? Both school education and family education could play significant roles in the process. But even if we are able to provide everybody good education from any school and any family some day, we still can’t guarantee everybody will grow into rational and reasonable person. Not to mention there’s a long, long way to go before we can provide good education for everyone. In the meantime, we should let everyone be aware that, they are allowed to enjoy the freedom of speech, but personal attacks and threatens are not included in this particular kind of freedom. If the society could cultivate a culture has no tolerance for personal attacks and threatens in daily life, would that help? Or is it possible?

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