May 4 speakers discuss the look of activism through the years

Alicia Balog

The May 4 Task Force Lecture Panel talked about its experiences with activism and how it has changed throughout the years at the Kiva Friday. The panel, which included author David Burstein, activist Bill Ayers and activist and politician Tom Hayden, started after a screening of Danny Miller’s “Fire in the Heartland,” according to the May 4 Task Force website.

Burstein talked about how activism looks today despite concerns from older generations who feel the people of this generation are apathetic.

“The kind of activism that is taking place today is much more diffuse, much more diffuse on issues,” he said. “So you look at an issue like the environment, where there’s an incredible amount of energy – no pun intended – on the part of young people trying to fix the climate crisis we’re living in.”

He said 89 percent of people in this generation say they will work for less money at a company where they believe that working there will have a greater social impact.

Burstein also talked about how in this generation, ideas can travel from one place, such as Kent, to anywhere in the world because of the advancements in technology.

“A lot of this has led to a generation of people who are quite active and quite activist and care deeply about the problems in our world,” Burstein said. “We are also a generation that’s more aware than ever of what’s going on in the world around us.”

Burstein also talked about how the youth of our generation respect the activism of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and against the Vietnam War.

Ayers, who also spoke, opposed the Vietnam War, going door-to-door every day during the summer, handing out information and talking to people about the truth about the war.

“I heard Paul Potter, who was the president of Students for a Democratic Society, in a big auditorium, about this size actually, say to us students, ‘You have to find a way to live your life so that it doesn’t make a mockery of your values,’” Ayers said. “That phrase has been ringing in my ears ever since…. It’s a call for justice. It’s a call for consciousness. And it says to us, ‘You could have values. You could articulate those values. And you could express those values publicly.’”

That’s when he said he decided he was going to get arrested for the first time, and his brother had the difficult job of calling their parents.

Change didn’t come from the presidents, Ayers said. It came from the people, from the fire below the presidents and the government that sparked the change.

“Where is the fire from below? Demanding justice? Demanding an end to the environmental madness?” he said.

Ayers said our world today needs movement builders and makers and people need to start where they have access.

“As long as [Congress is] an auction house, why are you spending your time worrying there when what you could be doing is building a movement, building that power from below? We don’t have access to the Pentagon, the White House, the Congress. We have absolute access to the neighborhood, the community, the street, the workplace, the classroom. That’s where we should be organizing. That’s where we get our work done. And that’s where real power comes from.”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].