Viewhead | Active citizenship on campus and beyond

A few weeks ago I learned that Radix – the journal of liberal and radical thought – bit the dust. A sad event indeed, especially since I helped found that organization during my stint at Tufts.

Radix was one among many organizations that I was involved with, but it also played a special role. Radix has its roots in the lesbian and gay rights movement in 2000. The Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) had denied a student a senior leadership position because she identified as a lesbian. The Tufts Community Union Judiciary revoked their privileges as a student organization for violating the Tufts non-discrimination policy. Under intense pressure from right wing and libertarian organizations that believed non-discrimination policies should be abolished because they limit free association, the Committee on Student Life overturned the decision and reinstated TCF.

That fall, a coalition of students called the Tufts Students Against Discrimination (TSAD) conducted a series of rallies, banner-hangs and teach-ins that culminated in the November sit-in at Bendetson Hall. About 20 of us occupied the building for two days, resulting in the President affirming a student’s right to believe in their own identity.

During this time, many of us felt that the campus media outlets were decidedly biased against us. The poor media coverage of these events became our inspiration to create an alternative media source, and Radix was born.

During its four-year tenure at Tufts, Radix covered issues related to globalization, feminism, over-consumption, racism, identity politics, jingoism, environmentalism, direct democracy, prison reform and the anti-war movement. Perhaps one of the journal’s highlights was of its coverage of the protests against George H.W. Bush’s Fares Lecture in February of 2003. The Tufts Alumni Association accused a Senior Award recipient of giving the President “the finger” – an accusation that they used as an excuse to revoke her Senior Award. Radix published a picture of the one person who did flip off the President and it was not the accused.

Radix’s legacy is not clear, but its unceremonious departure from the media fray defines the exit of a social movement just as much as its presence in the past helped to define campus social movements.

Radix was not the first of its kind. As long as the University keeps admitting creative parvenus, it will most certainly not be the last. I expect to see another leftist magazine at Tufts in the near future. Tufts, of course, has always been infested with the radical element. Their activity peaks and troughs, as if to give the campus a chance to catch its breath before the next torrent.

Besides my involvement with the media, the rest of my time at Tufts was a race against the clock. You only get four years before it is time to pack up and move on, so I tried to institutionalize activism as much as I could.

I was always concerned with softening declines in activism by supporting the organizations that harbor active citizens: Oxfam Cafe, Crafts House, the University College, etc. Institutions like these help maintain continuity when burnout sets in or when the ownership society is on the march.

As an Omidyar Scholar I co-authored a booklet – Working by Consensus – to promote direct democracy in student and community organizations. It wasn’t very much, but it was something. Today I am heartened that most of my Tufts friends with whom I still keep in contact find a way to bridge their career paths with their passions as active citizens. Many of us are connected to the Tufts Progressive Alumni Network (TPAN) through which we maintain our connection to our alma mater.

TPAN serves as a networking resource, a place for campus social movements to tap for alumni support and a sense of historical continuity and occasionally (when we can find the time) a programmatic event. We put active citizenship at the center of what we do.

This is the challenge that we all face as graduates: to continue to be active citizens in our communities. Adjusting to a new community after being uprooted from campus is not always a smooth transition to make, but it is a necessary one. Radix may only live in the University archives, but those of us who worked on it are just getting warmed up.

It takes time and energy to build a better future. If you took the time out of your busy campus life to do it, you can almost certainly find the time to do it afterwards. Good luck and Godspeed.

Louis Esparza LA ’03 is a doctoral student in sociology at Stony Brook University and a member of the Tufts Progressive Alumni Association.