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Changing the world one semester at a time

Peter Quaranto | Tuesday, April 27, 2004

We live in times that try men and women’s souls. Thomas Paine, the great American patriot, used these words 228 years ago to summon a people to action for freedom and justice. Through his call to action, Paine began a tradition of social change, deeply embedded in the heart of the American people, that has driven some of the greatest moments of American history: the women’s suffrage movement, the labor movement for economic rights and the Civil Rights Movement. Beyond America, the course of human history is filled with stories of individuals creatively engaging the structures of their time in work for justice. Perhaps the greatest of these was a man from Nazareth 2,000 years ago who preached truth and love to the fear that consumed the powerful. Today, we live in a world that deeply needs such inspiring words and action.We need simply to open our eyes to recognize the need for change in our community, country and world. Individuals might disagree on the nature and scope of this change, but acceptance of the status quo is a fatal mistake. In the United States today, 44 million Americans lack healthcare and 34.6 million Americans live in poverty. Tonight, over 24,000 people around the world will die of hunger. Tomorrow, thousands of children will be abused, hundreds of thousands of women will face discrimination and millions of workers will be exploited. To accept this situation as the best the system can do is to turn one’s back on the rich tradition within American and human history of ordinary people creating change for the common good. We need change and we need to be the bearers of that change.As it is at many colleges, Notre Dame students for too long have been defined by characteristics of apathy, conformity and complacency. I certainly admit that I have written on this many times. Yet to simply see our community in this light is to miss the many people working on campaigns for constructive social change. In the past two weeks, over 145 people have fasted and taken a stand for justice for tomato pickers in Florida. Their commitment to demanding that our administration live up to its ideals is a beacon of hope that we can all be instruments of social change. In these times, it has become commonplace to hear people of diverse political and religious orientations speaking in terms of the crossroads we face personally, nationally and universally. There is a consensus that we stand at a moment of contingency in determining the future of our lives and institutions, but are we committed to shaping the outcomes? Will we be spectators of this future or will we drive its construction?This is a pivotal moment on a number of fronts. In terms of national politics and shaping the international order, what is the direction that we want the United States to take in its language and actions? In terms of domestic politics, what are our priorities? In terms of our own community, what direction should Notre Dame take in order to most fully live out its ideals? Finally, how will we unite to act for positive social change?It is this last question that a group of us will try to answer as we converge on Fieldhouse Mall today from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for the America Needs a Change rally. This rally for local and national change will be an opportunity for the many social action groups of Notre Dame to connect and raise their voices for equality, peace and justice.As we stand at these crossroads, we need as many people as possible to come together to foster a new dialogue about the substantive issues that are affecting real people. We need an active community of informed people committed to using their gifts for a better future for all Americans and all people. We need to bring people into this dialogue to seriously engage one another about the challenges and obstacles that we face in creating a community committed to justice. Change will not come simply through our discussing topics in our classes or sharing time at exciting dorm events; change will come when we commit ourselves to its work in tangible ways. Change will come when we embrace the call to action that lies within all of us. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” The time is now and change begins with you and me.

Peter Quaranto wants to thank his “unofficial editors” for all their wisdom and guidance this year: Alice, Mark and Julia. He also wants to thank all of the inspiring seniors that did change the world one semester at a time: Cecilia, Jim, Chris, Brigitte, Andrew, Tom, Nadia, Monica, Liz, Kate, Keri, Maureen and so many more. Finally, he wants to thank the Red Sox for winning six of seven thus far against New York. Times are changing. Contact him at pquarant@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.