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Defending the PSA’s tactics

Roque Strew | Sunday, April 18, 2004

The April 16 editorial in this paper went to curious lengths to defend the administration on the issue of Taco Bell contracts and Fair Trade coffee. It likewise made a special effort to condemn the aggressiveness of the Progressive Student Alliance’s tactics. The editorial presented a thoroughly flawed and misleading take on both past history and present progress.I’ll attempt here, by examining the claims and contradictions of the editorial, to add a sense of balance. First, to sum up why the PSA is campaigning – although many of you already know – I’ll briefly relate the issues. A major tomato supplier to Taco Bell pays pickers starvation wages, unchanged since 1978. Taco Bell’s advertising contract with Notre Dame athletics expires this semester; the PSA wants the business relationship between Notre Dame and Taco Bell concluded, with a public statement affirming this. Fair Trade coffee is the other issue. The PSA would like to see Fair Trade coffee in the dining halls, assuring just wages to coffee growers in developing countries.This two-pronged campaign has been a long one, with only fitful cooperation from the administration. Calling the “dialogue” between the administration and the PSA “productive” is one of the editorial’s mysterious presuppositions. By what measure was it productive? For example, let’s turn to Claire Heininger’s article in Thursday’s Observer. Heininger reports that PSA members have met with Carol Kaesebier since last fall. A letter went to Taco Bell on March 5. This succinctly illustrates the commitment of the administration. Father Peter Jarret claims that it’s merely “out of fairness and prudence” that the administration won’t likely make a statement any time soon, until hearing both sides. Why did it take months simply to get this minor letter out? Also, the editorial notes that a follow-up call was made. Guess why. Yes, because of the walk-in. Heininger reported this, too. This is the sum of the productiveness lauded by the editorial.Besides, the administration’s dedication to “fairness and prudence” is dubious. The PSA’s meetings with Kaesebier included the presentation of a damning array of materials, including articles by the New Yorker and National Geographic on modern human slavery, detailing the working conditions of Immokalee tomato pickers. In December, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights urged Kaesebier to cancel Notre Dame’s Taco Bell contract. The injustice is well-documented and unambiguous.It was ambitious, trying to mold Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote – “Justice too long delayed is justice denied” – into an awkward, fatherly dictum. The editorial valiantly concluded with the quaint “Justice forced may disrupt justice forthcoming.” I can’t make heads or tails of this. It looks nice though, if you squint your eyes. Is it saying that “forcing” justice deserves reproach? More so than allowing injustice to endure? How something that hasn’t yet arrived can be disrupted is beyond me. Ditto even for how justice can “disrupt” justice. Is there some innovative multi-tiered conception of justice hidden here?What the editorial is trying too hard to say, I’m guessing, is basically this: justice is on its way, so don’t rush it. It urges patience. Looking deeper, it’s really saying this: the administration will act when it deems it fiscally (not morally) prudent to do so – or when it fears its sterling image will be tarnished. They decide when “forthcoming” is; they can stall and forestall at their leisure. Humbly contending with the “slow-moving” Kafkaesque process is the dissident’s proper task, suggests the editorial, while justice is hindered indefinitely. Justice has to wait its turn, apparently.Civil disobedience, the concept itself, seems totally alien to the writers of the editorial. This explains in part the editorial’s sheer incoherence. While mentioning civil disobedience at the beginning, the crux of their point is that we need to meekly acquiesce, that students who don’t serenely accept the system’s indefinite delay of justice are in the wrong. The PSA’s “confrontational approach” follows only after the exhaustion of other approaches, after progress slowed to standstill. The “willingness to address students’ concerns” was displayed in response to the PSA’s tactics. Civil disobedience isn’t as ineffective at Notre Dame as the editorial believes.As well-intentioned as the editorial was, it only erected another obstacle in front of the PSA’s campaign for justice. It did so by twisting and veiling the facts. It portrayed a fake dichotomy: the irrational dissidents versus the rational administration. But the most cursory glance over the history of the PSA’s campaign reveals that immense patience was exercised only to go wholly unrewarded. Justice was trapped in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. Delays followed delays into dead ends. The PSA and the hunger strikers want only to speed justice out of the maze – and civil disobedience is helping.

Roque Strew is a junior political science major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at wstrew@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.