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Voicing dissent

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Last week, during the National Student Week of Action, freshmen Tony Rivas went on a seven-day hunger strike to call attention to migrant worker struggles and university polices incongruent with Catholic Social Teaching. Thankfully, his brave act received the appropriate media coverage.

Yet, Notre Dame has a bad habit of ignoring the acts of its resident activists, thereby defeating attempts to build a politically engaged campus, on any issue. If people knew more about what real students are doing for justice like Rivas, integrating social concerns in Domer life would not seem so challenging. A movement of any group, especially students, needs all kinds to work successfully. Five people in particular taught me this.

Meet the professional, who in the past year has elevated her activism to her highest priority. Whether protesting FTAA in Miami, attending the World Social Forum in India or giving keynote speeches at activist conferences, Cecilia Garza integrates her passion for justice into her life impressively. She works with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign – a widespread movement to end poverty – intensely during breaks and mobilizes here on campus. This past year, I have watched her become increasingly anxious, ready to leave Notre Dame for full time organizing. While I shall be sad to see her go, I rejoice in knowing that soon she will be exactly doing exactly what she wants: fighting for change and teaching others to do the same.

Meet the renegade, who places no limit on her concern for human dignity and social justice. While Brigitte Gynther’s main work focuses on the Taco Bell boycott with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, talking to her gives one information about tons of issues and disputes around the world worth attention. She maximizes her time, spreading it among several campaigns, yet dedicates her all to each. To me she represents an ideal spiritual and moral life for she is ultimately concerned with the quality of human life and works toward concrete solutions to social inequities.

Meet the angel, who cares so much for people and shows it in her friendships and justice work. I admire how Kate Maich incorporates faith with activism, by engaging Catholic Social Teaching through academics and social work. She brings her passion for labor rights – fortified by her work with National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice – to all Progressive Student Alliance campaigns. With every task, she proceeds with an alert precision, aiming for inclusiveness and success. She recognizes her weaknesses and works to increase her knowledge of issues by going into unfamiliar disciplines and bringing her ideas to discussion. I see she genuinely longs to dedicate herself to service after college to not only help people, but also to further challenge herself and to do more for causes she already cares for deeply.

Meet the artist, whose silliness and sarcasm brings needed relief to often tense and difficult times. Tad Skotnicki’s wit provides fresh perspectives to discussions and enlivens our protests. His guitar playing and lyric improvising at last week’s mass protest at Taco Bell made the event extra exciting. Every time I talk to him, I end up learning something new, whether about music, history, philosophy or literature. Most of all, he is honest and unreserved in expressing his thoughts and opinions. Such an attitude delights especially in a time of so much insincerity.

Meet the pragmatist, who brings a sense of process and order to the colorful mix in PSA. Christian McNamara can always be counted on to offer a helpful tip or framing concept for an event. He fills in the gaps with careful thinking and valuable experience. It was a pleasure working with him this past year especially in our meetings with University officials concerning the athletic department contract with a Taco Bell franchise. His demeanor and style impressed me and I learned from simply watching him. He listens to people and takes time to understand their situation before offering an opinion. I admire his wide range of interests and willingness to venture beyond conventional student life.

With abundant academic and funding resources, chiefly the Center for Social Concerns and the Higgins Labor Research Center, Notre Dame students have a great opportunity to pursue social change. The University’s prestige assures that any real success activists achieve will cause rippling effects throughout the collegiate landscape and the country.

The five students I mentioned recognized this aspect of Notre Dame and worked diligently to be the change they wanted to see on campus and in the world. They taught me everything I know about organizing and I shall always be thankful for their guidance and friendship. I will continue to use them as my model and I hope similar groups of students will continue to rise up and carry on the work and spirit of activism on this campus.

Kamaria Porter would like to thank everyone who came to Fair Food Friday of the Century to spread the news of the Taco Bell boycott. Also, she would like to thank the Week of Actions organizers, panelists and patrons. She can be contacted at kporter@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.