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You gotta fight for your right

Andrea Laidman | Monday, September 3, 2007

The day after the Senate voted to authorize eavesdropping without warrants on international communications, including those involving Americans in the U.S., the heads of Notre Dame’s student government alerted their constituents to an alarming threat to constitutional rights in our daily lives: a new Common Council ordinance regulating “special events” in South Bend.Nothing short of a revolution – on the scale of Notre Dame student activism, that is – has ensued.Notre Dame students have organized in unprecedented numbers, as evidenced by chains of outraged e-mails planning responses and action, multiple articles in the South Bend Tribune quoting concerned students and the Facebook group, “Fight the new South Bend City Ordinance,” which has gathered over 2,400 members in a matter of days since student government’s e-mail in early August.The online group’s profile calls the ordinance “a directed effort to hamper the living quality of a group of people who are an easy target and don’t have a lobbying interest in the government.” The group’s creators question the legality of an ordinance “restricting a private gathering on private property” and “targeting a specific subgroup of the population.”The anti-ordinance Facebook group even raises the possibility of aid from the American Civil Liberties Union: “The ACLU, as much as they are maligned, does do some good and may be able to help us in this situation.” But most ACLU representatives in the news in recent weeks have focused on the new wiretapping measures as a major violation of civil rights, somehow overlooking those fighting the good fight at Notre Dame.And so, while Democrats like Hillary and Barack and newspapers like the New York Times express their outrage and dismay at the failure of a Democratic Congress to resist another “stampede” by the Bush administration, and while the founding fathers presumably roll over in their graves at the trampling of the basic values of our nation, Notre Dame students fight for their right to party.It’s not that I fail to see the absurdity of a city ordinance that addresses “special events” of 25 or more guests at “boarding houses” or that I don’t recognize that the South Bend Common Council’s proposal intentionally targets student parties.I simply can’t help but question the political priorities of our students – and really, our generation – when issues from war and political corruption to poverty and disease in Africa elicit responses from students that pale in comparison to the current indignation over the proposed South Bend ordinance.I simply can’t help but ask, where was this type of activism as stories broke about abuses of detainees – including American citizens – held without charge at Guantanamo Bay?Where were outraged students discussing “a group of people who are an easy target and don’t have a lobbying interest in the government” when Hurricane Katrina revealed shocking levels of poverty and a pitifully inadequate federal response? Yes, hundreds of Notre Dame students have spent time repairing homes along the Gulf Coast, but where was the political savvy and willingness to protest that we’re demonstrating now?Where was this level of awareness when a classified CIA agent’s identity was exposed to the press by core members of the current White House, putting at risk the agent’s life and mission of protecting our nation?One explanation is that these national issues do not affect our daily lives as students. It follows, according to this mentality, that students get most involved when something impacts their campus – something like the Common Council ordinance.But I don’t buy it.If impact on campus is what fuels such a heated, student-led response, where were Notre Dame students when eminent Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan was denied entrance to the U.S., and therefore the opportunity to teach at Notre Dame, over several hundred dollars of contributions he made to Islamic charities?Where were these coalition-building efforts when last week’s episode outside Club 23 revealed a need for dialogue with members of the South Bend community over an incident and issue that certainly impacts the lives of Notre Dame students?Where were Notre Dame students?At special events and social gatherings in residential areas and at homes zoned as boarding houses, where over 25 guests could have access to alcohol.That’s just one answer, but I think it explains a lot about the current student opposition and political battle in South Bend.

Andrea Laidman is a senior political science and peace studies major. Her column’s title recalls advice given to John Adams by his wife, Abigail: “We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.” She can be contacted at alaidman@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.