By Laura Finley, Ph.D.
I am writing and raging. Raging because I am tired, oh so tired, of my
activism being repressed or limited by bureaucratic minutia and
ridiculous protocol. I am even more upset at the ways bureaucracy
stifles my students who, because they are informed and outraged, want
to act and are told they can’t, or can only under certain
conditions… blah, blah, blah.
I am coming to realize that this squelching of real activism happens
on so many fronts, even those we typically associate with freedom to
assembly and expression. As a college professor, I have witnessed the
difficulty of enacting a true mission for social justice because, any
time we get “too controversial,” we might alienate a donor, future
donor, or other bureaucratic big-wig. Thus final approval for
activism, it seems, must come from, of all places, a division devoted
to making money for the institution, not one devoted to its mission or
to the empowerment of students as leaders.
It is even worse for students. Increasingly, students are told they
can only organize if they get institutional approval. And they must
speak out only in designated “free speech zones”—wasn’t the United
States founded as a free speech zone? How oxymoronic, emphasis on the
latter half of the word. Those who have power can lord over those
without, curtailing their efforts to envision and begin creating a
It is not just academe where this is a problem, however. I have
written before about the bureaucracy of social services and the ways
that these entities sometimes harm, rather than help. It is even
evident among progressive peace and justice organizations, although I
would argue it looks different. It may be disguised as offering a
“voice” to all, but when some exercise veto power, or at least attempt
to do so via bureaucratic strangling, the result is the same.
For instance, I have seen this squelching of ambition and activism via
an electronic handcuff known as track changes. Instead of applauding
persons who author critical commentary on social issues, an important
form of activism, I would argue, I have seen members of peace and
justice organizations attempt to curtail or rein it in by softening
the word choice and track-changing the ever-loving-hell out of a
document. So, instead of being justice-oriented yet provocative, this
activism ends up mundane and, in all likelihood, boring and unread.
What do I recommend? We let people be and we let them put their
messages out there. Others who may disagree can do so. Dialogue will
ensue—a good thing. We stop using our academic privilege to present as
though our style of delivery is better than others. And, we encourage
students, academics, and activists to prevail through the bureaucracy
until they are heard.
I know I will, rant aside.