Friday, January 8, 2021

Proud Alum

Yesterday I praised the preschool/elementary/ middle school where I have worked for their attention to social justice both as a daily practice for young children in the community and a larger study to prepare tomorrow’s citizens. Today I want to shout out to Antioch College, that remarkable place I attended between 1969 and 1973. 


At the time, it was simply known as “the hippy school” and that suited me just fine. I got P.E. credit for canoeing, physical science credit for wine-tasting in France and birdwatching, work/study credit for hitchhiking in California and our only intercollegiate athletic endeavor was our Yo-yo team. (I didn’t make the cut.) In freshman orientation, there was a staged debate between a long-haired yoga type and short-haired political activist, one claiming you could only change the world by changing yourself and the other by dismantling oppressive systems “by any means necessary.” The tension between those two apparently opposing views stayed with me my whole life (see E.B. White quote in the “About Me” section of this Home Page). 


There was—and still is—a monument to Horace Mann, Antioch’s founder, in front of the main building that reads: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind.” The bar was set high and in a different place than, “Get good grades so you can get a good job and earn lots of money.” While Antioch was big in heart, it was troubled in keeping afloat and some 10 plus years ago, after a steady decline in enrollment, announced it was closing just as an Alum Reunion was scheduled. The Reunion happened and instead of people sitting around moping, they roused their “can-do” political spirit and decided to re-birth the college through their own efforts. Which they—or I should say we—did. While enrollment is still small and the college is working hard to grow, this message sent recently by the current president affirms that its commitment to justice has never wavered (did I mention that Coretta Scott King and Eleanor Holmes Norton are alums?). I offer it as another model of educational vision that the country would be wise to follow. 


Antiochians and College Friends,


Like many of you I have been transfixed, dismayed and angered by the attempted coup d’├ętat against democracy that unfolded in Washington, D.C. yesterday. As someone who has participated in dozens of demonstrations and organized acts of civil disobedience over the years, I recognize and defend the universal right to nonviolent protest. I also recognize the difference between an act of protest and the brazen mob incited by Donald Trump.


His playbook has revealed itself without subtlety from his support of fascists and Klansmen in Charlottesville and racist, anti-immigrant incarcerations across the nation, to the separation of children from their parents at the border and the devastating mismanagement of the current pandemic with its deadly and devastating consequences, especially for people of color, the elderly and those with fewer means. In these and other egregious, inhuman deeds directed under his authority, we have witnessed the systematic machinations of a demagogue, a man whose narcissism is boundless and whose assault on truth and the freedoms of a democratic republic aspiring to serve justice.


Make no mistake: the strategies and intent being pursued in D.C. now—and since well before the 2016 election—are of a piece with the inextricable white supremacist founding narrative of the U.S. That narrative must be explicitly rejected for true justice to be found. This is a moment that must not be met with silence. It is a test of our moral courage to find common cause, clear voice and vigorous resolve to renounce and dismantle unequivocally (yet peacefully) all that Trump and his movement represents. This is a moment that calls for colleges of conscience and action. It is a moment where we might exercise individual and institutional power to widen the circle of inclusion, recognizing in particular those whose grief, anger and sadness has been most profound and whose presence and perspectives will only strengthen our country’s democracy. Conscience demands action. Trump and his key enablers should be condemned and held to account unambiguously for their sedition.


Voting is a powerful tool, but it is just the beginning of engaged citizenship. Antioch is a college of action, and thus I call on Antiochians to stand together, to stay politically engaged, to stand strong for participatory democracy, and most of all, to stand for justice.


With affection and great hope,

Tom Manley
President Emeritus


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