My little sister came home the other day and informed us over tea that she and the rest of the ninth grade had been taken to protest the opening of a liquor outlet about two hundred metres from the back entrance of our school.
The aspect that my mother took issue with was that this protest seemed to have been randomly decided, and no one’s parents had been informed beforehand; she, having long been subjected to enactments of The Pied Piper of Hamelin in her college classes whenever the national, state, or city political equilibrium wavered slightly, would never have consented to letting my sister attend a protest for a cause she did not even care about. The aspect that I find most disturbing is my sister’s statement that she did not even know what was happening until they reached the outlet. Reportedly, the class was assembled in front of the principal who quietly explained that they were going to stop people from selling liquor near the school. The handful of students who listened to this announcement were filled with glee at skipping a few classes, and the rest were left in the dark until the single file had finished making their way down the slope through the back entrance and gathered in front of the offending establishment.
They were greeted by a political leader who in recent days had faded into obscurity, and a middle-aged woman, some kind of activist, who led them in protest as one leads the most fervent of prayer circles. They shouted, they chanted, they recited poems, they sang songs about the evils of alcohol. An hour and a half later, authorities arrived to seal the door shut. The students were fed biscuits and led back to school where they were treated to ice cream.
The next day’s paper reported that the passionate efforts of the students of our elite private school had managed to remove a safety hazard from a residential area, and that even though the outlet had attempted to reopen in the evening, this was prevented. It also said that the residents of the area had been deeply aggrieved by the introduction of this shop, and that they too had joined in the protests. My sister, however, tells me the residents had stared blankly at them from behind their gates. The next day, the owners made another effort to make the outlet function, but they were again prevented by the timely action of a hoard of “uniformed schoolgirls.”
Student politics has been a subject of heated discussion all over the country for decades. Many associate it with violence and bloodshed, some are indifferent to it. The fundamental principle behind the institution of political organisations in educational campuses, however, is to create a future driven by thinking, analysing, reacting young citizens. All colleges and most public schools have some degree of involvement in political protests and boycotts. Private schools like mine, though, are largely autonomous and enjoy a safe distance from state policy and political tension. So, when our students took to the streets in loud opposition, journalists swarmed to the scene for maximum coverage. When, on the first day, some students found themselves tongue-tied in front of the microphone and video cameras, they came to school the next day with previously prepared responses, on the off chance that they might be in a similar situation again. Some parents lamented their children’s absence from the media footage aired later that day. My sister says the woman leading their battle cries was literally crying with the force of her passion. All in all, it was a strange two-day event.
Another popular debate topic in the country is the distribution and consumption of alcohol. Activists have been rallying for a nation-wide liquor ban for quite some time now. In our state, alcohol can only be sold by one particular licensed government chain of outlets. The outlet that garnered so much accusation was one that had had to be relocated due to the new law saying alcohol could not be sold in the general vicinity of national highways. Most people who do not consume alcohol seem to believe that it is the root of all evil, and look down on anyone who drinks. The process of distribution has now been made time-consuming and undoubtedly demeaning, as buyers are forced to stand in endless queues outside these permitted outlets.
How many of the student protesters actually knew the background of their cause? I would say none of them did. Would they have set out to close down a liquor outlet if their school principal had not made it mandatory for them to do so? Probably not. Were they filled with rage on hearing that someone had dared to sell alcohol near their school? They could not be more apathetic about it. And yet, as pictured above, they seem entirely immersed in the spirit of protest: or, at the very least, the spirit of having an apparent common cause. It looks more like they’re at a rock concert to me, but I could be wrong. The point is that they are clearly swept up in mass hysteria. While they were protesting, they completely believed that the outlet was the clear antagonist, and that there was no doubt that the proximity of liquor and its consumers was destroying their peace. And these passionate protesters were children of fourteen who posed for photos with their free biscuits raised high in the air, minutes after they had achieved their goal, and came home to tell the story laughing about the ridiculousness of it all. The picture immediately reminded me of the sheer delirium of mob mentality in the Orwellian Two Minutes Hate, and the utter hatred for Goldstein and state enemies that overcomes regular, indifferent people in that two-minute period.
I think it destroys the purpose of student politics when all student politicians are allowed to do is echo the sentiments of established political parties and opinionated adults. Will all these children grow up to associate alcohol with the devil? Three decades from now, will one of them be the middle-aged activist leading the protest? If so, is that a good thing or a remarkably bad thing? Does that mean that this little foray into activism has encouraged them to think for themselves and form well-founded opinions, or does it mean just the opposite: that they will have simply succumbed to popular opinion, and will be contributing to fostering another generation of mindlessly parroting citizens?