In Response to Christine Flowers’ “Privileged College Kids Don’t Understand Real Social Injustice”

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By Katya Olson Shipyatsky, Staff Writer

On November 18th an article entitled  “Privileged College Kids Don’t Understand Real Social Injustice”, written by Bryn Mawr alumna Christine Flowers, was published on Philly.com.The article was in reference to a student organized protest at the Lower Merion Police Department on Wednesday, November 16th which was in response to the chapter’s affiliation with the Fraternal Order of Police which, during the election, endorsed Donald Trump.

In the piece, Flowers expresses doubt whether students protesting in the Bi-Co have ever experienced what she calls “real prosecution.” She argued that the privileged Bi-Co student protesters have no grounds from which to draw parallels between the recent election of Donald Trump as president and historic beginnings of totalitarian regimes. Flowers stated that the “privileged Main Line kids,” should not draw those parallels on the grounds that they are offensive to victims of state-sponsored violence from authoritarian regimes.

Flowers is likely correct that none of us can know exactly what the impending Trump presidency will bring. Many of his proposed policies contradict not only existing government policies, but also with one another. However, her argument that Bi-Co students do not have reason to be fearful of what the next four years may bring and that student protesters are simply “looking for a political cause” is flawed, and oversimplified.  

Aside from Flowers’ incorrect assumption that students in the Bi-Co have never experienced real “fear, persecution, and horrors,” Flowers’ also argues that students are hastily comparing Trump’s rise to power to that of other dictatorial leaders. But what Flowers doesn’t realize is that such comparisons is entirely warranted. Confronted with Trump’s campaign platform of “law and order,” we are not wrong to draw parallels to the increases in police power that have historically come with the beginnings of authoritarian regimes.

Bombarded throughout the election season by the Trump campaign’s racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric, it is not irrational for Bi-Co students to compare Trump’s rise to power to that of authoritarian leaders. But it is not only Trump’s violent rhetoric that has students worried: Trump is also inheriting a Supreme Court that may need up to three seats filled in the next four years, and a majority Republican Congress. This unique combination of institutional power and violent rhetoric leaves us with legitimate grounds from which to draw parallels to the historic beginnings of dangerous, totalitarian regimes. In this sense, we are left with every reason to be fearful of what a Trump presidency will bring.

In light of this, we must look to history to guide us toward effective paths forward. The search for successful methods of resistance leads us to protest, hoping that those methods that have effectively resisted the rise of dictatorial regimes of the past can aid us in preventing them today.

Believing that Trump’s rhetoric combined with the power of the American presidency may be indicative of a shift in the direction of totalitarianism is not far-fetched or baseless, and our justified resistance to a rise of dangerous political ideology does not classify us as “rabble rousers looking for a political cause.” Indeed, the study of history is important for the very reason that it allows us to draw such parallels between events of past and current times with the aim of preventing repetitions of past atrocities.

We are right to be impacted by the parallels we see between Trump’s ascent to power and the rise of past totalitarian leaders. We are right to feel the need to resist. Protests like the one that provoked Flowers’ response are indicative not of a nation-wide trend of millennial oversensitivity, but a trend of historically justified political activism. The future remains frightening and deeply uncertain, but I hope that students of the Bi-Co will trust their inescapable sense that something has gone deeply wrong and continue to draw on historically effective forms of political resistance as we continue into and past January 20th.

Read Flowers’ article here: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20161118_Flowers__Privileged_college_kids_don_t_understand_real_social_injustice.html

From the print edition published Dec. 7, 2016

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