Albert LePage Center of History Sponsors “Un-Panel” Conversation on “The Power of Activism”

Ryan Wolfe Staff Writer

On March 19, the University hosted an “un-panel” in Driscoll Hall discussing participation in democracy and activism. The Lepage Center has been focusing on democracy throughout the 2018-19 academic year. This panel was a follow up to two previous panels from the fall discussing where democracy comes from and what democracy is. 

The “un-panel” was unique in its execution. For example, instead of turning cell phones off and limiting conversation to questions at the end, the panelists and host encouraged cell phone interaction during the presentation with the hashtag #LepageAtVU and allowed for a period of group discussion. The panel was comprised of Villanova’s Jerusha Connor, PhD, Natalie Shibley, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania, Jamia Wilson the Executive Director and Publisher of the Feminist Press from the City University of New York and Chris Satullo from Philadelphia’s public radio station WHYY moderated and hosted. 

Initially, Mr. Stullo asked the panelists what advice they could give to student activists. Dr. Shibley suggested harnessing the media in order to help set the agenda for political parties and candidates, whether digital or traditional, and using former activist movements as a model such as the Civil Rights Movement in conjunction with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). 

Ms. Wilson added that it is important to try to unify on specific issues with people with whom they may not agree with on everything and that radicals are necessary in order to make change and speaking truth to power. Dr. Connor stated that universities were one of the hotbeds for civil activism in the United States, from the environmental climate strike on Villanova’s campus to the Anti-War counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70, or even to abolition and suffrage groups being formed on campuses nationwide in the 1800s. 

A study from UCLA that stated student activism could be at an all time high was cited by Dr. Connor. According to the study, there are now more freshmen in college who intend to participate in political activism in some way within their four years of college – more than any other groups of freshmen monitored since 1966. Dr. Connor continued to say that higher education institutions, both public and private, have a duty to their students to foster civic activism. 

The attendees then broke into small groups to discuss what the panelists had presented and allowed for groups to further discuss the issues presented by the panelists. The group discussion continued for 20 minutes until the panel reconvened, ready for questions. The conversation mostly focused on American democracy, but in a larger context, with one group discussing the importance of revolution, specifically the French Revolution, and its origin in the same thought as the American Revolution. 

Mr. Satullo commented that the French Revolution is a prime example of an activist movement caving in on itself and that that activism needs to be a unified front and be organized or face the reality of schisms and implosion. Mr. Satullo discussed the idea of different scales of activism: not all activism has to be grand gestures or marches of thousands, but could be just correcting people when they are wrong and speaking the truth or just even making a post on Facebook or Twitter. 

An Australian student at Villanova then spoke about the recent shooting in Christchurch and an Australian politician who blamed Islam for the attack. He continued to state that one million people have signed a petition to remove him from office. 

Ms. Wilson then followed up with a story about her recent trip to England for a book fair where a Polish woman approached her and asked her how to be a successful activist in countries that do not have as strong of a media presence as the United States. She gave many of the same examples as stated earlier, but continued to make the point that authoritarianism is on the rise in many countries worldwide and the world is normalizing it. 

Dr. Connor then stated that we should invest in student organizations and youth organizations because they are the groups that are usually most passionate about issues and are least likely to face schisms and splintering. She cited the youth organizing groups in Philadelphia such as Youth United For Change and Juntos. She referenced the Parkland survivors as a prime example of youth building movements and learning to adapt. 

Dr. Shibley referenced the difference between institutions and movements, in response to the Women’s March. She stated that there was a difference between institutions and movements in degree of fervor and energy behind them. Institutions have a long burn effect until they get what they want. For example, the National American Woman Suffrage Association fighting for the women’s right to vote, while movements have extreme and usually reactionary energy behind them, for example, the March for Our Lives movement in response to the Parkland school shooting. 

Ms. Wilson also commented that not all movements need to become institutionalized as 501c3 organizations in order to do good. Sometimes it is needed to let things go in order to move onto something better and more efficient. 

The second part of the “How Do We Participate in Democracy” will cover The Power of Everyday Life and will be hosted in the Driscoll Auditorium from 6:00-8:00 p.m. on April 9, 2019. The discussion will involve another “un-panel” in order to discuss how the “personal is political.”