Letter from the editor regarding the removal of the 9/11 memorial

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As I embark on my final year at Occidental, I hope to put my money where my mouth is and use my position as editor of the Weekly to help facilitate conversation through journalism; to remind the Occidental community that there are in fact many voices on campus, some of whom have been largely too afraid to engage in comment wars on social media. Or perhaps, they are silent to leave room for the voices of our peers who might be hurting more than we are. We hope to dedicate this year to the power of nuance rather than polarization.

I tried to keep my thoughts private during the flag incident and its aftermath last week. I wanted to listen before I jumped to conclusions. I grew up in the West Village of Manhattan, and I remember the morning of 9/11 clearly. I remember first responders sleeping on my living room floor night after night. I remember my mom organizing drives just to be able to give the responders sleeping bags so they could find shelter on the floor of my elementary school cafeteria. I remember students from P.S. 234, the public school closest to Ground Zero, doubling up in my classes for months in the aftermath while the responders cleaned up all the rubble. I remember the family friends that died that day. As I write this I tear up, because to me 9/11 isn’t just symbolic. The American flag might be symbolic, but the desecration of a memorial is very, very real.

That said, I do not hold it against my peers. They’ve taught me so much this past week. I’ve also learned through many of the interviews that the Weekly staff has conducted that a lot of the action was misinformed. The protesters didn’t realize the flags represented real lives. They didn’t realize that this exact same memorial is put on across the country, including at One World Trade every year. And though I don’t necessarily believe this excuses their actions, I understand that we’re all learning here, the importance of forgiveness, and above all, the importance of listening and hearing each other out. College is the place to make mistakes. The action came from a valid place. And I think we owe it to ourselves to hold that in high regard.

It might be a poorly chosen symbol, but it was not the Occidental Conservatives Club that chose it. The campus’s perpetuation of this questionable symbol, as well as our eagerness to blame one sole person or group or ideology for it, is representative of a much larger issue in our country. We, “complaining” millennials, are perhaps the only source of hope for bridging this rift and fixing our country.

We interviewed many community members with many different perspectives on the situation. Recognizing that Occidental is still a ways away from being able to engage in these disagreements without hostility, we decided to include quotes from a number of individuals who would only tell their stories on the condition of anonymity — perhaps a greater number than ideal. But we decided as a staff that right now it is more important to have the maximum number of beliefs represented than to abide by journalistic ideals. Anonymity provides Occidental students and faculty with protection from any backlash, of which the students who took down the flags have received more than enough already. Moreover, in certain situations, anonymity facilitates a particular sort of freedom, it is a pathway into people’s unpolished, honest, emotional responses.

Establishment media love to call us a generation of complainers, coddled so dramatically that we can’t stand to face any belief with which we disagree out of fear of damage to our oversensitive psyches. As liberal arts students, the jabs just keep coming.

I think there’s a lot more to complaining than those old white men who wrote The Atlantic article really grasp. We are a generation of higher standards and greater awareness that understands that business as usual simply will not fly anymore. We are a generation with the platform and audacity to call out the bullshit, the racism, the misogyny. “Complaining,” calling out our dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, is crucial to productive critical discourse. We’re challenging every injustice, no matter how small, that puts any one human’s life above another. It is imperative that we keep complaining.

But ultimately complaining is not enough. As individuals, as peers and as an institution, we need to challenge ourselves and each other to channel our complaints into earnest conversations that grapple with the hard stuff. And we especially need to have these conversations among people with whom we disagree. We must do our homework before we take action, if for no other reason than to make the most of the time and energy we spend trying to make this school a more equitable place. If we don’t, as we saw last week, we risk perpetuating the national polarization of political discourse and partisanship that we complain about from afar. We twist our logic to fit the needs of our personal circumstances when we see it on our own campus versus in government. When we fail to engage in productive discourse among ourselves, we allow the international media to minimize us as a bunch of naive liberals. And we risk forfeiting a really important conversation around the symbolism of the American flag as a result.

It’s hard to think deeply about our country’s history — a history of colonization, racism and oppression — and be proud of where we came from. And we don’t have to be proud. But we do have to try to make it better through communication and debate, because too much is at stake. You might not agree with the conservative mindset, but you can’t condemn their mere existence. There’s no one I find more disgusting than Donald Trump, but because he’s our Republican nominee, we as a country can ditch this asinine idea that we are somehow “post racist” and “post sexist.” It’s a scary time to be alive, but it’s also so promising; as we come to honest terms with the bleakness of our country, calling out the bullshit gets all the easier. We are able to engage in more direct conversations about the issues that really matter.

Just as we fiercely need a Republican party for our government to properly function, we need the Conservatives Club, if for nothing else than to serve as a reminder that opinions on campus range way beyond just the far radical left. We need a Conservatives Club because the Republican party is in shambles right now and we need an intelligent group of young conservatives to redefine the party, a party that believes in small government but also basic human and civil rights. If we don’t learn how to talk to and argue productively with each other here, where will we? We love to compare ourselves to the youth of the 1960s and ‘70s, but I argue we’re simply self-indulgent unless we commit to trying to make real change beyond petty Facebook fights.

This year, the Weekly is committed to providing larger representation of our entire community — a place we know we’ve come up short in the past. We hope you find this to be true of our first issue. As a staff we’ve spent the last year in conversation about what it means to be truly representative, wrestling with the question of how we can be a resource that best serves the campus community. We decided that above all else, in a time of such polarized political discourse, what matters most is reporting down the middle, the honest truth as best we can, with the ultimate hope of facilitating much needed dialogue on campus and around the nation.

We are here to inform you, to challenge you and to provide a platform to elevate your voices. We as a student newspaper have the accessibility to present real, honest student perspectives. We’re here to deliver the truth, as knotty as it might be.

Sincerely,

Wellesley Daniels