Student, city groups should work together

Scott Gordon

The stories Anya Cordell wants to tell are in danger of getting buried.

Cordell, a local activist who’s been known to speak adamantly about both city and international politics, was featured in yesterday’s Daily as an emerging advocate of the families of American Sikh and Indian people killed by white Americans in the days following the tragic Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

My fear is that many of The Daily’s readers will view Cordell’s story as one of only momentary interest, and then forget about it. Especially student readers, who seem to pass through Evanston without interacting with the city or taking advantage of what the city and its more permanent residents can offer. What good will it do if Cordell can’t get people outside of her own group of local activists to care about these killings?

On one hand, it might be easy to think of Cordell and her cohorts in local organizations like Neighbors for Peace and Campaign for Collateral Compassion as silly relics of the hippie era, outlandishly harmless radicals, or just nitpickers who care way too much about the little details of political life in Evanston and elsewhere.

I sometimes find it hard to imagine mustering the energy to stage protests about hospital incinerators or complain about changes in bus routes. And I help report on this stuff.

I’ll agree that these people can get excessively touchy at times. In Spring Quarter 2003 I took photos at a protest at which members of Neighbors for Peace held up a sign bearing the group’s name in several languages.

The signs were made by an artist in Baghdad, who in English had misspelled the group’s name as “Nieghbors for Peace.” The caption under the photo acknowledged the error with a simple (sic). The next day, The Daily ran a letter from a group member, who wrote, “(Sic) is a wonderful weapon. The Daily used it well.”

It’s certainly arguable that Anya Cordell goes too far in asking that Sept. 11 relief funds provide support to the victims of post-Sept. 11 hate crimes. (It’s also arguable that she is right.) It seems her efforts elicited very little response from relief funds or from politicians. Cordell is in the difficult position of advocating a cause few people know about and a solution that even fewer people will be able to agree with.

But even if activists in Evanston do come off as strange people, Northwestern students are far too isolated from the world. I’m not talking about the relative safety and financial ease most of us live in. The really troubling result of our isolation is most students are too normal, too inhibited and too easily put off by people who live outside of the academic and professional spheres.

Students can be oblivious to the racist, irrational vigilante killings that Cordell wants to inform people about, but still react with shock, on cue every time someone draws a swastika on a dorm wall somewhere on campus.

Students can laugh at the misadventures of ineffective campus organizations like NOWAR or even participate in those activities and end up making no contribution to the improvement of student life. Meanwhile, Evanston’s citizens, though not all are active, work effectively toward real solutions with the help of the city’s local activist groups.

Some student groups might even be better off joining forces with neighborhood groups: Why should groups working for the same causes within five miles of each other ignore each other? And why should students ignore the information Evanston residents want to spread?

Deputy city editor Scott Gordon is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]