Watters: Causes need to be more than just convenient


Arabella Watters, Assistant Forum Editor

There’s nothing that gets me more frustrated than a lot of talk and no action, whether we’re talking about the way President Barack Obama’s first term was run with a lot of posturing and not really that much policy making (I give him a lot of credit, however, for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell”), or something as simple as sustainability on campus. The fervor from the election is dying down to a distinctive buzz as things settle down at Northwestern. Despite the intellectual chops that NU students possess as a student body, without the stimulation of political controversy we can be slightly apathetic. Apathy might be the wrong word — freshman or senior, I’m sure you’ve heard of the supposed “Northwestern bubble.” I’m simply proposing that we’re getting a little bit too caught up in it.

It’s ironic because NU students, myself included, love their movements. We are a large group of fired up, sometimes angry, always enthusiastic, wannabe activists. On any given day, there’s a new cause being crusaded for around campus and a student group with copious amounts of passion and vehemence to spearhead the campaign. While at NU, our primary objective is to attempt to conquer the quarter system, making it to graduation with our sanity intact and our GPAs respectable enough to get hired, we always seem to be able to find the time to put our heart and soul into whatever we feel passionate about.

However, our problem lies in the fact that we can only find the time in the capacity that it’s convenient. We place a premium on what is actually important while swimming in what is pleasing to us on a superficial level of instant gratification. Perhaps that is one of the repercussions we have to face of living in this purely digitized age where everything is at our fingertips for instant access all the time. The discomfort that hard choices can bring isn’t hardwired into our daily lives.

At this current moment, I’m speaking in some pretty sweeping generalities, and I apologize for it — what comes to mind as one of the most glaring examples of this kind of disdain for discomfort, and why I mention NU student groups, is the most recent student campaign from sustainability activism group Pura Playa. Pura Playa is currently circulating a petition for the ban of plastic water bottle sales on campus. After signing the petition with fervency at The Rock sometime last week, I realized that there was a lot more I could be doing to reduce my plastic waste.

By now, if you’ve been reading my writing at all, you’d realize that I am from California, a land of sweeping, crunchy green campaigns and a thriving sustainability community. If you aren’t doing your part to recycle and “be green,” you might as well hide your head under the sand like an ostrich and beg for social leprosy. I do exaggerate, but the effort in being sustainable on the West Coast isn’t a second thought, and for the majority of my life, it wasn’t for me either.

Not that NU corrupted me and turned me into an environment-destroying tyrant, but signing that petition sparked something inside of me that made me realize how little I have really been doing for a cause about which I really care. While I devoutly use my reusable water bottle, I concede that I do slip at times, and to make matters worse, until last week I was still purchasing with a fierce frequency plastic bottles for non-water beverages. The hypocrisy they revealed combined with my excitement for the cause made joining Pura Playa an obvious choice.

However, sitting behind a petition table at Norris made things very clear: We can be far too preoccupied with our own lives to care. I’m not trying to be a green freak or anything, but there is nothing really to contemplate in banning plastic water bottles. It shouldn’t be a yes or no question. The movement will greatly reduce waste and take a stand for our campus in terms of sustainability, an area in which we are lagging behind. Nobody should respond to the petition with, “I love plastic,” and, “Plastic is great,” or even the creative “Sometimes I rewash this water bottle.” I don’t mean to get self-righteous here, and I do realize that this is just a small example and that not all NU students are blind to real world issues. I just propose that a deep breath is needed. I, for one, didn’t realize the priorities that I had lost until I took a second to look for them.

We have a hard time looking outside ourselves in terms of what is really important. It’s an interesting paradox because we are some of the brightest and most crusading minds out there, and yet we easily get trapped up in our daily minutia, much of which — I hate to say it because I’m as guilty of this as anyone — is painfully unimportant. We may not be living and breathing those moments of poignancy, of poise and choice, that were so clear during the election, but I challenge you to not let go of that feeling. A little dose of self-possession never hurt anyone.

Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].