From George Washington—“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter”—to Thomas Jefferson—“free speech cannot be limited without being lost”—to F.D.R—“Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged,” America’s great leaders have understood the importance of our first Amendment freedoms. Labor leader Samuel Gompers conveyed the intentions of the founders as follows: “the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press have not been granted to the people in order that they may say the things which please, and which are based upon accepted thought, but the right to say the things which displease, the right to say the things which may convey the new and yet unexpected thoughts, the right to say things, even though they do a wrong.” All emphasis mine.
I realize that the First Amendment applies less to private school students than to public school students than to town criers. And I realize that freedom of the press, at least as defined by the Constitution, applies to governments not private school administrations. But, the ideals promoted by the founding fathers, and the reasoning behind their belief in the importance of fair and unbiased journalism, are equally relevant when it comes to publications on the Cathedral Close.
I would never have believed, after four years on the Close, that we would stoop to the low of contemporary society—that our discourse, though it remains largely civil, would lose its across-the-aisle-reach. Few institutions on this Close have remained insulated from the violent disagreement and same-viewpoint bubbling that define this era, and the institutions most insulated—the Government Club, The Discus—have come under repeated attack for being “harmful.” Even the mighty STA News is falling prey to faculty censorship of editorial pieces. The mere comparison of Donald Trump to fascist leaders throughout history is, somehow, unworthy of discussion for fear it may offend.
The notion that we should censor our history, our opinions, and our reality to protect youth is not merely offensive. It is downright dangerous.
The Exchanged, to whom I write, is perhaps most characteristic of the demise of that most fundamental of American values: freedom of speech, for whose sake immigrants fled Germany and Guatemala and Vietnam. Disagreement and potential to offend or even to anger—these are not reasons to censor. In fact, they are intrinsic to the free exchange of ideas, through which truth and justice and morality will win out—but only as long as the exchange remains uncensored. Pun intended. The Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement could never have fully triumphed without the ability to voice their dissenting beliefs, even though those beliefs were dissenting. This racism which has appeared in comments on Exchanged articles, and in articles themselves—since censored by The Exchanged—does not hold value resembling that of the Suffragists’ views? It does, however, deserve entirely the same opportunity to be discussed, debated, and ultimately—hopefully—rejected.
So here’s to a hopefully brighter future, where we no longer malign the freedoms which have brought us to this present point,
Yours Truly, Parzival
Deen Osman '22
The fight for environmental preservation has permeated throughout the world, and nowhere is it more prominent than in Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest. Just in the last 50 years alone, more than 17% of the Amazon has been decimated due to deforestation and fires. The onslaught of perpetual annihilation in the Amazon has had drastic consequences; not only does this destruction eliminate vast amounts of biodiversity (the Amazon is home to 10% of all species in the world), but it also ruins the homes of the the many indigenous tribes living there. In 2018, 1.2 billion trees were destroyed, sparking conflicts and uprisings between the native peoples and Brazil’s government, which favors using the Amazon for economic gain rather than preserving the life within it. Almost 1,465 indigenous peoples have been killed due to land disputes in Brazil. How many times have we seen this story play out? The first African slaves, ripped apart from their homes and families, were stripped of their humanity. The arrival of Columbus in the Americas triggered a treacherous age of exploitation, disease, displacement, and death of the native peoples. Time and time again, history has proven that mankind’s greed for land or economic growth outweighs its basic care for those who it sees as “inferior,” and the situation in Brazil today is no different. Analyzing the Brazillian government’s leaders, policies, and corrupted history is instrumental to unveiling the source of extreme deforestation and, by extension, the path to save the Amazon. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has made his stance on native land and their treatment very clear, saying “If I could, the natives would not have even one centimeter of land.” His policies are geared towards using the Amazon to kickstart Brazil’s economy, opening up areas for mining and new pastures for agribusiness, specifically cow pastures. Brazil’s beef industry, which accounts for almost 80% of deforestation, is run by a company called JBS, consistently guilty of corruption and bribery. Their owners have admitted to bribing almost 1,500 Brazilian politicians (in exchange for less jail time), and these scandals erupted in the removal of Michel Temer, Brazil’s President from 2016-2018. These bribes were used to sway government officials to allow illegal deforestation on protected land and meat that had not met health standards to hit markets, including in the U.S. Bolsonaro has even encouraged loggers and farmers to burn trees and fauna to benefit his economic interests, and was quoted as saying that “We do not owe the world anything when it comes to environmental protection.” What Bolsonaro fails to recognize is that his authority over such a precious wonder of the natural world should be coupled with responsibility, not a desire for economic gain. In 2022, Brazil will have its next presidential election, and it will be the most crucial in centuries. Tensions amidst indigneous/environmental activists and corrupt politicians have risen, and the election will decide the fate of Brazil and the Amazon. It will either be one that recognizes the necessity of environmental and native safety, or one that results in chaotic destruction
with irreversible impacts, cementing a dark and permanent chapter in history.
I write to you with immense concern for my fellow classmates on the Close regarding reopening.
Mask above nose and lunch in hand, I braved the pandemic, which was reaching all-time infection highs, for my first day of in-person school since last March. To the administration’s credit, classrooms felt distanced and the Magnus App provided me with a blanket of COVID security. At lunch, though, I noticed clusters of unmasked people, including myself and my friends, eating and talking and then watched as their relaxed attitude about the pandemic translated into a lack of social distancing at sports practices and maskless weekend plans. Nonetheless, I hoped my first week back was safe and Covid-free.
The next Monday, I received a dreaded text which I had somehow dodged for the first eight months of the pandemic - I was exposed to someone who was presumed to have COVID-19 at school. I rushed to a testing center and then proceeded to wait three hours to get a COVID test. It wasn’t until over 30 hours later that I received an email that I had been exposed to a presumed positive COVID test and should quarantine for 14 days. For the rest of the week, I sat in my room on Zoom during the day and worried about the health of my family during sleepless nights. I’m writing this now, still in quarantine.
I share this not to shame anyone with COVID – for it could be any of us with a positive test – but instead to express my contempt for an administration that I feel failed to address the ongoing pandemic equitably and meticulously.
While the Close is a bubble in many ways, it is not immune to the impacts of COVID. NCS & STA decided to reopen at the peak of the third wave while daily cases in the US were increasing at exponential rates. They continued to allow students to break COVID guidelines by not enforcing their covenant – unlike other independent schools – and then expect somehow that students and families wouldn’t bring the disease to the Close. At school, there was no enforcement of social distancing at lunch or sports. Then, when students inevitably transferred COVID at school – and they did – the administration acted slowly and secretly to try to contain the spread of the disease and save face.
In fact, in my experience, the containment of COVID-19 was completely on students. I was contacted by a student that I had been exposed to COVID 30 hours before the school contacted me – a complete failure of communication. Furthermore, the school relied on families to get their children tested. Testing in DC is an intensely inequitable process because you can pay $250 to get an unreliable rapid test or you have to wait in a line for hours and hours in DC – with a parent and your insurance. In Maryland, some testing sites have closed because of testing shortages. What is a student to do then? My school, which knew I had been exposed and knows the inequities of testing in the DMV decided to let students and their families figure it out.
I hope the schools will acknowledge that they failed their students in reopening. They promised a safe environment and yet COVID still got transferred from one student to another. They promised that online students would still have a good online class experience and yet I was unable to fully engage remotely. And finally, they promised to act in our best interests. Yet, they seemed to open the school to appease parents and their board.
As for me, after Thanksgiving, I will not be going back to school. I went to school for four days and got exposed to COVID-19. I, as long as my classmates who now have COVID or spent their Thanksgivings in quarantine, were let down by an administration that promised to act in my best interest.
“[We] covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation… [and shall] enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony.” — The Mayflower Compact (November 11, 1620)
Armed with those words, 41 brave Pilgrims brought democracy to American soil, and the Mayflower Compact earned its spot as one of the most significant documents in American history.
Just don’t ask St. Albans, where the U.S. History curriculum completely skips 1620’s landing at Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower Compact. I’d guess that few of my classmates know what the Compact said, and much less why it is significant: 156 years before the Declaration of Independence, the Pilgrims charted the revolutionary values that came to define our nation.
It’s not hard to see why 1620 gets shortchanged. In the era of the New York Times’s 1619 Project (which emphasizes white supremacy as the driving force of American history), many set their gaze fifteen months earlier, to 1619. In that year, a pirate ship traded 20-30 captive Africans at Jamestown, marking the first time African slavery blemished America’s shores. Though the Project has faced significant criticism, it left its ideological mark on the interpretation of early American history, and 1620 withers in 1619’s shadow in academia and the mainstream press.
The STA History Department has even more reason to steer clear of the Mayflower. The much-dreaded “curriculum audit” threatens to banish any discussion of an event some revisionists view as an early symbol of white supremacy and Native American exploitation. Several Native American groups even celebrate a “National Day of Mourning” on Thanksgiving.
To be fair, U.S. history classes skipping pre-Revolutionary American history is no new phenomenon at St. Albans. However, with the 1619 Project’s distortions all the rage and the DEI review hanging over 1620, the Department has little incentive to start teaching the Mayflower Compact now.
But the warped perspective of the Pilgrim-detractors is long on rhetoric and short on facts. In the days and months following the Compact and subsequent Plymouth landing, Squanto (a member of the Pawtuxet tribe) taught the Pilgrims how to survive in the unforgiving terrain and helped broker an alliance between the settlers and the local Wampanoag. The alliance lasted for 50 tranquil years, a shining — though sadly, rare — example of early Native-settler peace. The “First Thanksgiving” in 1621, a joint meal between the Pilgrims and their Native allies, was no celebration of supremacy or exploitation; it fulfilled the ideals of the Mayflower Compact, honoring the fruits of Squanto’s teaching (a successful harvest) and the benefits of the newfound alliance.
This country has wrought many evils on its Native American population, and tribes are right to champion the recognition of them. But Thanksgiving does not symbolize that history: It celebrates interracial peace, the revolutionary ideals of the Mayflower Compact, and, most of all, appreciation for the blessings that an often-difficult world has to offer, as the Pilgrims demonstrated in 1621.
So this Thanksgiving season, celebrate the Pilgrims. Let’s hope St. Albans does, too.
Benjamin Acosta '23
You ever hear the tale of the boll weevil? I thought not. It’s not a story the people of this area would tell you. The boll weevil is the most pernicious cotton pest in the country. It gets its name from the cotton bolls on which it feeds. Legend has it that when it reached southeastern Alabama in the early 20th century, it destroyed so much of the cotton which comprised the area’s economy and people were forced to look to other means of making a living, like growing peanuts. Anybody would be furious if a little insect devastated their financial livelihood, and I reckon that the people of Alabama were. However, they soon began to see that this pest had turned out to benefit their economy. They thanked the little “Herald of Prosperity” for bringing about greater economic diversity, realizing that their over-dependence on cotton diminished opportunity for town residents. They even dedicated a monument to the insect.
Once on a small island in the Caribbean, there was a writer who reported for a local newspaper. But he had bigger dreams - American dreams. He eventually worked his way to be able to fly to the land of opportunity, where, after marrying and moving around, he became a successful journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. After all, he was talented, and although he was a Black immigrant, in this country talent and determination can get you far. On the other end of the world, on a different island, there lived a brilliant geneticist. He too, hearing of the opportunities in the United States, came for a little while to study crop science, and married a politician from the same home country. He quite possibly could have engineered cotton to be more weevil-resistant. He mostly worked on fruits, though.
Anyways, the geneticist’s eldest son and the journalist’s eldest daughter eventually married and had a son in the Colorado winter on a military base. They were on the base because The father was a U.S. soldier. Not the kind of soldier you think when you think soldier. The most normal soldiery thing he did was go to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. Missiles flew overhead, but he didn’t shoot anyone. He was a warrant officer, a specialist in cyber operations who fought with 0’s and 1’s. If there’s anything to know about people who work for the Army, it’s probably that they’re moving a lot. The government can never seem to decide where they want their soldiers to go. So when the soldier’s son was turning one, his parents were on the road to Georgia, bags packed. The family stayed there about four years. In Georgia, the boy was gifted a little brother who grew up to be a very capable, intelligent and socially adept person. The boy himself was very shy, very quiet. His mom had been a reporter, like her father before her, but she opted to stay at home to raise her children. This was the longest the boy had ever stayed in one place, but he doesn’t remember much about his life then.
After that, he moved to North Carolina. His family always went to church. The boy attended kindergarten there at a Montessori school. He already knew the colors and how to read, so the school moved him up to first grade. He was an excellent student, for he could not let go of what he was determined to achieve, regardless of the time it took.
Another thing about being in the Army is that there are a lot of perks. Foremost for the boy was free seating on military cargo flights, a program called Space A. A stands for Available. His family often arrived at the airport many hours before the flights, sometimes even the night before, constantly checking a volatile schedule. They sometimes slept in the airport only to go home the next morning, perhaps to try again. But if they were lucky, they got seats. The family ventured to Europe – England, France, Italy – the kids would read up on the history on the C-7 floor before seeing it themselves. He also got to visit the beautiful home islands of his grandparents. They once rode on an elephant in Thailand, where his aunt was from. They even got to go to Canada and Costa Rica as well. Fun times.
After North Carolina, the boy moved to Maryland, near Annapolis. His parents thought it best for him to go to school with his peers, so he repeated first grade. The reason they lived there, and not closer to where his dad worked, was because the schools were very good there. The mom cared immensely about education. When she was young, she was deprived of great educational opportunities because her school counselor told her she shouldn’t aim higher than community college, though she was one of the best students in her school. She didn’t know better then. She did now for her children. But though the boy didn’t notice, almost no one looked like him. During his time in the Old Line State, the boy studied words for hours and did very well in the spelling bees. He had some friends at his school, but a few doors over was a kid with Asperger’s who was probably the smartest person his age he had ever met. They became great friends, as they were both passionate about science. They looked through the Baltimore Science Center’s observatory telescope and listened to science songs. They also both loved Star Wars. But only for so long.
Eventually he moved to a place his mom did not want to go. There wasn’t as great an education there. However, his father had his obligations to the Army. To lighten the spirit, the mom said, “We’re on an adventure!” The boy saw it that way and never really got sad when he had to move, as he was used to it. So far, Maryland had been the main place the boy had really known. You probably know what Maryland is like. It’s fairly busy. Their new home was the antithesis of busy. The dad only saw about four or five cars driving to the base each day. The town they were moving to was called Enterprise, the City of Progress. Hmm. Enterprise. Adventure. When the boy and his family were walking through Enterprise, they came across a circular fountain. In the middle of it rose a statue of a lady, all white. Her arms stretched upwards and mounted atop a golden bowl-shaped object in her hands was something you don’t normally see on a statue, so the family wasn’t quite sure what it was. It was… a beetle! A large black beetle. It had a long snout. The scientific name is Anthonomus grandis. The people call it the boll weevil.
The closest church of the ones they always went to was two hours away, in Auburn/Tuskegee. At first the boy’s family drove almost halfway across Alabama each week, but it was so tedious they eventually started a house church. That was one of the more fun times of the boy’s life. Their neighbors came, another soldier with his wife and four children. A lady with her two daughters came, too. She and her husband owned a gun store – quite the southern stereotype. They became some of their best friends. Having dark skin, the boy’s mother had taught her kids about race and equality. The kids learned about the Confederate South and the KKK, which is partly why the mother hadn’t wanted to move there. Living there changed a few perspectives, no doubt. The lot of children played and pretended in the backyard until, sadly, another adventure.
Back to the DMV, to northern Virginia. The boy and his brother had been homeschooled in Alabama, but now they went back to school. He had started learning the piano, and now he was taking lessons and getting better, and he very much enjoys playing to this day. He dropped his former surgeon dreams for dreams of being an immunologist. Later he wanted to be an astronaut, and his love for Star Wars was ever-growing. Now he likes studying insects and brains. He also likes to tell stories. His hobbies shifted quicker than his home.
During his seventh grade year, his mother recalled a conversation she had had with the mother of his friend from Maryland. They had talked about an incredible opportunity that would enable the boy to attend any private high school. The boy’s mother had him apply for that – write, test, interview – and what do you know: the people gave him the opportunity, and he began applying for high schools. One nearby stood out – mostly white, but things were changing. Far enough that they would have to move, though. They did. It hurt, having to leave, like always, but he had grown numb. That summer, his father retired from the Army, which meant no more moving because of the military – they could stay. The school was an Episcopalian boys school with a challenging curriculum and excellent faculty, a strong brotherhood, and a beautiful campus. He still goes there now, and has not regretted it since.
Once a friend of the boy’s was moving for the first time. She expressed how much anxiety and sorrow she was experiencing, having to uproot her whole life, leave everyone and everything she knew. He told her, “Think of it like an adventure.”
You know, moving is comparable to a boll weevil. It comes and eats up everything you’ve built up over the years: relationships, a sense of place, of community. But you find new things to go to, new experiences, new friendships, new viewpoints. In the end, it sometimes works out to be less terrible a thing than you thought.
“Where are you from?”
“Well, my dad is from the Philippines, and my mom’s family is from Trinidad.”
“Ok, well where are you from?”
“Well, I live in Washington, D.C. right now.”
“How long have you lived there?”
“Then where are you from originally? Like before that?”
“Well… I’m not really from anywhere in particular, I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
He paused. “You ever hear the tale of the boll weevil?”
(Photo: Library of Congress)
Kevin Xu ‘22
My very first memory of St. Albans School is of Mr. Robinson’s inaugural speech. As a freshman, sitting in the grand Cathedral for the first time was a very momentous occasion having come so far from my home in China. However, instead of being excited and nervous like those around me, I struggled to keep myself awake throughout the long service. I was still suffering from jet lag, so my head hurt tremendously. Yet, one line of the speech somehow slipped into my dreamy mind and has since then stuck with me over the past three years at St. Albans: life is an odyssey where one leaves home and returns to it. As an international student that had not yet become acquainted with this new strange and foreign land, this line most resonated with me. I still yearned for my family, friends, and home that vanished into the background. Even three years later, this line still proves to be true. The familiar Cathedral is now on the opposite side of the world, but my experiences in and journey to and from it are still present in my mind. The pandemic was like a knife, cutting our lives into pieces and scattering it to different places, making them impossible to recollect. However, one inalienable theme always lies in the deepest part of our hearts: we all went home during the first week of March when the virus, like a mountain fire, spread throughout the United States. That is were my journey began. The school closed three days earlier and the Florance family, who I can never thank enough, kindly took me into their home. However, I was increasingly nervous about the travel ban in Hong Kong, as the news on the internet kept worrying my parents and myself. I heard about international students who were forced to land in Ethiopia and about the endless alteration of flights among my friends. I stared in the distance and wondered what the future would hold. Could I ever get home?
At 11:00 a.m. on March 21st, the tenth day of my long spring break, I received a call from Mr. Robinson, who advised me to return as soon as possible. I was startled and lost. Flights to China were increasingly expensive, with thousands of people trying to get back. Plus, these flights had an incredibly high chance of cancellation. This was only the first step of heading home, not to mention the danger of contracting the virus on the plane, the examination after the flight, and the 14 days of quarantine. I lingered around helplessly, calling my parents constantly, but I could find no solutions. Mr. and Mrs. Florance were also very worried, looking up travel ban policies and flight information. Without their help, I could never have made it safely back home.
1:24 p.m. EST – That afternoon, Mr. Florance suddenly found a flight to China leaving from Los Angeles at 11:00 p.m. that night. I was filled with rapture, but to get to Los Angeles, I would first need to get to Dulles airport, which was not at all nearby, and catch the plane leaving at 5:40 p.m. for Los Angeles. Ideally I would land approximately five hours later if there was no delay and then I would have only two hours to grab my luggage, walk a half-mile to another terminal, and check in the luggage again. I still hadn’t packed any of my luggage or bought the ticket. If something went wrong in the trip, such as a traffic jam, delay or cancellation, overbooked flight, or luggage misplaced, I would not be able to reach Los Angeles on time. I would be stuck in Hollywood all alone with no family or friends. I stared at the flight information on the screen. The pandemic was getting worse. This was my only chance.
1:47 p.m. EST – I put my luggage in the car and handed my three succulents to Mrs. Florance. Smiling, I told her, “Please take care of them for me.” She nodded and turned around, covering her face. I was incredibly lucky on the drive to Dulles, as the roads were completely clear of traffic. The trees on the side flew by like rivers, but I had no time for appreciation. Mr. Florance and I were nervously calling and booking my tickets. After only two and a half hours, we arrived at the airport as my watch clicked 4:23 p.m. I had only an hour and seventeen minutes. I still had time. We dashed out of the car to the check-in counter with mask and gloves, which the agent stared at with disdain. After we completed the procedure, I turned around to shake Mr. Florance’s hand. The contact rubber gloves made an unpleasant sound and we couldn’t see each other's faces. “Good luck and start your adventure!” he said with smiling eyes. I laughed. “Take care,” we both said behind our masks.
5:27 p.m. EST – I arrived at the boarding gate and quickly ate a bar under the complaining look of the ticket collector. This was the last meal I would have before arriving in China nearly 24 hours later. As I watched Washington D.C. get smaller and smaller, I started to miss the school and my friends. When would I see this city again? What would it be like? How many people would die in this land? The pandemic crushed everybody underneath. People were furious, indifferent, grievous, or awaiting as this history of sorrow relentlessly rolled forward. COVID-19 would forever leave an imprint on every human’s body and be sealed in the books.
8:12 p.m. PST – When the plane successfully touched down in Los Angeles, I immediately received several calls, first from Mr. Florance, then from my parents, and then from my friends. I felt I was a center, collecting the cares of many people. I could almost feel their gazes thousands of miles away and their strong heartbeats as if I were Neil Armstrong when he first stepped on the moon 50 years ago. During the pandemic, nobody is a hero. But, at the same time, everybody is a hero. Los Angeles in March was quite warm, and I started sweating soon after leaving the terminal. Along the way, I saw many well-protected travelers like myself. There were Asians, African-Americans, and many other people from all over the world. Everybody was nervous and tried to dodge each other. In the airport lounge, even though everyone was dressed up like silk-worm cocoons and had tired faces, they all greeted each other like old friends. Everybody seemed excited to go home.
11:26 p.m. PST – Thankfully, I was able to board on time. Nobody talked much on the plane and nobody really drank or ate anything either. Over the course of the flight, the attendants would check everybody’s temperature several times. The passenger next to me was very friendly. He told me that after the quarantine started in China, he went to the U.S. to visit his brother. However, after he finished his 14 days of quarantine in the United States, he only got to spend one day with his brother before he had to return to China to quarantine for another 14 days. He complained, with a smile, “I am a real full-court player. But I guess I was used to quarantine life and started to enjoy it. Going home is always best.” After eight hours of flight, I finally saw the coastline of Asia. Below were endless forests, grasslands, and even some familiar buildings and roads. I hadn’t eaten anything or had anything to drink for nearly 20 hours. The airplane slowly passed different provinces of China until it finally reached its destination at 5:00 a.m. Beijing time. It was all dark outside. We sat on the plane silently and waited on this crowded airplane for over an hour. There were no cell-phone signals or lights, so all we did was wait. Some passengers soon got impatient and little children started crying. It was hot and humid on the plane; a sense of nervousness started to spread. A few people started to complain and move around, making the situation more chaotic. Then, suddenly, the traveler beside me pointed at the window. “It’s morning,” he said. For a while, everybody around stared silently at the small ellipsoid window. The sky was a grayish-pink, like a bad water color painting. The clouds and the light mixed together created an extremely chaotic picture, even a little bit ugly, but we stared at it without a sound for a long time. After many hours of transportation, examinations, and further waiting, I finally reached the hotel for quarantine. At night, listening to the noise of the construction site by the hotel, the traffic on the road, and the excited shouting of the people returning after a long day of work, I slowly typed three words into the text box: “I am home.”
Lauren Lucy Caddell '23
When my family visited Trafalgar Square in London in March 2017, we hadn’t been expecting to find a protest in full swing. People holding signs surrounded the monumental fountain in the middle of the square, and I could make out a few of the slogans. One read “I’m 15 and I want my future back.” The teenager holding the sign stood next to a woman waving the flag of the European Union. Many others waved the EU flag and carried similar signs.
Given that I, at that time, had little experience with political demonstrations, I could not understand until later that this gathering was a protest of Brexit, the process of Great Britain leaving the European Union. Citizens of the UK voted 52 percent to 48 percent in June of 2016 to remove their country from the Union, but controversy followed. Many British citizens argued after the vote had occurred that some Brexit supporters, including some senior government ministers, had spread misinformation about the process and misrepresented some of Brexit’s consequences. Despite the many protests that followed, Brexit was finally carried through in January 2020.
Political protests have spiked globally in the past decade, according to a report by Thomas Carothers and Richard Young at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, especially in countries that have traditionally allowed less freedom of expression such as Syria, Russia, and China. But protests look different depending on whether the country’s government is authoritarian, semi-authoritarian, or democratic. For example, the protests in Hong Kong in 2019 against Chinese involvement in their government were handled in drastically different ways than the protests against Brexit in the UK. While the British government largely allowed the protests to proceed unabated, China’s government went to great measures to put down the Hong Kong protests in fear that they would lead to a rebellion, from a denouncement of the demonstrations and their cause as well as an increase in police violence against protestors.
From this contrast, it is clear that change comes faster when the government is receptive to the public voice. For Hong Kong, this means that even though the government was clearly shaken by the public opposition, little to no meaningful policy change was implemented. In Britain, the Brexit protests slowed down the process by years and forced the UK government to push a more favorable deal with the EU than it would have otherwise. Despite the fact that Brexit was not reversed, it’s clear from these examples that protests might not be the perfect solution, but are extremely effective in democratic societies to make individual voices heard on important issues.
Although protests against government actions often receive a huge amount of media attention, the change they call for sometimes is never fully implemented. This is for several reasons. First, media attention is often fickle and can only be held for so long. For example, with the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. over the summer following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, the movement dominated media attention for several weeks but faded into the background once public attention moved elsewhere. The second reason is that political reforms, especially drastic change, takes more than a few months to implement. With the example of Black Lives Matter, the calls for the persecution of the officers related to the murders have been half-fulfilled at best, and the reformation of United States law enforcement has not been nationwide.
Though their end goals remain unachieved, the Black Lives Matter protests reintroduced racism, especially by American authorities, as an important and modern national issue. New conversations and policies have led people to hope that one day the U.S. will be a truly inclusive society. This pattern holds true for almost every other government protest and is the reason why protests continue to be so important. Even though protests might not always accomplish their goals immediately, they contribute to long-term change and make the government aware of public demands. Whether we like it or not, protests will continue to be important factors of change around the world in the coming years.
Angelina Vasquez ‘22
I find it incredibly frustrating when people in power do not care about their civilians until that responsibility is forced upon them.
As the daughter of two Peruvians and being a Peruvian citizen myself, I do my best to keep myself informed of the political affairs that occur in my parents’ country. I have visited Peru nearly every summer of my entire life, and, unfortunately, I have witnessed how corruption has riddled the Peruvian government system and affected the Peruvians who are most in need.
Earlier this month, Peru’s former president Martín Vizcarra was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations earlier in his political career. Naturally, one would think that this would be an accomplishment for any Congress. However, this could not be farther from the truth. Thousands of young protesters in Peru have taken to the streets to protest this impeachment and the overall corruption that is normalized in Peru’s government. Congress is notorious for a legacy of corrupt leaders in popular political groups.
Vizcarra was elected to office as Vice President under former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) who resigned over corruption allegations as well, along with many previous presidents. However, what was unique about Vizcarra’s case was that the public outrage was directed towards Congress. Congress’ parliamentary members impeached Vizcarra in the middle of a pandemic and five months before a new election. According to a poll published on November 18th by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP), 91% of Peru’s population disapproved of Vizcarra's removal. Also, 83% of the population said they believed the decision stemmed from legislators' political or personal interests.
While in office, Vizcarra had clashed with Congress on several issues including educational reform -- a sensitive issue in a country where several universities have close ties to political party leaders and lawmakers. Vizcarra wanted to introduce greater political and judicial reform. In 2018, the country voted in support of his plan to ban consecutive reelection for legislators and tighten regulations on the financing of many corrupt political parties. The ban was extremely unpopular with many lawmakers but was welcomed by ordinary Peruvians.
Therefore, thousands took to the streets in cities across Peru and even abroad, denouncing the impeachment as a "legislative coup.” Protesters held banners and posters with "No to the impeachment" and "Congress go home,” which can be seen on social media.
Then, the head of Congress, Manuel Merino, lawfully filled the seat of presidency. This sparked greater protest in the capital city of Lima, emphasizing that citizens do not feel represented by their Congress. The hashtag #Merinonomerepresenta, which translates to “Merino does not represent me” flooded Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Unfortunately, violence erupted between the protesters and police officers; this lethal encounter resulted in the deaths of two young men and more than 90 people injured.
On November 15th, Merino resigned and was replaced with Franciso Sagasti, a 76-year-old centrist and an important member of one of the only parties that voted against Vizcarra's impeachment. On November 17th, after being sworn in, Sagasti acknowledged the outrage and display of activism from the young protesters. He paid tribute to those who were injured and the two young men who were shot dead in the protests. Finally, Sagasti acknowledged the urgency of a more just government and commended younger generations for exercising their rights and speaking up for the needs of their country.
Corruption cannot and will not go away overnight in Peru, but one can only hope that as more people become involved with their political situation (like so many younger generations have throughout the world, protesting the frustrations many generations before them have felt), progress can occur to create a more ethical government.
Sammy Dereje '21
A conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), representing the country’s northernmost region, has been mounting for the last few months. The TPLF led a coalition that took over the Ethiopian government following the overthrow of a dictatorship in 1991. Now, tensions between the TPLF and the federal government have escalated after Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, postponed the national election due to concerns regarding COVID-19. On November 4th, Prime Minister Abiy ordered a military offensive against the TPLF after accusing them of attacking a military base of the Ethiopian army. As the conflict intensifies, each side is doubling down in their efforts to keep power.
The most troubling issue regarding this conflict is the possibility of Tigrayan termination. The U.N. Refugee Agency warned that there could be a “full scale humanitarian crisis” unfolding in Tigray. The area is filled with destruction and violence; human bodies litter the streets. Upwards of 33,000 refugees have already crossed into Sudan, and the U.N. Refugee Agency expects another 200,000 to do so if the fighting continues. The refugees threaten to destabilize a country that’s already home to about a million other displaced African people. Semere Tesfai, a 35-year-old English teacher fleeing violence, said this about the conflict: “This is a genocide against Tigray people.” People are fleeing for their lives with no resources to survive. Zam Zam Maconin, a 26-year-old mother, stated, “We didn’t bring any food or clothes - we just escaped to save our lives and our children’s lives.” Speaking about federal forces, she added, “They’re killing people madly.” As refugees flee, government forces can be quoted as saying “Abiy Ahmed rules. We will rule you.”
These horrifying words exacerbate the worries of Ethiopian citizens just as the now-daily gunfire and fighting do. And to make matters worse, there’s a communications blackout that heavily restricts any incoming aid. This aid is essential to assist the thousands of Ethiopians affected by the conflict. Ethnic tensions have heightened in Ethiopia for far too long, and they are tearing apart the historic nation. Fighting continues all while opposing sides claim to fight in defense of their homeland, a homeland that’s shared by more than a hundred million people.
The hope of talks between the two sides has dissipated, as Mamo Mihretu, a senior aide to Abiy, told the BBC that “We don’t negotiate with criminals… We bring them to justice, not to the negotiating table.”
The Tigrayan people are innocent, yet their lives are being torn apart by the greed of others. In order to repair the damage from this conflict and heal as a community, these people need the world’s help. Just as it came together to support Haiti after an earthquake in 2010, the global community should unite to restore the richness of Tigray. When confronted with the responsibility of knowing where his brother was, Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes. In this case, when the world asks itself if it’s the keeper of Tigray, the answer is yes. We have a duty and a responsibility as human beings to help each other. Even in the midst of hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, these responsibilities do not vanish.
Aid agencies are requesting $50 million to help support the waves of refugees because they don’t have the funds to continue providing for so many migrants. Opposing forces continue to cause more damage and hurt Tigrayans who are fleeing to survive. However, both sides need to acknowledge their faults and work to help the people of Ethiopia.
For further reading about the conflict, see the sources below.
Grace Demuren ‘22
Both of my parents grew up near Lagos, Nigeria; they are both a part of the Yoruba tribe, which is one of three prominent tribes in Nigeria. While they enjoyed their life in Nigeria, they knew that they would have better opportunities in the United States, so they immigrated here and raised a family together. While I was growing up, my parents integrated the culture and language of their native land into my life, as many immigrant parents do. I have tried to mesh my Nigerian culture with the African American culture I have been introduced to as well, which is a struggle that many first-generation Americans face. For clarity, a first-generation American is a person who is born in the US and has parents who are immigrants, but it can also be used to describe naturalized Americans (immigrants who are permitted to be permanent residents of the United States). While being a first-generation American is quite special, it comes at the price of feeling like you are stuck between a rock and hard place. This is mainly due to the constant pain I feel, caused by S.A.R.S’ harassment of Nigerian citizens and police brutality towards African Americans in the United States.
The movement #endSARS is unlike anything that I have heard of in Nigeria’s political history. S.A.R.S is the “special anti-robbery squad”, which is a branch of the Nigerian police force meant to deal with crimes such as robbery, moto vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling and firearms. S.A.R.S officers are known to abuse their power and profile young Nigerians. They allegedly conduct unwarranted checks and searches, mount illegal roadblocks, rape women, and detain people without a warrant nor trial, which has sparked the creation of the #endS.A.R.S movement. This social movement started in 2017, but it experienced a revitalization with a series of mass protests through major cities and widespread social media outrage against police brutality in Nigeria. Watching It has been incredibly stressful to see the outcomes of these protests; I would often refresh my newsfeed at night only to see if the death toll had risen significantly, fearing that one of my family members would be included. At least 56 people have died during the protests and many more Nigerian citizens have been harassed and assaulted by S.A.R.S police. Seeing the mistreatment of Nigerian citizens has discouraged me from my hopes of visiting Nigeria anytime soon. Even though I am physically removed from the situation, I still carry the emotional trauma from seeing these moments portrayed in the media.
Being a first-generation pulls you in two different directions: the native country in which your ancestors established your past and the new country in which you will pave way for the future of your offspring. Usually, one benefit of this is when one community is struggling, I can find a sense of security and relief that at least the other home is thriving, but now this is no longer the case due to the police brutality that Black people face in America.
At the beginning of the summer, The Black Lives Matter movement picked up in full force as a result of media coverage on George Floyd’s murder, but this was not the only driving force. In 2020, Black people have been 28% of the people killed by police, even though we only make up 13% of the US population. The constant media coverage and protests over the summer made me lose myself. Early in the summer, I rarely left my room for two weeks because I did not feel safe anywhere else. I created a personal haven from the world because everywhere else seemed to challenge my existence as a Black woman. I have dealt with the most difficult parts of my trauma, but I still carry these anxious thoughts around with me every day.
The way that I navigate the world has changed. I am in constant fear for my life and the lives of those I love. However, I am learning not to let that fear take over me. Instead, I strive to be as brave as those who are on the frontlines of protests, fighting in the United States and Nigeria to regain the parts of their humanity that were stolen from them.