LIU: Manski Wins Democracy on Campus

May 6, 2010
Alexander J. Liu

Making the drive up to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point once again on Monday, pro-democracy advocate and attorney Ben Manski returned to the campus he had visited in his college career. Only this time the faces had changed, but the message was the same. At 8 p.m. in the Dreyfus University Center’s Theatre, Manski delivered a multimedia presentation on “Winning Democracy,” in the hopes that it would inspire students to do just that.

“I hope that I helped to broaden some perspectives about what other students are doing around the world: what they’ve done in recent generations, that it wasn’t all just in the 60’s. I’m a little bit older, but in my generation student activists, we accomplished a lot,” said Manski. “In my experience, when people think big, they dream big and they work to accomplish those big goals. They sometimes succeed, and if you don’t try at all, then they’re not going to happen and that’s not acceptable.”

Manski, who currently serves as executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, was first contacted by UWSP senior Nate Fleming at a sustainable community conference in Madison, where Fleming had been impressed by the message that Manski advocated. It would be the same message that would be repeated on Monday night, as Manski challenged his audience on whether they were prepared for democracy.

Democracy, as Manski put forth, demanded risk, courage and the bold seizure of power, but were we ready for democracy? The students present, most notably Jeff Decker, a contributor to the CounterPoint and an old friend of Manski’s, answered this question when parallels were drawn that evening to UWSP’s own controversial issues of student power.

“It’s really up to each generation to figure out how the university works and advocate effectively, and one of the main problems that students have is that we’re around for three years, four years, five years, and by the time we figure out how the university works, we graduate. So it’s very important that we have people who have institutional memory and help the next generation to not get given the runaround by administrators,” said Manski, who agreed that the issues brought up by Decker were of a serious nature. “I’m very concerned about public education particularly… I come from a family of teachers, and I think that students and other members of the campus community have much greater potential for achieving positive social change than we oftentimes realize, so it’s really important that we talk to each other.”

Yet with a turnout of under 30 students and community members, the message may not have reached as wide an audience as the Students for a Democratic Society, the sponsors for the event, may have hoped for.

“I, of course, am a romantic, and I was thinking that the theatre was going to be packed out the door, but no. I thought the turnout was good, I think what is more important is what turns out in people’s heads,” said Fleming, an SDS member. “The goal of tonight is just to plant seeds in people’s heads, and we as human beings need to keep the seeds watered and more people seem to get informed about their rights as students and as citizens of this nation, as citizens of this world, and take part in our democracy,”

Even though the audience may have been composed of many SDS members who already shared Manski’s ideals, it would be the few new faces that were eager to join in the fight for democracy that would make it all worthwhile for the SDS.

“I picked up one of the little fliers last night at the ‘Ladies and Lovers’ night and that’s why I just decided it was… kinda like a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about and talking about, and I wanted to hear somebody who’s talking about this same stuff,” said Jason Loeffler, a senior and art major. “There’s an energy and… there’s not like some huge burden that we can’t tackle… It doesn’t seem impossible; I feel like I’m a part of this. I can be a part of something.”

Perhaps the students of UWSP are ready to take up Manski’s challenge, and prepared to take that baton of democracy from that older generation and make that run towards the finishing line to, as Manski puts it, “win democracy.”

Following his lecture at UWSP, Manski plans to attend a social forum in Detroit this summer, which Manski urges students to join, promising that it “will be a gathering of tens of thousands of students, of workers, of community activists, community leaders and there will be a lot of students there looking back at what happened this past year and… looking at the coming year and saying how can we coordinate together, and so I certainly encourage UWSP students to go to Detroit. this will be a pretty important event.

“I would certainly encourage people to check out democratizingeducation.org to find out more about what’s happening around the country,” said Manski. “I would just say that it’s truly incredible what this generation of students is doing right now. It’s been a long time coming and I just hope it’s not too late.”

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