A new channel for student activism

St. Olaf students have been active and responsive in their efforts to combat social injustice issues, both those exclusive to the St. Olaf campus and in the broader world. Past activities include the Black Lives Matter die-in, the 4th Precinct protests in Minneapolis, the No Room For Debate protests and the MLK posters incident. Campus protests, however, have differed in size, objective and level of success. Most of the time, these movements have been isolated and small due to lack of communication between activist groups. The Action Network was established earlier this year by a group of students who felt the need to create a more cohesive and systematic way to connect activist organizations on campus.

The idea of the Network started out when a group of students met and discussed campus protests during a corn roast event at the Wendell Berry house at the beginning of the fall semester. They shared a concern that protests on campus had been small since activists and organizers were unable to effectively communicate. As a result, the Action Network was designed to act as a forum for its members to share information and exchange support for one another.

“Action Network was launched beginning this school year but has managed to have meetings on a weekly basis and helped organize a few protests,” said member Cynthia Zapata ’16. “The main concern that we have right now is to maintain the Network over the years and not just dissipate at the founders’ graduations.”

Zapata, Claire Bransky ’17 and Claire Amsden ’17 are among the most active participants in the organization.

The Action Network connects campus activist groups from diverse backgrounds and interest fields. Many activist groups on campus such as Feminists for Change, Students for Reproductive Rights, STOTalks, Oles for Sanders, Oles for Hillary Clinton, Students for Education Reform and the Environmental Coalition are member organizations of the Action Network.

The main focus of the organization is on the eight major dimensions of identity, including socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age and religion, but the organization is open to providing support for groups specializing in other areas. There are also groups that focus on environmental issues and political identities. There is no hierarchy system in the Network, since it is a forum for member activist groups to discuss and connect.

One of the highlights of the impact of the Action Network was its participation in demonstrations against the Nov. 23 shooting of protestors in Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct Protest. Sam Wells ’17, who witnessed the shooting, emailed the Action Network alias to inform other members about the event and consult on possible actions. This conversation led to a timely on-campus protest that featured a demonstration in the quad.

More recently, the Network alias organizations discussed the MLK posters incident, in which one of the posters depicting historical racial injustice was torn down. A new change in the requirement for the Multicultural Studies-Domestic and Multicultural Studies-Global general education requirements has also sparked heated discussion among the activist groups in the Network.

The creation of Action Network means better communication between activist organizations on campus and more active debates on the most current issues. The Network promotes a more organized structure for campus activism and a more systematic way to raise awareness around campus.

Members meet once every week to build relationships and develop informed strategies to collectively improve their campus and community. The email alias is actionnetwork@stolaf.edu, and people can email the alias if they want to be added to it or get involved. Students who are interested in starting movements and want support can email the alias for that purpose as well.