Taking Back the Academy! History of Activism, History as Activism

By Jim Downs; Jennifer Manion | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

Where Have All the Politics Gone? A Graduate Student's Reflections

JOHN McMILLIAN

"Can we please keep this list-serve free of all blatantly political announcements? Whether you want your Mumia freed or fried, I'd like to keep this list-serve relevant to issues specific to history graduate students."

This was the indignant response I provoked during my second year of graduate school at Columbia University, when I used a list-serve that is shared by history graduate students to announce an upcoming rally to protest the impending execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther whose case remains a cause célèbre among the far left.

Although I'm mindful of the fact that no one wants their e-mail account used as a dumping ground for unwanted messages, the sharp tone of his reply caught me off guard. For one, I was surprised and disappointed that one of my Columbia colleagues would speak about a person on death row as if he were a strip steak, just so he could make a lame witticism. But I was also bewildered at the assumption that fueled his message. People had long used this very same discussion list to sublet apartments, find homes for pets, and announce various parties, and no one had ever complained. Yet here it was being suggested that political announcements are so irrelevant that they should never even be mentioned on our list-serve.

I awaited the avalanche of sharp rebuttals that would soon begin to rain upon this poor students' head. Before long, I was sure my inbox would be spilling over with the replies of dozens of students who would capably defend their craft, avow their partisanship, and insist on the intrusion of politics

-85-

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