View from the Loge: May 7

May 7, 2024

View from the Loge

May 07, 2024

Just like last week, I have a lot of thoughts, feelings and questions about the protests. And, again, those conversations can wait.

Students in my strategic political communication class know that one of my mantras is “What now, what next, then what?” What now is the protest in U-Yard and on H Street. What next is coming into focus. At some point, most people will leave, with or without an agreement with the university about GW finances, repercussions for students, and other commitments. Students will go home for the summer, head to jobs and internships. Some will graduate. Faculty will by and large abandon Foggy Bottom until late August or later. The national media will get bored and move on. The Metropolitan Police Department will want H Street back.

Then what?

In late August we will reconvene. Hopefully, the fighting in Gaza will be over and rebuilding will have begun. The elections in the US will be in full swing, and probably swinging a sledgehammer. Political forces will be trying to pull us apart in the name of putting what is right and true back together, with right and true usually defined as their opponents being evil and wrong with no room for doubt or negotiation.

How we leave for the summer sets the terms for how we come back in the fall. Whether or not we can gather in classes and events, listen and debate fiercely, honestly and in good faith in September depends a lot on what we do in May. We don't agree with each other completely about the protests, US policy, politics, or anything else. Some of those disagreements are minor, others are more consequential. That we disagree is in large part why we’re here. The faculty, staff, students, and alumni of SMPA research, shape and tell the stories that matter. We study, practice and write about disagreement. 

We do this because we believe disagreement matters. We learn by debating, by making a case and by listening closely to the response. We advocate, listen, learn, and adjust. Democracy can be seen as a conversation about what to do next. It’s not an echo chamber or a dictate. Democracies do not sing with one voice. Our task is the productive cacophony that is at the core of democratic governance. Let’s part as participants in that project, not balkanized enemies who insist that whoever yells loudest, wins.

I continue to be incredibly proud of the work done by the journalists at The Hatchet (it’s not just me, their reporting is being followed by producers and journalists at major news outlets). I am also proud of our students who are standing up for what they believe in and facing real consequences for their actions. I also applaud the SMPA students watching the events, or not. Studying and writing papers (or not, but probably should be), volunteering or on other campaigns, figuring out internships and jobs, catching up on much needed sleep, or just trying to make it to the end of finals. All of us are all part of our SMPA.

My request over the next two weeks is to leave in ways that allow us to come back as a community. Not everyone agrees with all the protests and all of the demands. Some might not agree with any of it. That’s good. That’s democratic debate. What we need to agree on is that no person’s humanity is defined by their political views or whether or not they join protests in U-Yard. You are people before you are students, activists, journalists, interns, or LinkedIn profiles. Your professors and our staff are people before we’re events, lectures, exams, and weekly missives.

As you leave campus, leave as a member of a community of passionate advocates and storytellers. When we come back together, let’s come back together as people doing our best to do what we think is right. Whatever comes next, let’s be in it together.