Calling for Justice
After biology lab on Thursday, I walked into Frost not expecting much as the memory of Day of Dialogue was still fresh. Filled with people mostly dressed in black, Frost had been claimed as a political space: Amherst students had transformed the physical space of Frost into a home, a political arena and a model of a new Amherst, ushering in a new set of Amherst values and an unprecedented political awakening amongst many. When I asked people what they thought about the sit-in, some people responded by saying, “It’s doing something” or “I feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.” For the weekend, campus culture became different — Frost became a space for the voiceless and the marginalized.
Despite not having heard the beginning stories of many, I asked how it all started. I sincerely do not believe that sitting in Frost for an hour would have affected the campus as much without someone asking himself or herself, “What is the point of a sit-in if nothing happens afterward?” Thankfully, someone did. For a few hours afterward, students shared incredibly personal and powerful narratives — and many genuinely affected. Without a doubt, the open-mic gave credit to experiences usually bottled.
It cannot be denied that the movement was organic — it was started by the students for the students. Tired and angered, marginalized students were ready to say something finally. In the oddest way, the movement organized itself because people were accepting of one another. While some wanted to lead, others wanted to listen and be active bystanders to the noted systematic racism of the institution. Frost had transformed students into self-reliant and self-governing people acting in concert without violence. Indeed, there was collective spontaneity. Although it was surprising for many, it was all too familiar to me.
In Jan. 2011 and June 2013, I protested against the ineffective and autocratic government alongside my brothers and sisters, Egyptians. I had been infuriated by the injustices occurring in my beloved home country and was not willing to tolerate seeing it crumble from its previous glory. In other words, my country had been stolen and had to be reclaimed. Honestly, I loved Frost Library because it reminded me of Tahrir Square — it made everyone in the space feel important, as everyone was part of something grand. The power of the group emerged from the union of hundreds of egos in a collective cry against injustice.
After a while, a student invited all student organizations and willing students to join what would become the “room upstairs” to construct a list of demands for President Martin. It was a golden opportunity for genuine social change that may not arrive again soon, and I felt responsible for representing the Middle East upstairs and was proud when I saw other Middle Easterners there. Near the end of the meeting, I heard a student ask, “What should we call the movement?” which was immediately followed by the unwavering voice of another student, “Amherst Uprising.” Immediately afterward, I thought of the Egyptian cheers, the tear gas cloud and the sound of hosing down people, but most importantly, I recalled the emotions of fear, despair, happiness and hope. Honestly, the movement triggered something — it triggered my political identity. As I teared a little reminiscing the deluge of newspapers about the “Arab Uprisings,” I finally fully accepted Amherst as a second home.
Throughout the movement, people took care of each other. Even Marsh House’s Coffee Haus gathered the people at Frost on Friday. It was indeed all too familiar, and in my excitement, I decided to share something dear to me, a poem. On Saturday, the “room upstairs” was abolished and various committees were formed to include all students’ opinions and ideas. As people came in and out of Frost, a stark psychological boundary between those outside and inside the political space transpired, binding protesters together in a simplified yet uniting identity as people of the movement: Frost had created an ephemeral collective identity. Everyone tried to contribute something to the microcosm: People collected rubbish, created discussion circles and shared food. Frost reordered the people’s emotional landscape, resulting in an inextricable sense of “us.” Throughout the weekend, some did not feel that the occupation concerned them. When people verbalized so, they were chastised by many friends — the word “disappointed” would even be used. Many argued that #RadicalCompassion did not make sense and had an undertone of violence, that the “room upstairs” was not inclusive and that the demands were forceful and presented to President Martin disrespectfully. Indeed, not everyone agreed with the demands and there will always be problems with any movement. As so, I beseech you: Do not let your disagreements divide the campus. With no one promising a concrete democratic and evenhanded interim plan yet, the movement may be stolen, and the Frost vision of a new Amherst may drift into the abyss. I plead you, be vocal about your concerns and argue respectfully with one another. If you are concerned about our future, be sure to attend the Amherst Uprising meetings and be present in the movement. Your voice of dissent is vital, as it grounds many. Notably, you should have cogent reasons for your disagreements.
As a son of the Egyptian revolution, I want to note a few things. Now is not the time to blame one another; it is not the time to allow anyone but the students to lead the movement; my friends, it is a time to be assertive but productive, respectful but vocal. People need to gather and select a governing board and committees of students most passionate about particular student issues, with egos to be put aside. Lastly, fellow students, do not let someone hijack the dream of the movement as someone hijacked the Egyptian revolution. Do not stand down and let the momentum fade. In other words, do not settle. It is now the time to be finally one — voice your dissent, voice your support, but most importantly, remember that actions speak louder than words. It is the time to stand together, united in one call: a call for justice.