Taking action on campus

Last Thursday, students eating dinner in Whitmans’ might have noticed a small crowd of their peers gathered by the Baxter Hall fireplace, occasionally chanting in Arabic. Many who noticed were too busy or too indifferent to investigate the rally, dubbed “Ephs for Egypt,” which was organized to showcase campus support for the democratic protests in Egypt. During the rally, students spoke about personal experiences in Cairo, Arabic speakers led the group in the same powerful chants that the protesters themselves had been using and a moment of silence was held for the Egyptians killed during the riots. A student filmed the whole event so that it could be viewed online to show Egyptians that they are not alone.

It seems that what took place on Thursday was an admirable and inspiring event, an exemplary display of the empathy and global awareness of Williams, but in the aftermath, some were unsure of what had been accomplished. Due to the rapid development of events in Egypt, the rally was organized at the last minute, taking place only three days after the planning committee’s first meeting, so there was no microphone and no projector or screen showing what was going on in Tahrir Square and few students cleared their schedules to attend. More significantly, although those of us who organized the rally joked that we had really made a difference when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned the next day, the reality was that the Egyptian protesters had won their battle before we even had a chance to post our video.

I wouldn’t call the way things turned out disappointing, because, after all, the reason we worked so hard to put the event together was to help the Egyptian people achieve exactly what they did. But it does make us question the value of our small and, as it turned out, late efforts so far from Cairo.
It’s a dilemma that I often face, as someone from a privileged background who has been raised with a respectable degree of concern for the world beyond my own community. I, like many of you, have dedicated time and effort to a variety of causes throughout my life. I’ve done AIDS Walk New York, Relay for Life and countless fundraisers for different charities. I protested the genocide in Darfur in front of the Sudanese embassy and collected food for my local food pantry every year.

But how much of a difference did any of that make? Is the $75 I raised for AIDS research going to bring us a cure? Did anyone – even the doorman – at the Sudanese embassy notice the four hours my friends and I spent outside with signs in the cold gloom of November? Did the 50 minutes Williams students spent together in Paresky Thursday affirming our respect and support for the Egyptian people matter at all?

I believe that it did. Nothing I did made the slightest bit of difference in curing AIDS or cancer or in stopping the genocide in Darfur, and what I and others did on Thursday night had no effect on the events in Egypt the following day. But it is important that we tried. That might sound like a cliché, but think about it in another way: What does change the world? Grassroots movements, led by committed and inspiring individuals. Brilliant and creative people who dedicate themselves to solving a problem. People who have everything – money, education and safety – and decide to use those privileges to help others who have less. To me, that sounds a lot like the Williams student body – so maybe the next time you see some of your peers gathered at the front of Baxter Hall, trying to make a difference, you should join them.

Mattie Feder ’13 is from Montclair, NJ. She lives in Carter.