Student protests essential to democracy

Since the doors of the first universities opened, students have kept politics and society fresh with their ideas and enthusiasm. This tradition is still alive in many parts of the world except the United States.
Last winter, German students struck for weeks demanding more money from the state as well as better-equipped universities and smaller classes. The winter before that, French students led a similar nationwide strike, seeking resolution of many of the issues. The French public and private sectors backed the students, effectively shutting down the country for weeks. Chinese students were the first to stand up and shout for democracy at Tiananmen Square. Indonesian students were the first to call for Suharto to step down.
These students understood that they could shape their own destinies. German students had already received money from the government for tuition, books and some of their day-to-day expenses. Yet they still hit the streets. On the other hand, tuition rises every year at U.S. universities, while higher education bills skip through Congress and over the desk of the president with nary a peep from the university students, positive or negative.
While students in other countries see themselves duty bound to employ marches, protests and demonstrations to achieve political and social aims, protest marchers and demonstrators in the United States are viewed as extremists or labeled members of some fringe group. Students 30 years ago tackled the big issues of social and political justice with vigor, and were considered the catalysts of social change. We were at the forefront of political thought then, and we need to seize that position today.
These days, we rely almost exclusively on the vote to settle our gripes. This weakest of democratic tools, the individual vote, has shown itself ineffective as our sole source of voice for change. In the recent primary elections, merely 20 percent of Minnesotans went to the polls. Students can step beyond the voting booth, expressing their ideas freely and loudly. Not only are we capable of it in virtue of being students, we are expected to do it. So why are we quiet?
Some argue that we have very little to be upset about; nothing motivates us to take to the streets and actually force change. Our democracy runs so smoothly that the days of student strikes are generally over — a part of our radical history.
But when people stop participating in a democracy, the democracy stops being for and of the people. The very word ‘democracy’ urges us to take action, and although we cannot speak for the rest of America, we can, and should, speak for ourselves.
There are many more avenues open to a person than a vote, and we as students are obligated to search them out. We are the catalysts of change and the forerunners of political thought. When the students stop talking, stop being active and stop trying to make the world better, democracy is truly dead.