Activism abroad sparks questions at home


In Salamanca, the Plaza Mayor is the heart and soul of the city. It hosts rock concerts and street parties. On a normal night it is the place where people go to see and be seen. That's how it is normally. But this last week, the plaza has become home to a small tent city of protesters. There are about 10 tents of different sizes and colors as well as a large canopy tent that serves as the headquarters and information desk of the group.  The protesters belong to the 15-M Movement. The goal of the protest is to persuade local politicians to ask for a nationwide referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment. Besides the protesters' 24-hour presence in the plaza, the movement hosts various activities and debates. 

I have walked by the encampment numerous times, but yesterday I stopped and talked with some of the protesters. I also had a chance to watch a strategy meeting. It was held on the cobblestones of the Plaza Mayor and was open to anybody who had an opinion.

It sounds a little bit sad, but even though I am a political science major I have never seen a popular protest in person before. Here in Spain, protests, strikes and demonstrations are a daily staple of the media, and most are driven by people my age, many of them university students. I talked to one person yesterday who explained to me in great detail exactly what was wrong with Spain, naming everything from corruption, to voter inequality, to the euro. He also explained how he would fix things, but the most important thing, from my point of view, was that he was actually taking action.

Compared to Spain, I think the U.S. is politically apathetic. Almost everybody in the U.S. has some issue about which they feel strongly. But how many people are actually taking action? Take DePauw for instance. Over the past two years, I believe there have been only two protests. One involved two or three people protesting the cost of tuition, and the other was the anti-Fred Phelps gathering that never truly materialized. There are plenty of events to raise awareness, but an informed public does not necessarily equate to an active public.

Democracy is based on citizen participation in politics, but how many of us truly participate? Sure, we vote for the president and maybe we vote in midterm elections. An hour of our time every couple of years is the extent of our participation. We complain about congress and the president and what a terrible job they are doing, or maybe more accurately are not doing. What we fail to realize is that as the electorate we have the ultimate say in politics.

If we choose not to use our say, who can we blame?

My message is that if you have a problem with something, be it DePauw's tuition fees, a bill in the Indiana legislature or the president, it is your right, and your duty, to make your voice heard. You can whine all you want, but if you do nothing to fix the problem, are you not supporting the problem in a way?

If you think what you are doing is right, do it and do it well. But you must do something.

— Uhlmann is a junior from Loveland, Co. majoring in Spanish and political science. He is currently studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain.