In a mix of education and activism, hundreds of students gathered on the Old Main lawn yesterday afternoon to wave signs and hear political speeches.
The event, called the “March for Democracy,” featured six speakers and a group of actors. The audience followed the speakers as they walked from Old Main lawn to the HUB lawn and back.
Sam Richards, a senior lecturer in sociology who helped organize the march, called the gathering a “classroom without walls,” and many of the students were there as part of an assignment in one of his classes.
But among messages about how big businesses control the government, cheering students gave the event the feel of a political rally.
“This march is about coming together and talking about ways in which we can empower ourselves,” Richards told the crowd through a bullhorn. “The system can change . . . It has changed in the past and it will change in the future.”
Speakers encouraged students to participate more in government, wrestling control away from the rich and spreading it among everyone equally.
“You may feel like the minority,” said Ken Clarke, director for the Penn State Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs. “But it has always been the creative minorities, as Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, who are at the vanguard of significant social and spiritual change.”
Speakers focused on progressive political ideas, including some of the same issues that led to anti-corporation protests recently in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
At least one local Green Party candidate was at the march, passing out fliers.
Meanwhile, students held up cardboard signs with messages such as “Human need not corporate greed,” “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” and “Democracy kicks ass.”
Richards said it was the first time he’s led a march like this for a class, but said there are already plans for another one.
Students’ reactions to the event ranged from wild enthusiasm to begrudging attendance to get the grade.
“I thought it was a good idea,” said Michelle Boyd (sophomore-elementary education). “They gave a lot of information. But I wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t for my class.”
Many spoke highly of Richards and his sociology classes about racism and social injustices. Several students ran to him after the rally to give him a hug.
“Even if I didn’t have him as a teacher, I would go listen to him speak as much as possible,” said Mark Stern (junior-human development and family studies).
Although some of the speakers emphasized international issues, such as U.S. relations with China, they found plenty to get upset about at Penn State and in State College.
Andy Shubin, a local American Civil Liberties Union attorney, addressed the students about free speech. He mentioned a person who police cited last week for wearing a shirt with an expletive on it. The shirt apparently had a message critical of oil companies.
“Let’s engage in a little first amendment exercise,” Shubin suggested. “I’d like you all to repeat after me: Fuck petrol!”
The crowd did.
“Congratulations,” Shubin said. “You’ve all engaged in an act of civil disobedience.”
The rally’s final speaker was Barbara Anderson, director of the Penn State Center for Sustainability. She said people can improve society if they care strongly about a cause.
“I truly believe love is one of the most powerful motivators for change,” she said, just before leading students in a chorus of “America the Beautiful.”