Staking down Tent City

For all the criticism, Tent City could be regarded as a complete success in at least one sense – it stirred up a lot of debate.So let’s give them some credit. Their protests are an extension of a long and proud tradition here at this University. And, during a time when there is much to be angry about, they are among the few voices on campus pushing for social change.Their energy and dedication is something to be admired. But in some ways, this year’s was unlike the Tent Cities of previous years: the general attitude around campus seems to be one of disdain, the event was much smaller and the urgency and necessity of the campaign seemed to be lacking what it has had in previous years.Which is why the debate seems less centered on the merits of a livable wage, but instead on why, exactly, those protesters are there.And The Cynic, too, is skeptical.While the general aims of the protest are good, the participants failed to adequately articulate the reasons for theirdemonstrations, what they hope to achieve and how they want the school to achieve it.What exactly is a “livable wage,” and what does it mean to work for a wage that is not “livable?” What are the costs and benefits of implementing a program of livable wages?We don’t doubt the protestors have all the answers to these questions. What we do doubt is if the average student walking by the signs knows anything beyond the vague idea of paying employees more money.The protestors have not spelled the issue out. Instead, they have made demands, and appealed to what they think of as a higher moral calling, but they have not reached out to students and faculty on terms other than their own.And we are skeptical when the protest consists largely of drumming and when the “residents” of Tent City house themselves in the relative comfort of high-end tents and expensive camping equipment. How much of this is fun? How much of it can justifiably be fun if this is a protest?In other words, where is the sacrifice?But, no matter the cause and no matter how well-articulated that cause is, it is never OK for somebody to use a position of power to unfairly influence another’s ability to speak. If the protesters are to be believed, it appears that the University administration is abusing its power.If a government, a private organization or a school disagrees with the aims of a protest, it is their job to articulate and justify their own opposition. It is their job to express, in a convincing way, why their position is the correct one.But it is not their job to silence the voices with which they disagree. They can shout back, they can drown them out with their own voices, they can show their conviction through numbers, but they cannot just push them out.UVM is a place where students are driven and encouraged to become better citizens of their community and, more importantly, the world. They are encouraged to learn and to speak up for what they believe.These are freedoms we all enjoy and often take for granted. It is vital that the voices of dissent never be destroyed because every single one of them is immensely important for the growth of free thinking, safe, academic environment. Every voice is a necessary piece of the whole – no matter how inarticulate, or even foolish, they may be.