At the town hall meeting Tuesday, the turnout against City Council’s settlement with NEXUS was amazing; not only were all the chairs filled, but students lined the walls with signs in opposition to the settlement. After the Council opened the floor to anyone to speak, numerous townspeople and students lined up to speak against the settlement. Students spoke out against the fatalistic attitude of submitting to NEXUS and reminded the Council that the Oberlin Community Bill of Rights rejects a settlement of this type. I even spoke, which surprised me. After the public opinion section, the Council moved to the vote. Students began chanting, echoing the same sentiments of the public forum; this led councilmembers to leave the room and police officers to intervene — this is where I left the scene. Although the verdict was unfortunately still 4–3 in favor of the settlement, there is a third hearing in two weeks that will be the last stand in rejecting the settlement.
I left the scene during the chants because the chanting hurt our cause more than it helped, as these sorts of chants can be perceived as noisy and disrespectful — that students are being loud just for the sake of being loud. These chants unfortunately seemed to turn into party anthems by adding various interjections, such as “hey!”, in order to encourage more students to join in. While the interjections helped facilitate more students to chant, as in a warmer environment to echo support, the fact that councilmembers left and police had to intervene only left one message in my mind: the Oberlin townspeople and the Oberlin College students were separate bodies, that while may have had similar goals, they had significantly different methods.
The Gibson’s incident, which is still in due process, is too recent in the minds of the College and the town. As a result of this incident, Oberlin students are all too familiar with the parts of American society that see youth protests as being loud for the sake of being loud. While representation at Gibson’s was strong, others may have seen a disturbance of daily life and noise about an issue that’s not important to them. In my interactions with various townspeople — including a policeman and a speaker at Town Hall — some members of the town share a common distaste for Oberlin students not necessarily because of our position on issues, but because of our methods of fighting for these issues.
In chanting against the NEXUS settlement, we showed our position on it, but we also showed the townspeople that not much has changed in college activist ways. When China was denied restoration of its territories — especially Shandong, the heart of Chinese civilization — at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, did they come crashing in at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, protesting and protesting the answer to the Shandong settlement? No, the delegates were simply absent. Their silence and absence were miles more powerful than any protest at the signing. I’m not staying that students should be absent at the next hearing; rather, that we as college activists must keep a more professional air and be silent when necessary. Our points have been said, established, and the council members are accustomed to student protests — protests that they often view as distasteful and unproductive. We must maintain our pressure on the Council, but refocus our energy — no chants, no shows of force by volume. Our silence could be miles more effective to our audience than our perceived rowdiness. If we wish to be persuasive, we must refocus.
I also have a last remark about the Council’s monetary concerns regarding the imminent protest period of the pipeline. The public forum pretty much took care of any financial concerns, but what this leaves the College and city with is an opportunity to collaborate and bring together funds to fight against the pipeline and any deficits Oberlin may run into through whatever fundraisers possible. One possibility is integrating College events into the environmental dashboards and focusing most proceeds at the events to combating the pipeline, whether through donating to the township or other philanthropic endeavors in the community. By first advertising more College events to the town, we can increase engagement in events from both students and townspeople. The NEXUS pipeline has given us as student activists an opportunity to rekindle our relationship with the city and unite against this common evil. We must show the councilmembers that behind them is the fighting spirit of thousands willing to protest the pipeline in various forms — our representation at the town hall meetings, and the fundraising in preparation for our response to the pipeline construction.