Back to the “Old Ways”: Getting Students and the DCC involved in Activism

Back to the “Old Ways”: Getting Students and the DCC involved in Activism

Those involved in founding the marxist/radical/critical criminology of the late 1960s and early 1970s, were also often members of groups that engaged in various acts of protest designed to stimulate social change. These criminologists spent much of their time being activists. Their activism was shared with and by the college students they taught, and they spent at least part of their time engaged in activities that brought their social change theories to life.

Today, college students are not very active politically, and are very unlikely to be engaged in acts of resistance. In order to stimulate activism, I often design my courses to include an option to engage in a community activist project in lieu of a term paper. The assignments vary depending on the course. In environmental law and crime, the students are encouraged to map out hazardous waste sites and dangers within a local, economically deprived community, and set up a meeting to share that information with community members. Students have also become involved in the community by attending City Council meetings and becoming members of committees on community problems related to crime, justice or the environment. Students in one of my graduate classes, for example, became experts on water distribution rules and rights, and helped guide decisions made by Hillsborough County about expanded water rights requested filed by water bottling companies that sought to increase the amount of water they were allowed to bottle. The student committee, using information it gathered on the past behavior of the companies who had applied for expanded water rights in other communities, helped conviced the Hillsborough County executives not to expand water pumping rights. To spread the idea of activism, I have also served as the student advisor to a group that protested animal experimentation on campus.

This semester in my course “Crimes of the Powerful,” I have attempted to get students to establish a group that seeks to ban Coca-Cola from campus for its involvement in human rights abuses in South America, and for production of tainted (pesticide contaminated products) in India (on pesticide tainted products in India see,; on Coca-Cola’s potential connection to the killing of South American union leaders see, So far, the students are resisting. Their objections include an array of typical replies: “we are a small group or rather powerless people compared to Coca-Cola. There’s no way we can suceed.” They also were quick to note that Coke is served all over campus, and that many of the vendors on campus have a contract to serve only Coke products. I had two responses to these objections. First, I pointed out that the vendor’s contracts don’t produce an insurmountable situation; they just require that you think a little differently to accomplish your goal. If the campus food vendors serve Coke, one option is to make them part of the problem as well; boycott them and put pressure on them to change. A second option is to get them to stop selling any liquid refreshments. I pointed out, for example, that the food vendor contracts say that the vendors must sell only Coke products. The contracts do not state that the companies cannot suspend the sale of all drink products. Third, the students need an example of individuals or small groups of individuals who battle against big odds or big companies and win. There are any number of these that can be used. Perosnally, I refer students to the following sources of inspiration.

Free the Children. This book details the efforts of 14 year old Craig Kielburger (yes, 14) to fight aganst child labor. Kielburger as successful in his efforts, even getting to speak on the issue of child labor before the UN. Today, his international organization, “Free the Children International” ( is an internatinally recongized aid agency that helps kids get involved to change the world for other kids in need. Its an amazing story, and if a 14 year old can do it, shouldn’t college students be able to accomplish a smaller sclae project?

Ralph Nader. Not that it will tend to matter, but I identify Nader to the class as one of my personal heros. They know him because he has run for president; they don’t know about his activism which includes: (1) helping create automobile safety legislation in the US (Nader has been credited with saving the lives of more than 1 million Americans); (2) helping create legislation related to citizens’ right to know that helped produce the “Communtiy right to Know” Act related to toxic waste; (3) numerous consumer protection laws and ruling; and (4) founded/hellp found a number of groups to promote public activism, the free exchange of knowldge, and participatory democracy including:

“Public Citizen” ( to investigate government fraud and abuse;
“Essential Information” ( an information sharing group
“The Center for Automobile Safety” (
“Trial Lawyers for Public Justice” (
“Center for Women Policy Studies” (
“Citizen Works” ( to establish grassroot organizations
“Center for Justice and Democracy” (
“Center for Science in the Public Interest” (

Lois Gibbs. Lois Gibbs entered th public sphere when, as a housewife, she organized the Love Canal Homeowners Association to fight against the discovery of the Love Canal waste site in Niagara Falls, NY. Following her success in her loca community, Gibbs helped push for the creation of national legislation that would clean up hazardous waste sites. These efforts lead to the passage of the “Superfund” Act. Shortly thereafter, Gibbs founded the “Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste”, now know as the “Center for Health, Environment and Justice.”
CHEJ ( provides aid to communities attempting to establish grassroot movements for improving environmental health and justice.

In any event, it is my impression that these “old ways” that involved activism used to be much more prevalent on college campuses and within fields associated with more radical inclinations. In my view, using coursework in an inventive manner to stimualte this kind of activism is needed, and DCC members should make an effort to build activism into their courses.

Finally, I’m calling on DCC members to support a boycott of Coca-Cola products. This can be done on a personal level, by getting your classes involved, or by forming groups on your campus. The DCC membership and executives might also consider drafting a statement on this matter.