Somewhere between Queers Against NATO and the Campaign to Free Bradley Manning, Weinberg junior Mauricio Maluff spent his Sunday looking for a place for Northwestern to fit in.
Maluff, unofficial leader of Occupy Northwestern, organized a group of 12 students to make the journey beyond the Loop and participate in the widespread protests of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit in Chicago on Sunday. The group, which included both graduate and undergraduate students, had planned since January to rally in Millennium Park and march through the city with the International Socialist Organization.
After the group weaved through throngs of screaming protestors and bandana-clad heralds waving anti-FBI pamphlets, Maluff and his gang found a spot in the iconic park to settle into the 90 degree heat and listen to demonstrators take turns chanting slogans from the concert stage.
"This is great - everything we hoped for," Maluff said, taking a deep breath and beaming at the colorful crowd surrounding him. "It's a very cheerful, peaceful atmosphere. I can feel the solidarity in the air."
Although each of the hundreds of groups at the protest was advertising its own agenda, they all represented a common cause: the abolition of the multi-national power that is NATO. To Maluff, it's a cause that should call to college students everywhere.
"We're fighting for education here, and for all our public services," Maluff said. "Schools and mental health clinics are getting shut down all over Chicago, and meanwhile the government is spending tens of millions of dollars to host NATO leaders here."
Maluff, who is a member of ISO, coordinated with local leaders of the organization to meet in the park and participate in the march together. Once there, he met ISO workers like Jim Plank, a representative from the Rogers Park chapter of the organization.
"We see ourselves as part of an international movement here," Plank said. "We want to challenge the system of priorities NATO has put into place that's responsible for war and the violation of civil liberties."
Plank, who has worked with Northwestern students in the past, said he was encouraged by the students who made it to the protest but underwhelmed by their numbers.
"In my experience with Northwestern, there's definitely a desire for activism but I think students just tend to feel isolated," Plank said. "A lot of people just don't feel like they have an outlet for change - the level of consciousness exceeds the level of organization at this point."
The group agreed that Northwestern doesn't have a reputation for activism, a fact that miffed Weinberg freshman Kaitlin Hansen. Hansen hadn't been involved in Occupy NU this year, but wanted to join the protest and jumped at the chance to travel with the group.
"I'm honestly really disappointed by the turnout from Northwestern here," Hansen said. "I feel like a lot of people support this cause, but they just didn't make the effort to come out in support of it."
As to why Northwestern students have so little penchant for activism, Hansen said, it's anybody's guess.
"A lot of students are just priveleged and they don't feel like they're in a position where any of this stuff affects them," Hansen said. "People just think they don't have time to read about what's going in the world."
The university's lack of a strong activist culture always confused Maluff, who lived in Paraguay until he was 16. Where he grew up, Maluff said, activism was inseparable from student life.
"I never understood people who say 'I'm not into politics' or 'I just don't care about that stuff.' How could you not care about your own life?" Maluff said. "Being a student and being an activist gives you a huge amount of power. At Northwestern, people have that power but for some reason people choose not to use it."