By Meghna Chandra
During one of our impromptu conversations about history, one of my fellow Student Freedom Riders made the point that the best way to love something is to critique it. My most beloved professors have encouraged me to think critically about the world. In that vein, several days before I left, student activists came together to hold a teach-in entitled “WTF Penn? Questioning Penn’s Moral Compass” in which we examined the immoral activities our university is engaged in, from research for the Pentagon, to unfair labor practices. A significant theme of the day was “Whose blood and bones are we walking on for our privilege?”
That’s why I must raise questions about this beautiful, crazy, educational, exhausting, and emotionally demanding ride.
Sometimes I wonder if this ride through the south, through communities like Anniston, Alabama and Petersburg, Virginia which are plagued by economic blight, is analogous to a group of students taking a Civil War Tour of the country during the 1950’s, celebrating the victories of the Union, while ignoring the then ongoing Civil Rights struggle.
Before Martin Luther King, Jr. died, he launched a new campaign, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. This campaign was an effort to unite people across color lines to abolish poverty. One of Dr. King’s least known, yet most telling quotes is, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?” The Civil Rights Movement was not only a struggle to end racial injustice, but economic injustice as well.
As we drive through these towns, getting on and off the bus to the very best of Southern hospitality, we must remember that so much work remains to be done, work that will not be accepted by everyone who supports the memory of the 1961 Freedom Rides. However, to follow in footsteps of the Freedom Riders is to fly in the face of opposition to fight for truth, equality, and most importantly, love.