Pomona College is paying students to protest the new president-elect.
That chilling detail trumps all the news about frantic college students who require safe spaces with Play-Doh and puppies to recover from the election. According to the Claremont Independent, Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships advertised a November 9th anti-Trump rally in Los Angeles on Facebook. It wasn’t enough, however, for the center to promote a partisan political event. It went all the way to using university funds to rent buses to take students to the rally and to reimburse travel costs for those who missed the bus. The Draper Center personnel knew what exactly they were doing: “The Draper Center is organizing a bus that will take students to downtown LA TONIGHT to stand against Trump.”
This isn’t just the usual leftist politicization of the university. Typically that political mischief is veiled. It takes the form of Marxist history, one-sided syllabi, and wholesome-sounding code words such as “environmental awareness.” But at Pomona the mask has slipped. We are seeing outright political zealotry in plain violation of the college’s tax status—and its educational integrity.
The Draper Center is part of a national movement that goes by the names service learning, global civics, and civic engagement. This movement has an office on almost every college campus. Its cadres work for the usual progressive goals, but they disguise what they’re doing as a form of “civic education.” This isn’t civics in the sense of learning about how American self-government works. Rather it is community organizing—that attempt to destroy democracy from within pioneered by Saul Alinsky.
For a succinct idea of what such “community organizing” involves, recall the protesters recruited by political operative Robert Creamer to stage violent incidents at Trump’s campaign rallies. Creamer was the founder of the Alinskyite Midwest Academy and is now a partner in Democracy Partners, which states that “we focus our energy on issue campaigns, civic engagement programs [emphasis added], and campaigns to elect Democrats to public office.” Democracy Partners has been implicated in what could politely be called skullduggery, and in the late stages of her campaign, Secretary Clinton was at pains to distance herself from Mr. Creamer.
Surely not all proponents of college-based civic engagement programs have the checkered past of Robert Creamer. But the connections between these programs and Alinsky’s acolytes aren’t hard to find. Why did the head of Pomona College’s Draper Center, Maria R. Tucker, think it was perfectly all right to use college funds to send students to an anti-Trump rally? Dr. Tucker’s specialties (naturally) include civic engagement, community engagement, sustainability, environmental justice, and diversity. Her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Michigan dealt with “environmental justice organizations.” As director of the Draper Center, Tucker co-sponsored a visit by Mike Miller, one Alinsky’s original “project director,” and she has supported campus protests such as a “Die In.” Tucker is, by all appearances, a hard-left activist who is at ease with using higher education to advance the political causes she supports.
Let’s say relatively few students who get caught up in the frenzy of leftist protest while in college go on to make careers of it. But while they are in college, and come into the orbit of bodies such as the Draper Center, they engage in “community service,” a pleasant-sounding phrase that translates as free labor for progressive organizations, progressive propaganda on campus, and training to be a left-wing activist. Above all, civic engagement means teaching students that leftist protest is the heart and soul of being a “citizen.”
It looks very much like Pomona College broke the law. But even when the civic engagement advocates stay within the legal limits, they still encourage a style of partisan protest that corrodes the foundations of our actual communities. They hope to “transform” America, and to that end they organize events such as getting high-school students around the country to walk out of school to protest the election of Donald Trump.
“Not My President” rallies, with the covert and increasingly the overt support of this new class of educational expert, are increasingly common. These rallies are justified as exercises in “civic engagement.” But political action is “civic engagement” only if it advances a progressive cause. Trump supporters have no parallel right of civic engagement because, in the eyes of these activists, they are merely exponents of “hate.” The radical left mobs protesting in the streets hope to delegitimize Donald Trump’s presidency before it begins. That counts as “civic engagement.” Support of Donald Trump does not. In other words, “civic engagement” is no more and no less than progressive politics.
David Randall, director of communications at the National Association of Scholars, is the author of Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics (January 2017).