I remember studying pollution once in third grade as part of a big lesson on ecosystems and the environment. I remember it because, right in the middle of my teacher’s lesson about how much trash we produced at the school, my pissed-off, righteously indignant third-grade self stood up and interrupted.
“Why don’t we do something about pollution?” I asked.
Mrs. Hollis, who must have been at least somewhat dumbfounded, stopped the lesson. “Okay,” she said, “what do you want to do?”
A week later, I found myself on the stage in the cafeteria standing in front of a giant, wooden earth painted blue and green, talking to everybody, kindergarteners through fifth graders, about how we were going to start recycling more at Monte Sano Elementary.
It was the first time I realized a question has power. It wasn’t really me that organized the recycling drive, it was the teachers I had influenced with a simple question: “Are we doing enough?”
Now, I realize questions asked at a place like this University, where straight answers are, frankly, often discouraged in the interest of protecting the faux UA we see on brochures, have even more power.
And that power grows the longer they go unanswered. Here, I’ll give three examples.
Why haven’t the sororities racially integrated?
Why hasn’t the University committed to not allowing strip mining at Shepherd Bend?
Why does the University have policies that restrict the right to peaceably assemble?
These questions are among the most enduring ones I have encountered. They stand alone, separate of anyone who has asked them, separate of The Crimson White. They hold power because by simply existing in public discourse, they demand answers people in power don’t want to give. They make those people squirm.
All each one needs to show its power is an asker. Those are the people who are willing and able to pick out the important ones floating above our heads and launch them at the right time. They have to have audacity, and more often than not, have to be brave.
They’re the ones that can say the words above, in public, online and in print over and over again, and wait for change to come. And every one of you fine and brilliant and wonderful people that have given a damn enough to pour your hearts into the CW this year and years before – you’re some of the best askers I know.
All of you should know this: I’ve never been prouder to be part of The Crimson White than when one of you has had the audacity to ask a powerful question.
One time, you asked Rep. John Lewis, a living civil rights legend, why it was important for the sororities at Alabama to racially integrate. There was the time you asked then-president Guy Bailey why the University hasn’t leased the Shepherd Bend property for mining. You asked a robbery victim to share his story. You asked a Student Health Center official to explain the biggest sexual health problem on campus. You called Tim Hebson at 11 p.m. to ask for a statement on an anonymous letter decrying the University for ignoring hazing. You went to the scene of a mass shooting and asked people what happened.
You asked if you can design pages in addition to your other job. You asked, just a few days ago, how you could bridge the gap between greeks and the CW.
You asked a woman sifting through piles of rubble 10 feet high what it would mean to her family if she could find her father-in-law’s lost Purple Heart. You asked a woman in a lawn chair in the midst of even more rubble, baking Alabama heat and the smell of dead animals, what she was waiting for. You asked how you can help us with advice, food and a place to work for a night. You turned the camera back on us and asked, how did that storm affect you?
You asked SGA officials why they flew out to Pasadena, Calif., and didn’t get the expense approved, and you asked me, why don’t you write for The Crimson White? You asked, why don’t you join my team as news editor? And so many of you outside of the CW, in so many ways – Andrew, Garrett, Courtnie, Chris, Lexy, Will, Colby, David, Nathan and all the rest – asked me to be your friend. All my life, you’ve asked me to be the best I can be.
Yes, questions have power. Right now, one in particular holds its sway over me. “Have you done enough?”
I can only hope so, but remember those three questions I asked above? They still don’t have answers.
Will Tucker was the editor-in-chief of The Crimson White during the 2012-2013 year.