Notes from the Activities Fair
The girl in front of me just recoiled. I’m in Norris, and for the only time this year the name of my paper, THE NORTHWESTERN CHRONICLE, is emblazoned behind me in letters a bat could read. So at least I get the reassurance that this girl is not scared of me, per se. She’s creeped out by my conservative newspaper.
The girl grimaces when she sights my table. She shuffles two steps back in her strappy sandals, hunches her shoulders as if blocking a bum rush. The Helicon table in front of her absorbs all her attention – anything to get away from the Chron. But soon a friend comes over, and she’s given incidence to whisper – “See? That’s that scary paper we got over the summer!”
The friend is perplexed, but she takes the girl at her word. They scuttle out of the media room, and I shake my poor, evil head. I am more than used to this by now.
When I first arrived on campus, back in 2000, I never would have signed up for the Chronicle. I was like most of the kids (probably no less than 1000 of them) at the fair – it was obvious. Conservatives were stupid. They were rich, simplistic, and not a little racist. If I’d wanted to, hell, I could have taken any of them on in a battle of ideas and made sliced shit out of them.
This attitude, I’ve found, is precognitive. Leagues of freshmen, none of whom had spent more than two weeks on campus, made pity looks at the Chron’s table. A few of them (usually short, hirsute, male and wearing leather – I don’t know what this means in the big picture) engaged me in what is commonly called “talking shit.”
“Oh, you’re the conservative paper.”
“Ha hah!” (hand flipped up in defiance)
That was usually the extent of it. I told you, they didn’t think conservatives were very smart. Why use an ace when they could win with a deuce?
One dude, who I later learned was from WNUR (I’d link to them, but odds are you still wouldn’t listen), took some time out of his bong and feedback-heavy schedule to suggest we gave out Chipotle coupons. But he dismissed the idea immediately because, oh wait, “they employ minorities. You don’t like that, right?”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “Chipotle is owned by McDonalds! I’m all for anything that spreads American hegemony over the globe!”
To which he said “Ha ha!” and flipped his … yada yada yada.
Despite all this “harsh” treatment I didn’t venture out of the room for three hours. From 4 to 7 p.m. I pitched the Chron to fresh-faced young ‘uns with some success. Apart from the moments when students mistook our booth for a candy raffle and signed our e-mail list without even looking at us, me, Matt Repchak and Mark Brandau (sometimes) pitched the paper honestly and tastefully to people who wanted to make a difference. Still, a tone of resignation hung over me. Last year we’d signed 70-odd freshmen and only one had ever done jack shit for us. Most of the staff – including me, Matt and Mark, actually – had gravitated to the paper later on, once we’d seen what it was like and gotten a few ideas about how we could kick it in the ass.
So it could have been a thoroughly depressing experience, but it wasn’t. Not until I closed up shop and talked to the president of College Democrats. At that booth, freshmen were looking at the sign, smiling, and signing the sheet with alacrity.
Give ‘em time. They’ll come around.