In our modern democratic society it is vital that young people get involved in politics and this participation needs to extend past simply casting a vote on Election Day. Politicians and people in power need to be reminded that they represent the wants and needs of the people, not their own self-interest or corporate interest. This is why it is important to get involved in supporting movements that spread knowledge and make the opinion of the people known. If we want our society to continue to progress toward a more equal and fair society, we must actively engage in making that change happen. Senior Johnny Glaunert is a prime example of a young person who actively engages in both local and national politics. He has a passion for protesting and educating both himself and others about the state of our modern world. His persistent passion and activism is truly an inspiration.
Hometown: La Crosse, WI
Year in School: Senior
Majors: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Spanish
Who/What inspired you to begin participating in protests? I have been influenced by family members, friends, peers and professors. If I had to point to any one source of inspiration, I think it would be A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. That book gave me permission to get angry and helped me understand how to navigate the world as a young adult in 2015.
Why do you believe it is important for people to get involved in protesting? Because there’s a need for it and it’s effective. Protest is a way for us to directly engage in politics outside of the confines of a voting booth. I think that voting is important, but if we limit our participation to Election Day, we can’t expect much change to happen in our communities.
Last year you attended XL Dissent in Washington D.C., what was the most memorable experience you had there? I was inspired by all of the young and driven people there. All of the students were so knowledgeable and enraged by Obama’s lack of action regarding the Keystone XL pipeline project. The pipeline is set to pump the dirtiest oil in world history through six US states from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. I have always been frustrated by the lack of care that our lawmakers seem to have for us, but seeing the drive and focus of the young people at that march charged me with a new energy that I still carry today.
You were also arrested at this protest, what was that like? We marched from Georgetown University to the White House, carrying signs and chanting the whole way. There were over a thousand of us in the streets that day, but journalists reported that we sounded like a mass of ten thousand. On our way to the White House, we stopped outside Secretary of State John Kerry’s house and threw a black tarp shaped like an oil spill in front of his door. We shouted up to his window from the street, demanding that he deny TransCanada corporation the right to pump their dangerous oil through the Keystone XL pipeline. At the end of our route, we held a massive rally in front of the White House. Lots of young people got up and spoke. A fourteen-year-old indigenous activist delivered one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard. Then, 398 of us rushed forward and handcuffed ourselves to the White House fence, while others spread a giant black tarp representing an oil spill. It took police six hours to cut us all down and arrest us.
Were there any direct results achieved from this protest? Please explain. Well, as of now, Obama has threatened to veto the pipeline project if it passes congress, which is a step in the right direction. He seems to have taken into consideration the environmental impact statements warning us that Keystone XL is a climate disaster waiting to happen. It’s a safe stance for him to take right now, with Saudi Arabia pricing out the North American market with low oil prices, but we’re marking it up as a win…at least for now.
After the recent court decision in Ferguson there was a march in La Crosse to raise awareness about racial inequality in modern society that you were a part of. Can you describe this experience for me? Sure. After the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown, UW-L’s Black Student Unity organized a protest march from campus to the La Crosse police department. The march was both an act of solidarity with similar protests happening in Ferguson and a reminder to the La Crosse police department that we as a community do not consent to racist police practices. We want them to know that we are watching their actions.
What was the most memorable experience you had at this protest? When we arrived at the police department, several people got up and spoke. Charles Martin-Stanley II recited his poem titled, “Why Am I Mad?” in which he described his anger at the Missouri grand jury verdict. He also criticized the lack of public education about racial injustice, and the systems of oppression that target people of color, both at a national level and right here in La Crosse. He closed his poem with a calling that sent chills down my spine and sent the crowd roaring: “The question isn’t ‘Why am I mad?’ the question is: ‘Why aren’t you?’” His conviction really blew me away. The whole thing is available online on Wisconsin Public Radio. Anyone reading this should go listen to it now:
Were there any direct results achieved from this protest? Please explain. I know that the adviser of BSU, Shaundel Spivey, is currently working with the La Crosse police department on a “Keep Calm and Know Your Rights” program. I believe it’s an outreach project designed to establish an open line of communication between La Crosse community members and the police. Beyond that, the recent uprisings in Ferguson and throughout the country have sparked new discussions of race and injustice that otherwise may not have taken place. I’m glad that La Crosse is now a part of that conversation.
On top of all of this, you are also conducting undergraduate research in South America this spring semester. Can you describe what your focus is? In 2013, I created a language attitudes survey and distributed it to 183 UW-L students. The survey was designed to test for gender bias among participants. My data showed that students generally favored male figures in positions of power over identical female figures. Recently, I was awarded a full UW-L undergraduate research grant to translate my survey into Spanish and distribute it among members of the gay male community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My findings will inform queer and feminist movements both within Latin America and in the United States.
What got you interested in this subject? As a queer man, I am fairly familiar with the many forms of sexism that continue to oppress women and LGBT people worldwide. However, I am discouraged by the amount of sexism I see within my own community of gay men. With this study, I hope to document the problem of sexism among the gay male community so that the queer movement can better align itself with the feminist movement.
Where will you be living? I will be living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The city has a metropolitan area of 13 million and is considered by some to be the gay capital of South America. Needless to say, I’m very excited.
Participating in politics, protests, and undergraduate research is pretty time consuming. What keeps you motivated? Anger, mostly. Also, it should be noted that unlike a lot of college students, I have a desirable financial situation. I live at home, I am able to work part time, and I have yet to take out a student loan. It is my class privilege that allows me the extra time and energy necessary to participate in the events that I do. I know plenty of students who work much harder and longer than I do, but still find time to be active members in society. As long as people who are less privileged than I am are fighting for justice, I have an obligation to participate.
13. If you could give one piece of advice to your fellow young people, what would it be? Can I give two? Practice radical self-love and don’t be afraid to get angry.