To the young and motley American Left, Cornel West has become a comrade. My Twitter feed blew up last night with activist types calling West an available mentor and a figure of hope to Ferguson protesters. Indeed, the fact that he’s supporting fossil fuel divestment seems to be more “prophetic” than much of what other pundits and activists are doing, since he’s at least trying to achieve something that has fatally failed for decades: connecting social justice struggles to the environment.
To an admitted bystander, there’s lots of critique in Dyson’s account that feels earned, and plenty more that reads as incredibly hypocritical. But even if every single piece of invective were true, I think it would be wrong to dismiss West’s recent full-on embrace of grassroots movements. Maybe Dr. West feels that his creative and scholarly work is done and therefore, disillusioned with “the system,” he wants to be a full-time activist. Is that an essentially terrible choice to make? And again, even if West is choosing this path for the ego boost he gets out of being thronged by fellow marchers and quoted in the media, his participation still might be a net good.
Putting one’s relatively privileged body on the line in solidarity is a time-honored progressive value, not a mere waste. Activism is worthy work, and to use a favorite West phrase, that matters.