Yay, We Kicked Coke, You Guys!

The internal monologue of a Swarthmore Kick Coke activist, Class of 2009, when the Swarthmore campus eliminated all Coca-Cola products, circa 2006:

Much like Robert Frost, I like to take the more difficult roads, metaphorically speaking. The roads not taken, if you will. Sure, I could’ve breezed through my undergraduate years, taking advantage of my double legacy at Harvard and spending 4 years living on Easy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. But like Martin Luther King Jr., I had a dream. And my dream was to go to Swarthmore, and make a real difference in the world.

Like countless oppressed people half a century or so ago, I could have taken the easy way out, and sat idly by in the back of the bus. But like Rosa Parks, I decided to sit in the proverbial front of the bus, and become an Honors History and Course Peace and Conflict Studies double major. Sure, I could have taken an easy, bogus, back-of-the-bus major, like Film and Media Studies or Psychology, but then I never would have been able to accomplish all that I have today.

I am so overjoyed to announce that we have won; no Swarthmore student will be able to purchase or enjoy any Coca-Cola products on campus. Please remember that this is a victory for all of us, and not just for me. As much as you may want to glorify me and my good deeds, remember that I am only one of you. Let the Kick Coke victory be a reminder to you all that if you try hard enough, grand and permanent positive change is within your reach.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that, much like Mahatma Gandhi, I was able to accomplish my goals through nonviolent means. It’s so wonderful that Swarthmore was receptive to all of that information about how Coca-Cola may or may not be committing human rights violations, which I got off of a website. I’m glad that they heeded our nonviolent protest, so that the militia we were forming was never made necessary.

It is still difficult for me to believe that we got the school to permanently remove all of its Coca-Cola products. I’m pinching myself! I’m kind of like Mother Theresa, in that I will improve the world through my charitable acts (I didn’t even get course credit!). They said it couldn’t be done, but I did it. I kicked Coke, much as St. Patrick kicked all of the snakes out of Ireland.

I will be graduating soon, in the Spring of 2009, but I’m comforted to think that my legacy of removing Coke from campus will live on forever. I will be leaving this wonderful institution with the knowledge that it truly is possible to effect enduring change. And if I can make a difference in the Dining Services choices of my small liberal arts college, I am sure that I can make my mark on the world at large. Maybe I can bring peace to Darfur, or at least prevent everyone in Darfur from drinking Coca-Cola products. I believe that great things are ahead. Only time will tell.

Peter Liebenson ’11 is the Editor-in-Chief of Spike, the campus humor magazine.


Hello, did you like this article? Write for The Gazette! Open staff meetings are every Monday at 7:30 p.m. in The Daily Gazette office on Parrish 4th; You can also email us at editors@daily.swarthmore.edu.

36 comments

  1. 0
    Jack Keefe ( User Karma: 1 ) says:

    Notwithstanding the question of the quality/worth of both this individual column and the its overall concept, I'm going to pose a partial solution to another underlying issue I think I'm seeing in this thread. To those who have very articulately expressed themselves in this thread, why not take your commenting to the next level and write a "letter-to-the-editor" or apply for a column?

    We've been advertising for quite some time w/r/t our largely open "hiring" policies; if any of the individuals above are concerned about a lack of representation of their own sphere of beliefs (either in the Gazette, Phoenix, or some gestalt reading of the two), they should feel totally free to add to the discourse by constructing their own pieces for discussion and analysis. Though the quality of the individual columns may be up for debate in some cases, we've had everything from conservative guinea pig fantasies to sexual-assault-survivor narratives to a radical reevaluation of the deer cull to "bend over boyfriend"… I think it should be absolutely manifest, again notwithstanding opinions w/r/t what should be the limits of publication on the DG, that said "limits" as they currently stand are probably inclusive of your own potential ideas.

    It's totally legitimate to be critically discussing this column… but, I guess my larger point is: if you feel we (and to some small extent, I suppose, certain sectors of the campus community who derive their conception of campus opinion from the publications) are bereft of consideration of certain ideas you deem important, *start those debates*.

  2. 0
    AYC '11 says:

    Has it occurred to any of you that some things actually DESERVE vitriol? I'm sorry, but leading a BS movement to bully the administration into breaking a legal contract, and hemorrhaging money to buy Pepsi for violations that were NEVER substantiated deserves something a lot more vitriol than this one column could possibly provide. Social activism can be a valuable tool, but when it is based on misinformation and gut reactions, it does a disservice to all useful activism. Anyone who does not understand that clearly does not live in the real world, and is fair game for ridicule. Kudos, Peter.

  3. 0
    K says:

    Peter, I maybe love you. I find your stand-up offensive, but this satire is GREAT. Also, I want to point out to the Swat community that coke was never "kicked." The bookstore sold it the whole time…

  4. 0
    Sleep says:

    I second Jenny–this column is just a poorly done satire. It's not funny mainly because the critique is completely superficial. I'd be all down for making fun of anything as long as your critique had some substance, but with false assumptions you killed it. Peter, if you want to bash something, it's best to go with what you know, not just what is currently relevant.

  5. 0
    Jenny A says:

    I'm going to have to second Yoel on this one–this was a pretty personal attack, picking on everything from the Kick Coke students' presumed backgrounds of privilege to their choice of academic major (though, I do admit, Peter made a nice jab at himself there) to insinuations of misinformation regarding coke's human rights abuses. However, as many have commented…this column just doesn't work. Satire, at its best, is based in social truths–this column is just based on miscalculated assumptions.

    Second, in response to Zack: the case of brown eggs is an interesting one, because while the majority of students may be indifferent to what sort of eggs they consume, a minority of students feel very strongly about not supporting animal cruelty and environmentally unsustainable farming practices. As a community, we are often faced with decisions which negatively effect some part of the community while benefitting others–this is not one of those. Instead, brown eggs benefit a minority of students while not affecting the majority, and without incurring a much greater expense than ordinary eggs (especially not if they are farmed locally, or even on campus through the up and coming swarthmore chickens project.) If you are particularly adamant, however, that our dining hall's eggs come from factory-raised, suffocated, de-beaked, chickens raised in captivity, pumped full of hormones, and forced to wade in their own feces…please, by all means, start a group and make it happen.

    In the spirit of organizing, whatever the cause….

  6. 0
    Daniel Symonds says:

    zack: it's not about polling everyone on everything and getting the majority opinion on what people think of all school policy. The Kick Coke campaign was done transparently and open to all students, and if no one or not enough people cared to counteract the Kick Coke campaign you can't fault the activists for hijacking the student body. Small groups make most decisions, and so long as the opposition is unsubstantial, everyone else finds out after the fact.

  7. 0
    Travis says:

    In the spirit of honesty, I think there was some sort of referendum about the Kick Coke issue. I have no idea what the results were, but I do know that none of the current students had a say in it (class of 2009 were freshmen at the time of the poll).

  8. 0
    Zack Gershenson says:

    If I may change the subject slightly… I'd like to point out a part of the column that I think everyone's overlooking. The part about a few activists successfully changing conditions for everyone.

    A few people had a problem with something, they campaigned against it, and they forced the school to find a much more expensive solution. Now I'm not saying we should, or should not, have stuck with Coke. It's just the current example of a common trend. Eggs from free range chickens taste the same but cost way more. Same deal.

    What I hope everybody can see in Peter's piece is the problem with small groups of activists. They frequently assume that they are right, and have the responsibility to fix things for everyone. The rest of us just get stuck with whatever said activists have chosen for us. Sure, if we hear about the movement in time, maybe we can work against it. But wouldn't it be easier to put the thing to a vote?

  9. 0
    Argos says:

    Guys…the DG has a right to publish whatever the hell it feels like regardless of how ridiculous it is. Yes, this column is crappy as all hell in terms of humor, but Herr Liebenson has a right to use his ill-given liberty so long as the DG is silly enough to put up with it. You've evidently been provided with the option of making an ass of yourselves with your very own Ridiculous Column.

  10. 0
    Yoel Roth says:

    Having skimmed this article only after Peter shamelessly pimped it out on his Twitter, I honestly don't care one way or another about this mess. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to chime in with a resounding "this doesn't make sense" re: the following —

    "He was not saying 'As a Kick Coke Activist, it is uncomfortable to look into the mirror every morning, as an ugly person stares back at me.' He is saying 'As a Kick Coke activist I exaggerate the importance of my activist mission.'"

    The object of both of those sentences is "a Kick Coke Activist." So, no, Jon, he's not satirizing the Kick Coke movement's overinflated sense of self-importance (a symptom more of the Swarthmore experience than any one particular activist cause) — he's dissing the activists themselves.

    I'm just saying, if you're going to stick up for the right of your columnists to insult people on campus, a mission I wholeheartedly endorse and often pursue on my blog (which admittedly doesn't get administration funding, but whatever), at least do it properly.

  11. 0
    Jon Emont ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hey Ben,
    I don't think either of us wants to overdo this, but it's very important to make clear why the Gazette originally published Peter's column, and why I stand by the Gazette's decision.
    I think we disagree on what is acceptable satire. Peter was not satirizing the Kick Coke Activists themselves, he was satirizing the political views held by Kick Coke Activists. He was satirizing, and this I think is critical, the actions and the motivations of the Kick Coke Activists. He was not saying "As a Kick Coke Activist, it is uncomfortable to look into the mirror every morning, as an ugly person stares back at me." He is saying "As a Kick Coke activist I exaggerate the importance of my activist mission." This is a political statement, which essentially boils down to: There are more important things to worry about than kicking Coke.
    Now, I'll grant you, the issue is a tricky one. Because who are people who stress unimportant issues? Well generally they're pompous blowhards. So Peter's critique is certainly personal, in that by criticizing these people's missions, he's criticizing the people who dedicate their time to those missions. This is the same as when I say "John McCain would have made a very poor President" I am implicitly criticizing anyone who voted for John McCain. I am saying that their judgement was faulty. So anyone who approved of the Kick Coke Campaign has every reason to feel insulted by Peter's column. But so long as they feel insulted because he makes a mockery of, what he deems, the self-importance of their campaign and the grandiosity of their views, and not because he launches a personal attack upon them, in the vein of, "Kick-Coke activists really ought to shower more," I think the Gazette has an obligation to publish. But my overall point, Ben, is not that this is a black-and-white issue, but that these issues are very rarely black and white, and here we just disagree.
    I also strongly dispute your notion of what this column was meant to achieve. I don't think, like you do, that Peter hoped that "with the force of the Gazette and majority approval behind him, the column won't be questioned." I'm quite confident that Peter welcomes this dialogue and very much wanted this column to be questioned. Furthermore, and this I think is very important, Peter does not have the Gazette "behind him." We published his column, but that hardly means we support his views.
    And anyone, including you or any alumnus, is welcome to publish an op-ed. This would give you the same standing as Peter, and would make it so your views are not relegated to the comments section. In fact, I very much encourage you to publish an op-ed.
    You conclude with "Surely, however, a distinction can be drawn between valid pieces with flaws… and tasteless, tactless, pieces aimed at insulting and demeaning members of the Swarthmore student body." Ah, Ben, were it only so easy. Just realize that nearly as many people gave Peter favorable comments as unfavorable comments, which means that there are probably a lot more people at Swarthmore than just the Gazette Editors who feel that this column was within bounds. I understand your views, and I am not entirely confident in my own. But unnecessary censorship is a very great evil whereas I suspect that if any Kick-Coke activists or allies read this, they would just think "Peter's not a nice person and the Gazette is garbage" and would promptly move on with their day. So I'll acknowledge that this is a tough case, but on balance, I'm confident the Gazette made the right move in publishing.

  12. 0
    Ben Hattem says:

    Hi Jon,
    Let me, for lack of a better phrase, address some of your concerns about my concerns. Firstly, you suggest that Peter’s purpose and function in writing this piece was to mock and satirize (both your words) Kick Coke activists, and possibly any other student activist who falls under his scrutiny. Here, we are in agreement. However, I strongly dispute the idea that this is something he has the right to do, and yet more strongly dispute that this serves the Swarthmore community. Were he arguing against the ideas espoused by Kick Coke, that would be acceptable as an opinion piece or column. However, his purpose here, as you pointed out, is to direct his mockery at the activists themselves. Disrespect and insult to other Swarthmore students should not be given the validity bestowed on this article by its publication. As an (admittedly poor) example, if I were to send you a piece entitled “Mertz Residents Suck” detailing all the irritating pretensions I witnessed in students living in Mertz, I doubt you’d publish it, on the grounds that it is needlessly insulting without containing any real insight. Peter’s piece, while being slightly more veiled than that, though I’ll stress that it’s only slightly more veiled, contains nothing that my hypothetical hate column wouldn’t. In fact, given that Peter’s piece is directed at a smaller body of students than those found in Mertz, I consider his column even more offensive than mine would be. Incidentally, for the benefit of those living in Mertz, you all seem pretty cool. Don’t worry guys, it’s just an example.
    Also, suggesting that we are merely responding to Peter so aggressively because we do not share his views is frankly insulting. In fact, Peter has used his column to denigrate students for seemingly no reason but that he does not share their views, and we are responding to that. I would guess that the number of students all jazzed up about getting rid of Coke is significantly smaller than the number of students who find themselves bothered by perceived pretensions in student activism, which again suggests that the function of this article is to ridicule a subset of the student body in the hopes that, with the force of the Gazette and majority approval behind him, the column won’t be questioned.
    Furthermore, the ability of alumni to comment on Peter’s article cannot by any reasonable stretch of the imagination be considered proper or full recourse. As an editor for The Gazette, I’m sure you know that an article published by a columnist for a newspaper under the name and approval of that newspaper is given credibility orders of magnitude greater than that held by a comment among many on the subsequent blog, however irate the comment may be. And, as an aside, I am hard pressed to find a way to turn Peter’s blithe and insensitive comment about the student who will “bring peace to Darfur, or at least prevent everyone in Darfur from drinking Coca-Cola products” into some sort of proto-activist commentary on directing our attention to worthy causes.
    I understand that, as an editor, you are limited by the material sent to you. I also understand and sympathize with the desire to err against censorship. Surely, however, a distinction can be drawn between valid pieces with flaws, perhaps containing poorly constructed arguments or excessive bile, and tasteless, tactless pieces aimed at insulting and demeaning members of the Swarthmore student body with whom the author disagrees. I think this piece, though couched in terms of satire, falls squarely in the latter category, and I object to its publication on those grounds.

  13. 0
    Jon Emont ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi everyone,

    I'm the Gazette's Opinions Editor, and therefore, the one ultimately responsible for the publication of this column. While I can't argue with those who don't find the column particularly amusing- you either find Peter funny or you don't- I'm surprised that so many of you find this piece this profoundly offensive. Peter is, quite baldly, mocking Kick Coke activists, and probably, as Ben points out, "all student activism that Peter doesn't agree with." It is something that he has every right to do, and furthermore, something that serves the interests of the Swarthmore community.

    I do not necessarily agree with Peter that this particular strain of activism was useless. But by satirizing Kick Coke activists, and criticizing what he perceives as their crusading, holier-than-thou attitude, he is providing a perspective that certain portions of the campus shares about Swarthmore student activism. The fact that few of you share Peter's opinions does not mean that Peter is merely mongering "offensive bilge." He is arguing that the The Kick Coke Campaign did not achieve very much, and that there are causes, like Darfur, that better deserve our immediate attention. Certainly there are flaws to this reasoning, as GDSI points out about the value of "incremental change". Which is why all of you should be glad that the Daily Gazette publishes this satire, and allows you the opportunity to criticize and discuss the arguments online at your leisure.

    I would like too address a few more of Ben's criticisms. The first is that Peter shouldn't have targeted Kick Coke Activists because they've already graduated and "don't have any means of recourse." In fact, any Kick Coke activist with internet has recourse to the same comment policy of which you are all currently availing yourselves. What more could the Kick Coke People do if they had remained on campus, challenged Peter to a duel? And as to Ben's comment that Peter's article should not have been published because it was not "worthy or representative of Swarthmore's student body," I can only say that as an editor I tend to err against censoring material on the grounds of that is a minority view, or based on it's estimated "offensiveness" alone. I would prefer to have the readers, not the editors deem what is a "worthy" opinion and what is not. Obviously there are exception to this policy, but I disagree with anyone who thinks that Peter's column should have been one of them.

    Finally, many of you criticize the fact that the Gazette Opinion's section has posted no thoughtful or considered commentary on the Kick Coke Campaign. All I can say is that we editors are handicapped in that we can only publish what is submitted to us. I look forward to continuing this discussion, and would encourage any of the many thoughtful commenters above to send a sample column to jemont1@swarthmore.edu. Thanks a lot,

    Jon

  14. 0
    student '12 says:

    Jack–the challenge to turn our comment criticisms into columns is not unfair, but at least with this piece my hope is that the Gazette has higher standards than letting any insulting a**hole get published. No doubt, last semester's free-market guinea pig had a lot more to say.

    What's the blind love for Coke, folks? Really, we're just going to pledge allegience to Coke as if the Kick Coke campaign didn't like the flavor? The truth is Coke returned–saving Swarthmore a substantial amount of money–in exchange for the introduction of a student-directed Ethical Purchasing Policy. Hard to say that Kick Coke was pointless if it's led to a concrete change in Swat business policy, even if a single brand with a tarnished history has made its way back to Sharples. And really, Peter's article is all over the place, attempting to take the wind out of civil rights, nonviolent resistence, Darfur activism, and anybody with a higher goal than writing so many lines lauding the priceless wit of Peter.

    And finally, for all you defending this "harmless fun" that Peter is trying to pass as satire, check out his standup on YouTube. Might think twice about defending this dude's value to the Swarthmore Community.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0FLhYBoHe8&feature=related

  15. 0
    Jack Keefe ( User Karma: 1 ) says:

    Notwithstanding the question of the quality/worth of both this individual column and the its overall concept, I'm going to pose a partial solution to another underlying issue I think I'm seeing in this thread. To those who have very articulately expressed themselves in this thread, why not take your commenting to the next level and write a "letter-to-the-editor" or apply for a column?

    We've been advertising for quite some time w/r/t our largely open "hiring" policies; if any of the individuals above are concerned about a lack of representation of their own sphere of beliefs (either in the Gazette, Phoenix, or some gestalt reading of the two), they should feel totally free to add to the discourse by constructing their own pieces for discussion and analysis. Though the quality of the individual columns may be up for debate in some cases, we've had everything from conservative guinea pig fantasies to sexual-assault-survivor narratives to a radical reevaluation of the deer cull to "bend over boyfriend"… I think it should be absolutely manifest, again notwithstanding opinions w/r/t what should be the limits of publication on the DG, that said "limits" as they currently stand are probably inclusive of your own potential ideas.

    It's totally legitimate to be critically discussing this column… but, I guess my larger point is: if you feel we (and to some small extent, I suppose, certain sectors of the campus community who derive their conception of campus opinion from the publications) are bereft of consideration of certain ideas you deem important, *start those debates*.

  16. 0
    Student '11 says:

    I love this article. Swarthmore students need to seriously be less serious about themselves. Also I'm glad coke is back on campus.

  17. 0
    Simone Fried says:

    CHFB, it may be true that he successfully baited and got flamed, but, I mean, that's a pretty simple goal. You could get the same effect with just about any inane and offensive string of words – a typo-riddled rant against poor writers, a column detailing why such-and-such minority group is inferior, naming and singling out an individual to bash, etc. So I actually think the fact that it is tasteless and un-funny is quite relevant. Even if for some reason Peter is interested in writing a column that attracts flamers, it's a poor effort if he can only get flamed for legitimately bad stuff.

    I mean, yes, I too found it ironic that Coke returned almost immediately after the group had mostly graduated, but that has nothing to do with Peter's derisive construction of the activists as self-absorbed, self-inflated idealists. Their personal reasons for trying to Kick Coke are unrelated to why it's actually an issue. And the undertones of race, class, and human rights issues undertones, as Ben said, are not satirical or ironic; they're just insensitive.

  18. 0
    mara says:

    I'm sorry, but answering in a thoughtful and honest manner to what is a yes, tasteless and not-funny "column" is a legitimate and necessary thing to do. Downplaying it by talking about "points" for and against people is infantile at best. What does that even mean? That Peter is good at insulting and that because of that he's better than all of us who don't appreciate insults? That's kind of messed up.

    Why does the Gazette even have a "column" that's dedicated to "flamebaiting and vitriol"? And none dedicated to actual constructive discussion about controversial issues on campus (such as Kick Coke)? Great job at playing a constructive role in the Swarthmore community, guys.

  19. 0
    CHFB says:

    Jeez. Certainly glad I didn't try out for vertigo-go! Seriously, didn't you notice the irony of it? He baited, you flamed, point to Mr Liebenson. (That fact that it's tasteless and not funny is beside the point.)

  20. 0
    Ben Hattem says:

    Good point about this being a 'column' rather than an 'opinion', J. Still, I'm not sure we should be supporting a column that does nothing but mock in a particularly nonconstructive and humorless manner people who don't really have any means of recourse. The students whom Peter's smacking around here have already graduated, so this is either completely ineffective in that those being derided have no reason to read this, or simply mean-spirited in that they don't have any way to fight back.
    Also, I get that there hasn't been a big debate on campus, but that just makes the amount of derision and disdain in this article seem more inappropriate. Furthermore, this article seems to be about more than just the Kick Coke campaign. It is implicitly, if not explicitly, striking out against all student activism, or at least all student activism that Peter doesn't agree with.
    Point being, the whole article strikes me as hugely disrespectful to a subset of the Swarthmore community that in my experience has seemed pretty thoughtful and sensible. I don't think people should be able to get away with that level of disrespect in a public setting without having some kind of meaningful insight to back it up. Peter has none.
    And, as a side note, it's just not funny. It's sophomoric and lacks any redeeming subtlety or cleverness. Not that that's a big point of contention; I'd still be irritated if it were insulting but witty. But it's not funny. And the reference to Darfur is just insensitive.

  21. 0
    Dougal Sutherland ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ben, this isn't an "opinion" piece, it's an "opinions & column" piece. This clearly falls into the latter category, especially given the "flamebait and vitriol" header. It's not trying to add anything to the debate — as if there really is a debate on campus, I know I haven't seen any signs of a real one about Coke's resurgence — just (attempting) to be funny.

  22. 0
    Ben Hattem says:

    What is most frustrating to me about this article is that it contributes no meaningful information to any conversation about Coke’s reemergence on campus. It is nothing more than vitriol for the sake of being vitriolic, and perhaps to assert some perceived intellectual dominance over the students involved in the Kick Coke campaign. While satire may have its place in debate, hurling disrespectful bile at other students is never appropriate nor is it a valid argumentative tool. The Gazette should be ashamed that they allow such filth to be published under the pretenses of an ‘opinion’ piece; childish aggression against one’s peers may be an opinion, but it is certainly not an opinion worthy or representative of Swarthmore’s student body. This is not thoughtful debate. This is like the worst of the offensive bilge published in Spike last year redirected against fellow Swarthmore students. One need only look at the comment immediately preceding mine to notice that this article has ruffled a few Swarthmorean feathers, and while that comment echoes the ridiculing nature of this article in a way I find almost equally unhelpful, I would like to reiterate the anonymous commenter’s challenge to the author to write something critical about activism, instead of continuing to lash out inanely against other members of the Swarthmore community. In short, this article is unhelpful, disrespectful, and asinine, and I hope above all that the editors of the Gazette think twice before they allow such disdainful, immature garbage to be published again.

  23. 0
    GoDestroySpikeInstead says:

    It hurts me that this utterly worthless article has not been slammed with rejection more forcefully. Who, Peter, do you think you are to mistake humor for simply making fun of legitimate student concerns, all of them sponsored by groups and people that I can safely assume you have no involvement with. Surely if you could redeem your offensiveness with wit this wouldn't repulse me so, but your jokes are both uncreative and shallow. What kind of self-loathing young tool teases someone for using the internet for research? Whereas at least activists on campus are aiming at big goals through incremental change, your purpose seems to be running straight to nowhere. I challenge you to write something critical about campus activism, something absent of your flavorless vitriol and pathetic dislike for all the people who know exactly how irrelevant you are.

Comments are closed.