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May 2000 - Wil Layng

Greetings, my name is Wil Layng, a 22-year old recent graduate of the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. I’m excited to be the award winner for the month of May because I loved Rage’s first album as a teenager and really respect what the band does and stands for. I get a lot of my inspiration through music and hope that you do too. I’m active in several different areas, although credit must be shared among all the other wonderful people who work for social justice and progressive change in Athens and elsewhere.

I started off as an activist in college with UGA’s Students for Environmental Awareness club. Because we believe that society needs to set a goal of creating healthy, sustainable, local economies, we act as an ethical voice and a vision for responsible use of resources and a healthy environment. We emphasize local issues and “campus greening”, but also help out on high-profile national campaigns. There are many different levels for action, and SEA is involved at them all.

This year, SEA has worked with kids at the local Boys and Girls Club to plant a completely organic vegetable garden on their campus. After seeing how many of our forests go to make paper and how much paper is wasted at UGA, I led a group of SEA folks in getting UGA to buy 100% Post-Consumer Waste Recycled paper in Fall ’98.

We also worked on the campaign to force Home Depot to stop selling wood from endangered forests worldwide, including a big action at their corporate headquarters in Atlanta, where some activists from SEA, Rainforest Action Network, and Earth First! hung a HUGE banner off of a crane that said “Home Depot Stop Selling Old Growth Wood!”. Nonviolent direct action is where it’s at!

I’m also mad about the corporatization of education (making learning for-profit), particularly at my university. Last year, Coca-Cola gave our business school a lot of money for a new addition, on the condition that they get to install a lounge full of Coke machines and obnoxious advertising (Coke doesn’t even use recycled plastic in their bottles!). SEA held a demonstration and street theater in front of the building, which has created a good discussion on campus about the role of companies in education.

Our society has problems not only in how it treats the environment, but also in how it treats people. Another big issue on campuses is the fight against sweatshops. Students want to make sure that clothes bearing their school’s name is made somewhere where workers get paid a good wage, where women and children are not abused, and where workers have the right to unionize. I helped create the UGA Students Against Sweatshops (part of United Students Against Sweatshops) to make sure UGA apparel was produced with justice. We’ve been raising all kinds of hell this year, including taking over an administrative “cabinet meeting” to hand President Adams a check for 16 cents to represent his first paycheck as a sweatshop employee, a “Fashion Show of Horrors”, and a guerilla theater skit parodying the ridiculous TV show “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?”.

The problem with the environmental movement, in my opinion, is that its mostly middle class white people (like me) telling other people what to do, and it shouldn’t be that way. Environmental degradation affects us all, so its extremely important for white environmentalists to reach out to people of color and understand their perspectives and passions. I enjoyed working in the Hispanic communities around Athens helping to teach English to Spanish speakers, most of who work in chicken packing plants or other exploitative jobs. That project was through Athens’ Catholic Social Services. Its important for environmentalists to realize that the air in a factory matters just as much as the air over the polar ice caps, so we should build solidarity with ALL people who want and need justice. We can’t create a new society with the same old stereotypes.

In November, a caravan of us from Athens went to the Army School of the Americas protest at Fort Benning, Ga. 10,000 people, including religious groups, high school groups, labor unions, and veterans came out to demonstrate against the school, which trains Latin American Soldiers in combat and strong-arm politics. Graduates of the SOA have been implicated in numerous war crimes and atrocities against peaceful protesters and indigenous people throughout Latin America. The U.S.A’s foreign and military policies must no longer support dictatorships and oppression. Close the SOA!

Finally, I was one of the cofounders of The Sagan Society at UGA, named in honor of the great scientist Carl Sagan. The Sagan Society is dedicated to critical thinking and rationalism and tackles a host of issues with discussions and speakers. The Society is particularly focused on issues like religious fundamentalism, ethics, and religion in education and science. Some past topics were the assault on the teaching of evolution in schools, the Death Penalty, “Rehnquisition and the War on the Bill of Rights”, and the corporate media.

There are so many ways to get involved and I feel that this is a crucial time for our generation. The big demonstrations against globalization in Seattle and Washington DC give me a lot of hope for the future, so follow your own passions and get active! Feel free to write to me if you want to know more. In solidarity,

Wil Layng


Wil gives a speech at the Athens Human Rights Festival, April 15, 2000

UGA’s Students Against Sweatshops presents the UGA president with a check for 16 cents to represent the school’s first paycheck to a sweatshop employee.

Photos by Chris Jay Hoofnagle.

Photos provided by David Atlas and Maayan Zach

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