An army of protesting Brigham Young University students recently invaded the sleepy little town of Santaquin, Utah. Many called it “their day of violent protest.” They violently protested against those who riot—and they actively demonstrated that students can change things within the system and at the same time make the world a much better place for others.
About one thousand students, divided into well-organized work details, shoveled, hoed, scraped, painted, pruned, and picked up as block by block they transformed Santaquin.
Before October 10, Santaquin, to many, was dying. Established in pioneer times as a small farming community and manpower pool to help defend against Indians in neighboring areas, it hasn’t grown much since. Its population today is about one thousand—many too old, too young, or too infirm to help much with the town’s problems. The younger inhabitants have a habit of leaving for steady jobs or more urban opportunities in their lives. Those who have stayed have become increasingly frustrated with their efforts to maintain and improve the town.
Before October 10, many of the students interviewed weren’t sure that constructive voluntary action was really possible. Many had served before on other less successful projects and were dubious about whether a project could be so meticulously planned that it would be of substantial value.
“I guess I first tossed this out to a political science class when we were talking about voluntary action one day,” said Dr. Doyle Buckwalter, assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University, the man credited with sparking this idea among the students. “I told them that Santaquin has a fine spirit, and that all it needed was a little manpower, organization, and material help. They grabbed the ball and have been running with it ever since. One student body officer even made it a part of his campaign platform.”
At the end of the day, Santaquin had several acres of new park, complete with sprinkling system, fifteen picnic tables, and a fireplace and barbecue pit; new tennis courts; and dozens of shiny new street address markers. Many old homes were sanded down and painted; and old, dilapidated barns and other buildings were torn down and hauled away. Vacant lots, some on the town’s main street, were cleaned, and flower bulbs were planted in what had been widows’ weed patches.
“What a paradox!” said Chris Mould, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development executive who was representing Secretary George Romney at the Santaquin Day operation. “You know, the classic example of voluntary help in the United States has always been barn raising. This is the reverse—people volunteering to tear down old barns. It’s great! I’d much rather be here than back in Washington.”
At the end of the day, Cam Caldwell, BYU vice-president of student relations, summed up the day’s activities: “We can see that voluntary effort really pays off. We tapped a little student power, and now the community is improved and we have seen success. This kind of program has great potential. Already we have seen what it has done to motivate other people in the community to make contributions on their own. We hope this kind of program will catch on at other universities. We challenge them and urge them to try to save our communities—to protect and help them so that they will be better places to live.”
Comments from Those Who Were There
“I was in St. Louis yesterday for a convention of college presidents. Two of us left early; I came here to see you rebuild Santaquin, and the other president went to see what was left of his ROTC building. This is the kind of voluntary militancy that all students throughout the country should be engaged in.”
—President Ernest L. Wilkinson
“The old and infirm become totally frustrated when trying to accomplish a task like this.”
—Dr. Doyle Buckwalter
“This is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I’m totally ecstatic! Just think what the consequences would be if we established a national precedent today. I mean, if every college or school did this, just once a year, can you imagine what would happen?”
“I think it is great. I have been involved in projects like this before, but never this well organized. This is really meaningful.”
“I’ve seen activity on this scale in the Bay area—but then, the riots weren’t exactly approved.”
“I volunteered for painting, but somehow I ended up on the demolition bus … so that’s why I am the only girl helping to tear down this old barn. But it’s kind of nice!”
“It feels good for a change. In school you don’t really get the chance to get out and actually work with your hands.”
“To help someone else helps me inside. In a way, it’s almost selfish.”
“People who say that people don’t care for each other just haven’t tried this.”
“It’s good to think of someone else for a change, because in school one gets a little self-centered, worrying about his own problems.”
“I love it. This morning I pulled weeds and now I am painting.”
“As a physical therapy major, I’d say this is the best kind of therapy.”
“As a physics major, I am studying the force vectors of digging this ditch. Seriously, this is great! I think it is out-of-sight that so many people will come out and do something to improve their environment, rather than just sit around and complain.”
“To me, it’s a kind of peaceful protest.”
“I think it’s a good way to show that things really can be done through the system. You know, a lot of people have lost the vision of how to work through the system.”
“You get a great feeling of brotherhood by all working hard together.”
“This is a great chance to really practice a little of the charity that the Savior talked about; the chance really doesn’t come often enough.”
“It’s neat—no protests, just action.”
“I wish it would catch on around the world, but that means that people would have to think about others before themselves.”
“It’s good exercise, after nothing harder than making your bed. It really feels great.”
“This will unite the people of Santaquin more than anything we have ever had.”
“It sure changed my image of youth today.”
“I’ve tried to paint my house myself, but my leg has been so bad. I painted for two years and only got the front porch done.”
“I think it is something for these young people to get out and mix with us.”
“It’s really different from what you see in the news about college kids.”
“It’s wonderful, boy; just beautiful.”
“Few people, even those who live here, will recognize how much was done this day.”
“These kids are doing a swell job. It just has to change people’s ideas about kids nowadays.”
“It is sad that the other kind of activity is getting so much publicity.”
“Man, they sure made a difference in my neighbor’s lot. I’d better hurry home before they tear my whole house down!”