Huden almost killed him. Actually, it was the salad, he says.
He smiles and leans forward in his chair. Resting his forearms on the soda-sticky Fireside Lounge table, he recants his near death experience at Castleton’s Huden Dining Hall with boyish charm and unbridled pissy gusto.
“I took a tomato from there for my salad once,” he says, as pieces of frustration begin to spark behind his otherwise calm, brown, Benji eyes. “I bit into it and was like what the f—? F—ing sour and tart! I looked at it and it was black.”
He snatches up the small cardboard “Eat your veggies!” cutout advertisement placed at the center of the table. He pauses briefly, soaking in the irony of its message, before ultimately knocking it on its side like a tiny overturned trailer in a twister.
Huden hath riled the activist beast within Matt Kimball — it knows no bounds.
A history of action
Lots of people know Matt Kimball. 21 years old. Lives in Rutland, Vt. Calls Guinness on draft “the epitome of everything that is good and brewed.” The CSC communications major has been one of the more active members of the campus community since enrolling in fall 2004.
He has been president of the award-winning Reel Action Club, is one of the founding members of the Student Peace Alliance of Rutland County (SPARC), is an organizer for the new Women’s Issues Club Committee, C.H.A.N.G.E., writes political columns on therebuttal.com, was a member of various local bands, and has helped organize numerous events for various social causes in the area.
Even Castleton President David Wolk knows him.
“[He] is an outstanding young man,” Wolk said. “He has been active in promoting gender equity and social justice issues throughout his tenure as a Castleton student.
Kimball’s vocal approach to politics and social issues has helped him carve a niche for himself as a community organizer, arranging everything from peaceful protests against the war in Iraq to civil rights.
“I like being the watchdog. I like keeping everyone in check. I could never be a journalist because I’m so opinionated,” he said.
Communications Prof. Tom Conroy, a member of Veterans for Peace (VFP) and author of the book “Deconstructing America’s War Culture,” was particularly impressed by a recent Iraq war protest arranged by Kimball in Rutland, Vt. He described it as “hopeful and laid back” without being “in-your-face” with “counterproductive finger pointing” and anger.
“He’s one of these quiet, affable, people who get things done,” Conroy said. “I think he is the type of activist who will motivate or inspire your generation more than the old, traditional, Abby Hoffman’s getting up there and doing power salutes.”
Conroy noted that it is also Kimball’s ability to present himself as an approachable, caring, individual with a calm demeanor that is going to help him further his causes in the future.
“You don’t have to bone up on political ideology to have a coffee or a cup of tea or whatever with Matt. You say ‘how’s it going Matt?’ and you’ll have something to talk about,” he said.
Practice what you preach
He sits in the middle of the Fireside Lounge, surrounded by empty tables and chairs. Quiet sounds of student chattering sneak across the room from the fireplace corner couches. Black band t-shirt, shorts, skater sneaks, and short, wispy, chestnut hair give Matt the look of the “typical,” class skipping, Tarantino worshipping, Maiden-loving communications student.
Which, it turns out, is not exactly true.
“I think I’m the weird communication student,” he says coyly. “I’m always on time and I’m always at class. I’m also the type of communications student who can’t do anything technical. I’m horrible at editing .”
What is also “weird” about Matt is his complete lack of BS. Unlike many of his peers who only claim to be out for a cause, Matt actually follows through on his words.
“It has become trendy to be rebellious and hate the government,” he says. “People
are jumping on the bandwagon because it’s cool, not because they really mean it.”
I wince, staring down at my George Bush Sr. t-shirt that reads, “I should have pulled out” – essentially my only contribution to activism in any form.
His voice grows a few decibels louder.
“I haven’t bought anything at Wal-Mart in three years,” he says triumphantly. “I know where some of these products are being made. Some of them are made in sweat shops by workers who are being exploited.”
Meaningless words were also one of the primary reasons for Matt’s departure from his former local hardcore punk band, Orange Juice.
“A lot of bands are all talk – preaching — not a lot of action,” he said, referring to the band’s message of social acceptance and personal rights, which completely contradicted their actions offstage. He was particularly frustrated by the actions of one member.
“He’d put people down for wearing certain clothes. That’s not preaching equality. He is becoming a mall punk and he thinks he is just the sh– for it,” he said. He found it hypocritical that the same person preaching for social acceptance in his music would be the first person to brag about “wailing on the emo kid in the pit” at club shows.
“Basically he became a jock playing hardcore,” Matt added.
What the future holds
Someone in the “bowels of the campus center,” as Matt calls it, begins to play softly on the Fireside piano. It is around this time that I begin to detect a hint of elitism in Matt’s voice. It is also at this time that Josh Riley, a criminal justice major, sits down and joins the conversation briefly.
“Do you know who this is?” I ask, pointing to Matt across the table.
“I have no idea who the hell this is,” Josh says in crisp black and white.
“It’s Matt Kimball – he’s a LIBERAL,” I say, stretching the “L” word, like I was introducing Tom Cruise or Charles Manson to my mother.
“Who?” Josh says, half-responding to the dry wit. He soon gets up and leaves. A few moments of awkward silence pass. Matt smiles like a Trekkie at a William Shatner convention and breaks it.
“Sometimes I come off as smug to people, I don’t know why,” he says, sounding genuinely remorseful. “But I think that just comes with being in an activist role and how many [activists] seem to think they’re better than everyone else.”
“There is a wrong way to be an activist. And that is to tell people what’s right – and then shove it down their throats,” he says, slightly louder than the previous comment, and seems to catch himself in a quiet yell.
“Then you’re no better than the other side. Or any side,” he says. “I give people the means to research and find out for themselves, but I’m not going to tell them what to do — that’s lame.”
Matt’s graduating in May and searching for a media outreach job in a nonprofit group, but he has found little success so far despite his impressive track record in community services throughout college.
“Any advice to offer incoming freshman?” I ask, reaching into my playbook of clichéd graduating senior questions.
He takes a moment and laughs a bit, searching his brain for the perfect answer.
“Start thinking about a career right away, but keep your options open,” he says, sounding slightly somber and saddened at the thought of retrospection. “It [graduation] creeps up so fast, and then all of a sudden you’re really scared.”
This leads to the inevitable “how do you want to be remembered?” question, which he laughs and scoffs at. He’s too humble a person to think in the dimensions of college legacies and legends of lore.
Regardless, he answers.
“Anything I did to speak out I didn’t do for myself. I really hope people stop and think and look at things in a different way,” he says. “That maybe they wouldn’t have had they not gone to some of the events.”
He begins to chuckle, a nice thick laugh that echoes through the lounge room.
“I hope I changed cultures! I hope people wear pink underwear because of me!” he says laughing. “I hope people begin to shave parts of their bodies they didn’t expect to!”
Time will tell.