Friday, October 20, 2006

Protest This: A cri de coeur.

Well, it wasn't exactly the March on Washington, was it?

Wednesday's protest by UCSC students on the occasion of the visit of the UC Regents, garnered some media attention, with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in addition to the analysis in the local Santa Cruz Sentinel. In Fosco's original post on the matter, he poked some gentle(?) fun at the protesters because, well, it all seemed a bit silly.

But the more Fosco reads about the protest and the fallout, the less silly it seems. Rather, it is becoming clear that this protest was colossally stupid.

"Yeah, yeah," you say, "Fosco is totally in league with The Man." He's "corrupted by White Upper Class Privilege." He's "scared to Fight the Power." He's "gone soft" in academia, where he is "complicit with State Interests." I would disagree (although maybe not completely), but it's a pointless exercise for me to try to convince this critic of my leftist credentials. I think it's enough to say these two things:

  • I don't approve of many things that the UC Regents do (or have done).
  • I am willing to nonviolently protest against specific policies (and have done so many times in my life).
Therefore, while I may not be leftist enough, I certainly can be considered generally sympathetic to leftish causes (and not just in an armchair way). And that's why I'm pissed off about this protest.

This is the big problem with the protest: why were the students protesting? Now, I know that there are tons of potential issues that could have been the cause of this protest and I am sympathetic to all of them: student fee hikes (non-Californians, did you know that, by law, the University of California cannot charge tuition? It gets around this problem by charging "fees." Sneaky, eh?), the funding of nuclear weapons research, cuts to humanities programs, a living wage for UC custodial workers, etc. I would love to hold the Regents accountable for all those things. But here's the problem: no one seemed to be protesting those things!

You don't believe me? Let's listen to the students (from the Sentinel article):
"I agree it wasn't the most successful protest, but at least it is a step away from our image as apathetic youth. For your readers blinded by upper class stability (something I admittedly enjoy), I ask that they recognize us as idealistic human beings, raised in their world, but willing to shed our egos and join together for a better world through a fairer distribution of power."

"These people [the Regents] smile real smug like they got your number and it's real frustrating."

"What we did accomplish is making ourselves known," activist Tomasso Boggia said. "We're here and really pissed off."
What the fuck? These kids tried to surround the UC Regents and (some of them) entered into violent confrontations with police officers because the Regents are smug? Or, to prove that they're not apathetic? This is ridiculous.

This protest lacked the two things that make a protest coherent: a leader (or spokesperson) and a message. To me, this seems like Protest 101 (which, if it were going to be taught on any university campus, would probably be taught here...). Where was the message? Who was speaking for these protesters (and if it was the people quoted above, they need to be fired)? Oh and what about some chants? "We're here and really pissed off!" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" (N.B., the queer one has the additional benefit of offering an actual demand.)

And here's the bigger problem: when UCSC Acting Chancellor Blumenthal sent out his campuswide email today deploring the protest, I (and, I suspect, a lot of other people) actually agreed with it. I don't think this is a good thing--I don't like agreeing with the administration. But when the Chancellor says,
What was both unexpected and completely unacceptable was pushing, kicking, biting, spitting, heaping verbal abuse, and throwing bottles and decayed fruit at staff and visitors, as occurred on Wednesday. Staff members, including our police officers, were verbally abused and physically injured. Guests from the community were pushed and spat upon. [...] Students, faculty, staff (including UCSC police), and visitors are all members of our community and are entitled to civil and respectful treatment.
it's hard to disagree.

Ah, my radical little Banana Slugs... I hate to say it, but maybe you could take a lesson from your compatriots at UC Berkeley. This is how they spent their Wednesday afternoon.

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