Home > activism, school > your cause ain’t my cause

your cause ain’t my cause

So, yesterday I attended the March 2nd “Day of Action” protest on campus. I was pretty excited. I mean, I love a good march as much as any other 20-something anachro-punk kid with a copy of Rolling Thunder in my backpack. I dragged along my good out-of-towner friend Morgan, a self designated “riot tourist.” While visiting him in Zurich earlier in the year, he was kind enough to show me where all the Swiss students and anarchists congregate for the annual May Day Riots. So, I thought that it was only fitting to show him a bit of the counter-establishment movement and subculture that I dabble in on this side of the Atlantic.

Boy, was I embarrassed.

As we caught Muni to campus, I attempted to explain what people were upset about. California colleges were being hacked apart by statewide budget cuts while student fees were being raised to compensate. Students were unable to graduate because the classes and professors they need to complete their studies are being axed. Programs are being eliminated and students are being turned away from classes. Shit is bad, and only poised to get worse.

We arrived just in time for the assembly in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. As we nestled ourselves in between students and news cameras, we were prepared for some quality discourse on student issues. I was ready to hear some speeches about how a fully funded CSU could eliminate most student fees. I was looking forward to perhaps a strongly worded rant about how CSU schools should be accessible and affordable. I would have absolutely loved to listen to someone talk about CSUs should be governed by students and staff, not Sacramento.

It all started so well…

What did I get? A bunch of loosely associated, vague rants about the fail of capitalism and how us students were all Egyptian/Libyans/Wisconsinites (really, use any of these terms. Apparently they are all interchangeable). And somehow, I guess, this had everything to do with organizing and reforming the CSU system.

Now, this is all well and good. I’m all for smashing down the walls of a capitalist society. I’m more than on board with maintaining solidarity with oppressed groups around the world.

But at a rally for student rights and reform? No.

Here was an opportunity to organize. The target audience was right there. Here was SQE’s (Students for Quality Education, the group that organized the march) chance to reach out and actually convince students that they have the power to change their educational narrative. Here was the perfect opportunity for us to all agree on one common issue: the state government has royally and personally fucked over every student who has attended a public institution in the last 7 years.

The crowd dissipated after each fringe issue was introduced.  It was especially notable after the first dude stood up to read a Marxist tinged rant on ownership of the educational system. It was about the point that someone started to cover “Don’t Believe The Hype” on accordion that Morgan and I decided that we should investigate another aspect of student life; the pub downstairs.

Education cuts are a gushing wound. Yesterday was an opportunity for students on campus to organize and try to apply pressure to stop the flow of blood. Instead,  it turned into a discussion of how the wounded is an overweight cripple who we should really put on a diet. Instead, it tuned into a discussion about how we shouldn’t forget that there are other wounded people in the world. Instead, it turned into a discussion about how perhaps we should use homeopathic remedies instead of gauze to stop the flow.

But for now, the wound bleeds on.  And we all suffer.

Categories: activism, school
  1. March 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Yep. Unfortunately little has changed in the 20 years since I was doing this kind of thing.

    Protests used to be about demonstrating the degree of organization and depth of committment. But nowadays we don’t have organization or solidarity with other groups, and most students are not committed. Instead it turns into a chance for people with various personality defects to be exhibitionists.

    At least for protests in their current form in North America (limp gatherings, or rock-throwing nihilism), I wouldn’t waste time on them. The Wisconsin deal is more like what protests should really be like, since it’s targeted on a specific change that’s needed, with a great deal of committment. In other words it’s about a *strategy*, not self-expression.

    • March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      Right? It’s amazing how this sort of thing has changed even in the last 10 years or so. I mean, I remember as a freshman in high school driving down to San Francisco to march in the days after the Iraq war broke out. It was a beautiful slice of all sorts of people; students, anarchists, grandmothers, socialists, bankers, you name it. And we were all protesting together. I guess I thought that sort of solidarity would be a natural thing for students who were all assembled in the name of educational reform, but I was obviously mistaken. It is frustrating and sad.

      • March 4, 2011 at 9:19 am

        Around the same time, I was attending demonstrations in Vancouver, doing antiwar Critical Mass protests, and so on. You’re right that they were great because there was a huge consensus that a very bad thing was going to happen, and it did bring out the middle class. I disagree that they meant anything more. The ruling classes in the USA have figured out that protests — even large scale protests that involve a mainstream audience — signal no permanent commitment against their agenda.

        The ruling classes are used to the postmodern form of protest where it’s all about self-expression. You go not to effect change but to demonstrate something about yourself to your peers.

        This is why, I think, they are overconfident in the case of Wisconsin. They think this is the sort of thing which will just blow over when the media loses interest, and the “professional protesters” who love a microphone go home. But I do have some hope that people are rediscovering what such actions are supposed to be about: to disrupt the functioning of the state.

  2. March 15, 2011 at 3:29 am

    I was very disappointed with the turn out. I followed the march the whole way to city college, and it seemed that every 2 feet away from state people trickled away. I was surprised to with the turnout of the protest by the time we went to City. More of the fact that people were still there…. at least physically.

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