Protest at UCB

I found myself getting choked up in the car this morning and then crying when I parked my car. It surprised me a little because I was listening to a news show on NPR, and not for very long either. They were reporting on the strike going on at Cal around the fee hikes and just the sounds of the sirens, the yelling, and the banging on the doors was enough to upset me. It’s so sad to me when people don’t respect the beliefs and values of others. So sad to hear such violence directed yet again at young people speaking their minds, and advocating for something important. Public education may now be considered a privilege, but at one point it was considered the foundation of a free society. It’s not trivial to go to bat for that kind of ideal….

A little background- I went to Cal and got pretty cynical about the usefulness of protests while I was there. Of course I was there when 9/11 happened and there was a protest on sproul plaza literally every Friday. In spite of all that was going on, and still is, when a protest becomes something you expect, are able to schedule around, it takes on a quality that is antithetical to its purpose. When you fill out a form to have a protest it becomes a contrived event that is unlikely to generate any real emotion or awareness in those attending or in those organizing. Indeed, when I did go through that area on those days you saw few students stopping. A protest is a specific tactic that is effective if employed at the right time on a conflict curve. It also has to be part of a larger conversation with those who are actually in the position to respond meaningfully to your demands. For example, a protest on the UC campus about going to war may be necessary to express emotion and energy, but the UC regents are not real leverage points on that issue which means that the protest is unlikely to affect a shift in actual policy.

The host was talking to a young woman who was barricaded inside of Wheeler Hall. While she was explaining their position you could here the sirens in the background, the yells of the police, the loud slamming of the doors as they tried to push through the doors being held by just 40-60 18-22 year old students. She explained that they were scared, that they had been threatened with tear gas, pepper spray, some people had been beaten with battons. For striking to keep public education affordable. For asking that people be able to keep their jobs. What justifies this violence? Where does this anger come from? I was apalled, and saddened, deeply.

The point is this; the money has to come from somewhere, but where are the regents in all this? Where is the voice for public education? This cuts to the heart of the a conversation I wish we were having about what we value in this culture. Equal opportunity, diversity, education, democracy, these words and what lies behind them have to be defended by us. Even if changes need to be made, why aren’t our leaders coming out to talk about our values and the decisions we have to make? The fees at UC have risen over 300% since I was born. With the rate hikes they propose the tuition will now be as much as I am paying at private university for graduate school.

For the first time in a long time I stopped taking my education for granted and started to think how my life would be different if I hadn’t gone to Cal, if I hadn’t met the professors who influenced and changed me the way they did. If I hadn’t gotten a lot of financial aid. Where would I be? In this time of crisis I’d like to see this opportunity becoming more available, not further away. If we are to move towards greater equality in this world…


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