Protests and Politics

Last semester, during one of the major protest at UC Berkeley, I sat in the Main Stacks spiral staircase area and wrote a long piece about my take on what was going on. I never posted it anywhere, partially because I didn’t really want to have to defend my hastily-typed position. It was just a catharsis, getting thoughts out on paper into a file.

The regents went and voted to approve fee increases, construction continues, I don’t think sports funds have been reallocated, even the CS department has been hit (somewhat) by the budget cuts, and as far as I know, no jobs were restored, and there will probably be more layoffs to come. The thing is, everyone will have forgotten about this by next year; even if Berkeley and the other UCs drop to half their current quality they’ll still be sought-after schools. (Setting aside the issue of measuring quality numerically and on a single dimension.)

The reason I went to one rally last year was not because I believed everything the rally coordinators shouted. It wasn’t because I really wanted to stand up to the evil university, the regents, even the CA legislature. It was to be a statistic. It was to be one more person in a rally that would make headlines, so that this would become a major issue. Cause people don’t spend money on non-major issues. If the public started feeling like this issue was unfair and more important than I-don’t-know-what, then maybe the legislature would pull money off some other program to help education.

Anyway. Recently at UCSD there have been issues with racism, starting with a party in poor taste that was probably not meant to be an attack, but then escalating with a noose found hanging in the library, with an anonymous letter promising more. Apart from a “What the h***, anonymous messed-up racist vandal?”, I don’t know what to say about this. But one of my friends commented (offhandedly, on Facebook) that this huge reaction is probably just going to encourage the vandal, who would be delighted at the attention.

At UC Berkeley last night there was a “dance party” in support of the upcoming protest next week; we actually saw it as we left TR rehearsal around 11:00. The dance party then apparently turned into an occupation of Durant Hall (currently under construction and not a significant building on campus, so I assume it was chosen just because it was easier to get into), and then into a full-fledged riot on Telegraph. (Pics from the Daily Cal) Apart from being glad I don’t live on Southside this semester, I’m disappointed and *facepalm* that we just lost most credibility we would have had for next week’s protest. The organizers and maybe even the majority of rioters were apparently not Cal students.

These two events got me to thinking. If this were an Orson Scott Card novel, these would be deliberately planned events. Of course, the planners could still be on either side: if they were protesters, then they wanted to unite UCSD against a clear enemy and stir up that old Berkeley revolutionary spirit. If they were against the protests, then they wanted to distract UCSD with a more clear-cut issue, and discredit the protesters at Berkeley.

My personal feelings are lying with the latter results (gut reaction against racism and disgust for yesterday night’s activity), so it looks like the Man is winning.

Anyway, it’s an interesting theory. If you participate in any rally events on March 4, think about why you’re doing it. I don’t know if I am going to participate this time, but if I do, it’s only for one reason: to be a statistic, and keep the issue in the news as long as we can.