Disclaimer: I am not politically-minded, and these are not well-planned thoughts, just musings. Please take this with a grain of salt.

I feel really far from the Occupy movement.

Part of that is because I am really far from the Occupy movement, geographically, anyway. Cambodia is 12 time zones from the east coast of the US, and 15 (or 9 minus a day) from my native California.

Part of that is because I don’t follow politics much anyway even when they are happening around me. So I know that I can’t offer a good opinion on this issue, and thus am staying out of analyzing / taking sides in the general #occupy.

Part of that is because I’m an upper-middle class young white male with an unfair amount of luck and opportunity in his life, and so I know I haven’t gone through hardship worth protesting. Except the dismantling of the smaller departments at my university. And I feel like a sizable amount of the protesting “99%” is actually in an okay place in the world, even though things could clearly be not just better but more Right.

Part of that is because I go to work and see people who live in one-room wooden shacks on short stilts, underneath which is a pile of garbage. While the government is [REDACTED], I teach kids who have no parents and kids who are better off in the shelter than with their parents and kids whose parents are only grudgingly sending them to school, because they could be out on the streets doing something to earn money.

I feel really far from the Occupy movement.

The protests in Berkeley are (supposedly) different, because instead of just protesting about how life is unfair and the corporations are fat cats, they’re protesting specific issues of budget cuts, professor furloughs and staff layoffs, and tuition hikes. (I believe for someone in-state, Berkeley costs maybe half as much as a private university now, before scholarships? And for out-of-state or international, I’m pretty sure it’s above the average private university…but, despite being sad to see one of my out-of-state friends have to change schools because of the cost, that actually makes sense.)

The problem is (and the problem I had with the Berkeley protests back when they started) is that they don’t propose a solution. Of course not; that’s not how protests work. It’s also not really what protests are for, either, though…

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.

This is from a past post on the first round of recent Berkeley protests…in Spring 2010. Almost two years ago.

I don’t know how to fix California. I don’t know how to fix the US. But after seeing several articles about the police brutality at the last Berkeley protest, I know that I’d unequivocally join the next Berkeley protest. Why? Because what the hell, police? You can’t do that. You can’t do that.

Okay, I wouldn’t join a rally for any cause; if it was something I really didn’t believe in (anti-gay-marriage?), or something that was really unreasonable (arson??), I wouldn’t join in. But I still wouldn’t want to see anti-gay-marriage protesters get treated like this—no one should be treated like this.

From Chancellor Birgeneau:

It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience. By contrast, some of the protesters chose to be arrested peacefully; they were told to leave their tents, informed that they would be arrested if they did not, and indicated their intention to be arrested. They did not resist arrest or try physically to obstruct the police officers’ efforts to remove the tent. These protesters were acting in the tradition of peaceful civil disobedience, and we honor them.

(emphasis added)

Apart from the fact that the protesters who voluntarily submitted to arrest were also beaten and thrown to the ground, then kept waiting in jail for probably longer than necessary…since when is a human chain “violent civil disobedience”?

(Someone clever found a photo of MLK in a human chain and posted it on Facebook with the quote from Birgeneau.)

It’s true that the protesters broke the campus policy on encampments. I think that does mean they can all be fined and possibly even arrested—that’s how rules work, and when you protest you’re saying you’ll break the rules to get noticed. I’m not sure what happens when you’re dealing with civil disobedience—declining to recognize a given authority. That’s what “disobedience” means. But whatever might have happened, what did happen was clearly not the right response.

I’m not in favor of pulling fire alarms, or, really, of building takeovers, because this does interfere with others’ education. Which they may be just barely able to pay for, right? But this was a plaza takeover. I don’t think it was causing any threats, even if it would cause plenty of inconvenience due to the university “not [being] equipped to manage the hygiene, safety, space, and conflict issues that emerge when an encampment takes hold and the more intransigent individuals gain control”.

Forget it.

Engineers and scientists, maybe you don’t care. We have a tendency to be happy as long as we can do our work undisturbed, ignoring social issues—human issues—across campus and down the street. But I hope you’ve read enough science fiction, history, whatever, to know that this is not how things are supposed to work.

I did read one article from the New York Times that’s taking a long-term view of the Occupy movement, calling it “The New Progressive Movement”. I don’t know if that’s where things are going, but if it is…that’s a great thing for America. Regardless of what you believe about Occupy itself.

Why? Because my generation is the apathetic generation. I in particular am quite apathetic about BIG things (it comes with my world view, which I’ve only really explained in full to a few people), but in general I think we have a tendency not to care about politics, focus on our daily distractions, and not really think about why we’re protesting. So if this is a breaking point, where suddenly we start to care, well, that’s a good thing.

Now, there’s always the issue that what people are asking for now isn’t actually possible. Health care for everyone? Subsidized college education? Everyone knows that these are just pipe pot dreams from a group of idealistic students secretly looking for an easy way—oh wait, they’ve done this successfully in Europe, in several different countries. I live with a volunteer from Germany now, and she’s not worried at all about paying for university when she goes back to Germany, because it’s going to be maybe $1000 a semester (IIRC).

(In Cambodia, a non-international university costs much less than $1000 a semester, but then in Cambodia a job working for the government only pays $20-60 a month.)

I’m not sure what’s going to become of Occupy, or what should become of Occupy. But I welcome the awakening of my generation, a strong backlash against police brutality, and the rallying of people who deserve a stronger voice.