#Berkeley and the myth of the activist life #highered #occupyeducation #criticaled #edstudies #ubc #yteubc

by Stephen Petrina on February 14, 2014

Alexandra McGee, Counterpunch, February 14, 2014– On February 13th, 2014, I attended a UC Berkeley protest against the appointment of Janet Napolitano as President of the UC system.* The qualms against her appointment fall outside of my purview to describe here. This piece is much larger than Napolitano, or the protest itself. Instead, lets look at how systemic economic inequality has affected the mentality (and thereby the capability for action) of my generation.

Organized by the Associated Students of the University of California, the protest attracted upward of 500 people, purported thousands if you count onlookers and those who bore witness momentarily. With protest signs, cloth banners, megaphones and fists of solidarity, this crowd of young students had been protesting since 10 am. I started asking onlookers what their motivations were for being there and what they thought of the movement until I realized, this was no real protest.

Napolitano was in Sutardja Dai Hall. Protesters had taken the nearby Blum Center For Developing Economies. We stood, fists held high and shouting into a megaphone, all pointed in the opposite direction from our supposed target. Sutardja Dai Hall was inconveniently guarded, with five large men guarding the bottom entrance, doors locked on the second floor, three cops with shiny sunglasses glaring down at us from the top floor and two cops on bikes circling the building. News reporters stood aside, pointing their video camera into the disjointed group, many of whom were unaware of what our strategy was, or what our demands were.

Why aren’t we occupying Sutardja Dai Hall?

I began to ask those around me. The ASUC had emphasized that they were “not going to negotiate with Napolitano on the issue of her resignation.” But how would occupying a nearby building do anything at all? Why are we not engaging in constructive dialogue? “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!” But how will chanting together do anything but stroke our own egos? “But this is Berkeley, radicals. All of us!” Pure ideological masturbation unless you do something provocative to cause change.

I am frustrated that Berkeley continues to perpetuate the myth of its activist lifestyle for economic gain. It sells an image of the rebel protester, the ideological martyr, to a generation of youth that cannot find their way four blocks north without GPS, never mind find their way past the bureaucratic labyrinth to create substantial change. With their tuition and the gradual privatization of education (see: millions of dollars from ecologically destructive corporations like BP), they perpetuate the inequality of wealth and even endorse human rights abusers, as they have by allowing Napolitano to be their system president.

If Mario Savio were amongst us, he would hang his head in absolute shame. Not just at the cafe on campus toting his name as a publicity stunt, but at our failure to question the status quo. To disturb the system, you don’t occupy a building which poses no strategical advantage, you don’t chant just to make yourself feel good, and you do not boast that you are creating community when really all you’re doing is attracting people who want to update their facebooks with a new “rebel” profile picture.

This frustration is also fueled by great hope that I once had in the Occupy movement. Surrounded by well-intentioned, intelligent people, I was sure that change was in our grasp, but we were outlasted in our patience, overcome by our fragmentation, and overconfident in our abilities. Now, I was ready to rush the police to occupy a space of power for those who couldn’t. To represent those who had been deported from their country because of Napolitano’s discriminatory policies. To recognize our own humanity in a space where we would not be welcome. To demand recognition and respect as a human being rather than an authorized citizen.

But doing so would require facing down strongmen of the establishment. To do so would put in jeopardy our clean police records with some nonsense charge of non-compliance. As a fellow protester said, she worried that if we actually tried to change something, she wouldn’t be able to get a job because it would show up on her record. She didn’t actually think anything would change.

Bulls eye. Compliance to capitalism fueled by fear. The threat of economic punishment if we are labeled as radical.

Read More: Counterpunch