Too little, too late. (an open letter to the students of the UC)

Dear UC students:

My heart goes out to you about the fee and tuition increases.  It really does.  I was there once, after all: it was just over 10 years ago now that I got off the Big Blue Bus at the Hilgard transit terminal at UCLA for my first day of classes.  It was a wonderful and fascinating experience–especially for me, since I had been homeschooled the entire rest of my life.

College life can be wonderful.  It can be stressful.  And it can also be quite insular.  Even though you’re spending your entire time learning about the outside world, you might not be spending all that much time actually participating in that outside world, what with classes, work, sports, as well as the requisite amount of merry-making without which college life wouldn’t be complete.

But here’s something you need to figure out: you know that old story of the frog in the increasingly hot pot of water? That’s you.  This state has been in a fiscal crisis for several years now.  There have been warning signs that this was coming for a long time.  In other words, the gas has been on for some time now.  And where were any of you when funding was gutted for AIDS patients?  Where were most of you when health insurance benefits were systematically cut for the Californians who needed it most?  Where were you when a billion-dollar corporate tax break was balanced on the backs of California’s middle class?  When all this was going on, did you think you were immune?  As if somehow, you wouldn’t be next?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad you’re actually out protesting now, even if it only happens when the pound of flesh is about to come out of your collective hides.  After all, if you didn’t, it would just be a tragic symptom of the collective apathy that is gripping our state.  But just protesting the day of the vote? Too little, too late.  It’s just like I said in the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8:  Yeah, the protests might be fun, and they might feel good.  But it’s a little late to start getting active only when your rights have been taken away.

Let me borrow something from our dear Governor Howard Dean–put in terms that college students might empathize with: Voting only gets you a D.  Same with these “day-of” protests.  If you’d actually like to make a difference in the outcome, take a minute to stop downloading whatever it is you’re downloading (hey, I don’t judge) and help us organize.

Help us organize against the 2/3rds budget requirement that allows an extremist minority to hold our state hostage and force the budget to be balanced on your backs.  Help us organize to kick out some of those same legislators and replace them with people who actually represent your interests.  And who knows–maybe you’ll find that you actually like organizing and activism and you’ll decide to make a career out of it.  We’re always looking for good people.

(photo courtesy of Cindy Roach)

22 thoughts on “Too little, too late. (an open letter to the students of the UC)”

  1. this pattern is drearily familiar (Prop 8 protests, anyone?)

    In Ventura, people who never got involved in Measure A’s campaign are begging the City Council to save the Wright Library and other services that Measure A would have saved.  Sorry, people–where were you when you could have made a difference?

    Aggrievement and collective shouting is fun, and makes people feel good.  Actually doing something is, you know, work.

  2. You know, what they should do is bend over and take it like every other resident of California.

    After they are done being put in their place by both the government and the “smarter” “progressives” (and of course finish donwloading things like Brittney Spears or whatever the kids listen to these days) they can join the more righteous cause that you deem to be appropriate. And when they ask “hey, how come you guys didn’t stop that 2/3rds requirement that came about before we were evern born?” you can patronizingly tell them that questions like that won’t help with the fundraising letters enlightened “organizers” need to get out.

    Thanks Dante for setting everyone straight!  

  3. Look.  I’m just as frustrated as you are with these ineffective protests and downright harebrained ideas of what passes for effective leadership among students.

    But why don’t you go onto university campuses and actually try and track some of these people down and recruit them into the activities that would actually be a productive use of their time?  This blog is a nice way to start, but most students probably aren’t reading it.  Go find these so called student leaders and help them direct people to a more appropriate option.  So far most of the people I’ve talked to here are angry, don’t know enough about the actual issues and are ripe for someone who actually knows what’s going on to help them understand how to cause actual change.

    It’d be great if you or someone else on your campaign would harness the power of the angry students who’d like to do something but don’t know where to turn.  Most of them do really have good intentions and might be willing to put the work in necessary to help organize field operations in their surrounding communities.  At the very least they can get other students to sign petitions that need signing, I already directed one student to the list of circulating initiatives and told him to find a campaign to join, but there’s really no outreach to students here to help them realize they have ways to help do something important.

    Unfortunately I’d love to say I’d help you do this, but you’ll have to start with someone else as I’ve already found my own effective battle to fight.  (We’re working hard to land more federal research money.  Which doesn’t put as much money into UC’s core budget as we’d like, but will still be an improvement.)

  4. Dante, please, don’t be ridiculous. Having spent some considerable time organizing UC students, I can tell you that dunning them for not participating in previous efforts when they do actually show up is a pretty ineffective organizing tactic. Believe it or not, this is not something they want to hear and it does not encourage people to stay involved.

    How ’bout instead of whining about it in an “open letter” on a blog that is read primarily by people who are already very politically engaged, you, the professional organizer, get out there and actually organize them around these causes?  They are, after all, 18-22 year old kids.  I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for them to take on the 2/3rds budget requirement on their own.

  5. At  the risk of sounding like Grampa Simpson…kids these days.

    Here’s the thing: The fee increase thing is nothing new – UC has been moving all admin costs onto students for 20 years. I remember attending UCSC in 1990 and guess what – there were protests then too! There were all sorts of attempts to organize (sans Internet) and the problem was once people left school, they just didn’t care.

    The public has no sympathy for college students – to them college is a nice “Extra”, and not something worth paying for to ensure California remains a tech superpower in a changing world.

    Politicians don’t care either – they’re too busy cobbling together some bullshit budget deal every year, students (sans any faculty support of course) would lobby their legislators, be treated like shit, and then it’d be over and at best you’d get some bullshit promise of “more financial aid.”

    The point is this – this stuff has been going on for a long time, and frankly Democrats in the legislature, Democrats in general have been AWOL. Oh sure there’s some freakin’ resolution people passed at some committee meeting, and oh yeah we had some platform plank.

    The problem is that consistently, whenever anyone has had a chance to fix things, they didn’t. So while we can cluck our tongues at the current crop of students protesting “after the fact”, the fact is that much of the damage was already being done before these folks were even in junior high. So I’m not willing to give them shit for being “too little too late” – instead I’d rather take a look at those of us who were around, and ask what the fuck did we do?

    BTW, for fun why not watch this video from 1992. Old Jerry Brown pretty much predicted all of this back then but he was considered a “kook”…

  6. Funny, I don’t remember a post excoriating battered women and allied advocacy organizations for not fighting Prop 8. Or wondering where gay folks were when welfare was dismantled. Why do YOU get to decide which issues are important to people? And why do you think shaming those who still get involved — sometimes in the face of enormous pressure not to — is a winning strategy?

    One thing to remember is that these students are still students. They’re still in the process of learning. Many of them are just now gaining exposure to ideas and forms of action beyond what they grew up with. The vast majority of people do not operate with an organizer’s attitude. Not everyone wakes up to reality, and those of us that do wake up do so at different rates and with different triggers. We should be glad that people are getting involved at all — students tuned in to what’s going on are much more easily brought into the fold moving forward than those who shrug it all off. Unfortunately, the message you’re trying to get across in this “open letter” is entirely lost because its form is so nasty, so supercilious. But that’s life in the circular firing squad.

  7. If you truly believe that students only get organized when they’re ass is on the line than you are more out of touch than you accuse us to be.

    Spend any time on a college campus and you will know that the number of groups advocating for various issues is nearly overwhelming.  You have numerous single issue organizations ranging from Invisible Children to health care groups to SIN to gay rights orgs to groups advocating for AIDS patients to environmentalists coupled with multi-issue groups such as CALPIRG and College Democrats.  I can think of nowhere in the state where people are more willing to stand up and get active on issues that do not directly effect themselves.

    Additionally, do you believe that all of these students are first years?  Is every senior who will likely face no consequences from the regents vote just sitting and downloading stuff (isn’t it funny that even bloggers are now trying to use technology as a symbol of inactivity?) Do you assume that none of the protesters are well off enough to continue going to school regardless of fee increases? Also, do you think that nothing was done prior to the vote? Do you we woke up on Wednesday and said “shit, I need to protest!”? We’ve been fighting for years on the principle that public education needs to be accessible to the public and not just to those with enough money to afford it.

    Finally, we are organizing against the 2/3rds rule. I’ll be very surprised if students do not make up a disproportionate amount of the signatures needed to get the Lakoff initiative on the ballot.

    So in the future, please direct your smug, condescension elsewhere

  8. undergrads have been organizing and protesting against this process for the entire time i’ve been a grad student in the UC system. they were at the front of the protests against every fee hike, they were at the center of the years-long drive to force UCD to recognize subcontracted-out food service workers and let them unionize, they came out in force when police tazed students on-campus, they were very supportive of the faculty protests over furloughs and the grad student union’s attempts to win fair contracts, they were at the center of the anti-prop 8 effort in town, and are very active in all sorts of causes when they’re not doing homework and working jobs on the side (sometimes multiple) just to cover the growing fee demands.

    to scold students at the moment that they put together a pretty significant, statewide protest? not only is that offensive, it is tactically dumb. it turns people against you, instinctively, at the very moment when you should be bringing them in and cheering them on.

    i can’t believe you front-paged this.

  9. I didn’t think anything could top your moronic Daily Kos diary about the Franken recount, but you’ve managed to outdo yourself!  Mozel tov!

    Next time I hear a young dem complain about a pol talking down to them, I’ll remind them of this screed from one of their own.

  10. Thanks to the website Keep California’s Promise you can find out what representatives represent the schools that are being afflicted with these cuts/fee increases.

    UCSB has Tony Strickland as state senator representing them.

    UCR has Sen.Dutton and Assemblyman Nestande

    Cal State San Bernardino has Assemblyman Adams / and state sen Dutton

    UCI has Chuck DeVore and Sen.Harman

    Many state schools have Republicans representing them. Don’t do rallies at your schools, take the rallies to the Republicans district offices. With political pressure good things can happen.

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