What Do We Want?

It should be sunny tomorrow, so Westyn predicts there'll be a lot of people "demonstrating" on Sproul. Respond at [email protected].





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Berkeley is known for being a beacon of free speech, and as the center of protest for the entire country. Perhaps, in the 1960s, people actually gave a damn about what they were fighting for, but that spirit died a long time ago. Clearly, the average modern activist simply cares about having a good time.

During the initial "stop the war" protests after Sept. 11, many of those "opposed" to the attacks on Afghanistan blasted music on boom boxes, sported enormous arts-and-crafts projects and were generally making merry. As one of the people who covered these protests, I can tell you most people did not care at all about the cause du jour. I did, however, see a whole lot of people who were thrilled to have a mid-day fiesta to participate in.

Throughout my tenure at Cal, I have witnessed many protests. Most notably, I covered the ethnic studies protest that was all the rage my freshman year. I witnessed a whole bunch of people wearing armbands, camping out on campus and having a great time making trouble.

To this day, no one has satisfactorily explained to me what the true "issues" were. I had gotten some vague answers saying something about faculty hiring, but when I pushed I found the issue was that student protesters feared the university might not hire additional professors in the future after some current ones retire. It wasn't that the university had done anything in the present to merit the protest. So I get back to my point-most activists on campus don't truly care about their causes; they care about going down in history as having thrown the best party ever at UC Berkeley.

One day, I was walking to lunch with a friend who has dreadlocks, and we were stopped by two stereotypical-looking activists. The pair sized us up and one of them asked my friend (not me-I suppose he was discouraged by my polo shirt), "Do you like protesting? Because we are trying to organize against Taco Bell ..."

Note the operative word here-like-as in, do you think it is fun to participate in protests? The question wasn't, "Do you care about underprivileged workers throughout the world?" because that's not the impetus behind modern Berkeley activism.

Two years ago, I ran into an acquaintance wearing a WTO pin. Having covered several protests myself, I suspected this particular individual did not know what on earth WTO is. I decided to investigate and the conversation went a little like this:

Me: Oh, I see you are wearing a WTO pin. Did you go up to the protests in Seattle?

WTO Pin Man: Yeah, it was awesome.

Me: By the way, what does WTO stand for?

WTO Pin Man: Umm ... Don't know.

The issue with him, as with many others in Berkeley, is that he came here because he wanted to protest. It doesn't really matter what the issue is, as long as there are crowds of people blocking highways and a lot of media coverage. If he is lucky, he might even get to say hello to mom on TV.

Recently, a bunch of students gathered in the lobby of Eshleman Hall because they were planning to protest a bill proposed by ASUC's token Republican senator. Unfortunately for them, they were not allowed into the meeting.

So what did they do?

Did they try to find another way to fight for their cause? No.

Did they go home? No.

Since they were already in Eshleman Hall, they decided to march up a few floors and air grievances in The Daily Californian's office. Of course, their issue was a day old and a dollar short. Moving from one issue to another in the same building in a matter of minutes really speaks to the sorry degree of passion these versatile lobbyists harbor.

Protests on campus are no longer about tangible issues. They are often nothing more than glorified parties in which a group of people get together, blast loud music, and generally have a good time. Forget about stopping the war, or trying to actually affect change-that might spoil the fun.

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