By Katia Protsenko
Politics & Culture Editor
In the 1960s and ’70s, they burned draft cards. Now, they make Facebook events and post blogs.
Throughout the decades, student activists have broken convention and even pushed authority to breaking points in their respective struggles for change. Despite having different goals, this population has been at the forefront of a continuous movement to defend First Amendment rights to assemble and redress actions of the government.
Over the past five decades, the United States military has engaged in campaigns around the world, most notably in Vietnam and the Middle East. On college campuses across the country students protested these and other campaigns, but their numbers have been dwindling.
Where have all the activists gone?
Nora Hochman came to Santa Cruz in 1983. She is currently an organizer of the Local 817 Service Employees International Union. In the 1960s and ’70s, she was an active anti-war protester in Santa Barbara.
“We would drive up to San Francisco for anti-war demonstrations,” Hochman said. “That’s what I did on the weekends as a student.”
Bernice Belton, 85, emphasized the presence of a draft, and how it spurred people of all walks of life into action. In the 1960s, she helped organize a million-person march in San Francisco.
“There was a draft during Vietnam which included middle-class people,” Belton said. “As a result the middle-class families and students were very involved [in anti-war protests].”
Hochman and Belton were among many young adults across the country who protested the actions of the federal government. The culmination of this activism was the Vietnam War protests of the early and mid-’70s.
“I didn’t do everything, but I tasted tear gas and pepper spray enough to know that I never wanted to taste it again,” Hochman said.
As a college student in Washington, Ben Carson was involved in numerous protests against the Persian Gulf War. He is currently an assistant professor of music and digital arts and new media at UC Santa Cruz.
In college, Carson participated in a 24-hour torch vigil and was part of a multi-state attempt to shut down Interstate 5 through Washington, Oregon and California.
“We were in Salem, Oregon. Everyone who was traveling from Portland to San Francisco [that day] had to take a different route,” Carson said. “In Seattle it truly brought the city to a standstill.”
Unlike many other protests of past and present, Carson and his peers actually communicated with police before the protest to ensure safety and nonviolence.
“We didn’t want anybody to get hurt, and we didn’t want the cops getting brutal with us, so we talked to them beforehand,” Carson said. “You couldn’t do this today.”
Carson also noted the recently created factions among left-wing activists: the anti-war and the anti-military groups.
“We supported the human beings that have been exploited as troops, but we didn’t support their troop-ness,” Carson said of his stance as an anti-military protester. “You couldn’t make a convincing anti-war statement if you were pro-military.”
As a participant in numerous protests with attendance in the hundreds of thousands, Carson blamed the lack of media coverage for the shortage of public activist awareness.
“Big media conglomerates have downplayed what protesters have been able to do,” Carson said. “[As a protester], you feel like it’s an anomaly, like an exception to the rule, that this doesn’t happen normally.”
American studies professor Forrest Robinson remarked that the Vietnam War and its associated protests were the catalyst of a decline of faith in government-altering activism.
“[We’re in] a period of considerable political apathy,” Robinson said. He noted the incorrigible nature of current political and economic systems, and how it can seem hopeless to do something about it.
Despite hopelessness, organizations like Students Against War (SAW) strive to increase awareness — as well as resistance — and public participation in anti-war protest.
Having been involved in SAW for two years, second-year John Williams is now organizing a protest against military recruiters who will come to a UCSC career fair on April 22.
“The best way to fight war is to deplete its resources, done effectually by counter-recruitment and protest,” Williams said.
Besides SAW, which was once listed as a threat to national security by the Department of Defense, student-run groups are sparse at UC Santa Cruz.
Still, student activism could make a comeback after the remarkably high youth involvement in the coming presidential election.
“It’s been pretty grim, but it could get better,” Robinson said. “I very much hope that student activism will be invigorated.”
Just like Hochman, Belton and Carson, the new generation of student activists strive to make change.
“[As a protester] you notice that you are affecting things. You know that this is a form of speech,” Carson said. “We know that we’re making a difference.”
_Additional reporting by Margaret Carpenter and Matt Skenazy._