Movement needs support, direction — not cynicism

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If various UCSC-related Facebook pages, The Santa Cruz Sentinel’s recent editorial (“UC highway protest: How not to cultivate solidarity” on March 3) and the publication’s comments section are representative of the public reaction to the six undergraduates who formed a blockade on Highway 17, then many community members and students are upset, to say the least.

Some of the responses were predictable — folks frustrated by the general disruption of the status quo and administration ready to denounce anything that jeopardizes the reputation of the university. Some of the concerns were warranted. Shutting down a highway with a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the state, especially one many commuters depend on, was a considerable safety hazard that could have been much worse. So much of the reaction, however, has been volatile, and at times, violent.

It’s true that a protest in Sacramento or at the UC offices in Oakland could give more visibility to those who make the decisions that directly affect tuition increases. But the suggestion that students demonstrated out of ignorance or naiveté is presumptuous. If the students’ goal was to bring media attention to their cause, they were successful.

Many commenters, from UCSC and the broader Santa Cruz community alike, have argued that higher education is a privilege rather than a right, even though the California Master Plan for Higher Education clearly articulates that “the two governing boards reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.”

The idea is not, as The Sentinel would have us believe, “childish,” nor was it formulated by “entitled” students. Rather, it was developed by forward-thinking citizens like Clark Kerr who believed California had a responsibility to foster excellence by guaranteeing educational access for all. The Sentinel editorial board questions “where protesters might be learning such absurdities” and its answer can be found in the original framework for one of the most successful public institutions of higher education in the country.

The irony of The Sentinel’s editorial board’s statement about protesters’ “entitlement” is that not one of the editors paid more than $2,000 for their annual tuition — six times less than the average UC tuition of $12,804. Further, the average student debt for UC graduates was $20,500 in 2012-13, according to the UC Accountability Report. In an article from The Atlantic, an analysis revealed “that 34 percent of students with just $5,000 of outstanding debt — hardly ‘high’ — default on their student loans.”

Much of the commentary following the action has been condescending and disrespectful to not only the students who were arrested, but to all students concerned with their financial health after college.

The editorial patronizes the “96 Hours of Action” movement, disputing any connection between tuition increases and police violence, without exploring any connection between the accessibility of education and the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. By putting protests, racism and police violence in quotes, the editorial minimizes the problems the students are highlighting.

The Sentinel asserts that the “best thing to come out of Tuesday’s action is that local law enforcement was able to forcefully disentangle the protesters and arrest six of them.” The Sentinel offers no productive alternatives, no constructive criticism — just another editorial peddling cynicism.

The last line of the editorial asks: “Anyone care to bet how much solidarity those folks stuck for hours in the Fishhook shutdown now feel about students’ grievances?” The disconnect of this sentiment could not be more obvious. If there was any solidarity with students and recent graduates around skyrocketing tuition rates and student debt, actions of this sort would not be necessary. The problem is that national student debt, which is at $1.2 trillion and rising, is a national crisis, and if the actions of UC regents are indicative of the future, the situation is not getting any better.

Journalism, at its best, should elevate the discourse around issues through measured and informative reporting, and, if The Santa Cruz Sentinel wants to criticize, it should be prepared to offer something more productive than snark and reactionary parental guidance.

5 COMMENTS

  1. You do know that the Master Plan (along with Clark Kerr) got chucked out the window shortly after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as governor in January 1967, right? Reagan was elected partially on his pledge to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” and he went about that by getting the Regents to fire Kerr and then persuading the legislature to cut funding to the UC system, which resulted in the UCs having to start charging tuition in 1970.

    • Gee, I thought I paid tuition when I attended UCSB and UC Berkeley back in the 60’s, but, yes, it was incredibly low by today’s standards. I do sympathize with any young person who wants to get an education and is faced with high tuition charges. But, I don’t think they’re gripe is with the citizens of Santa Cruz (where I was born in 1947), but is with the University system itself. I do not have access to the University’s budget, but I think the amount spent on salaries to academicians who do not teach classes is probably out of control and expenses could be brought down. And, of course, there is the small participation from the State’s General Fund. Maybe students need to do more outreach to the citizenry and their legislators before closing down freeways. Maybe they need to confront some of the imbalances in State funding that benefits illegal immigrants and other wasters. What they are doing right now will do nothing except alienate the population of a small city that is probably very inclined to be on their side.

  2. Your feelings about the Sentinel coverage is clear. What isn’t clear is any logical connection between blocking a highway and any of the causes which these students were protesting against. I believe tuition hikes, police violence, and racism are worthy issues to protest, but next time I hope students will use the brains that got them into college to think up more appropriate locations and forms of protest.

  3. Let’s see how long this stays up.

    I believe very few question the one main issue of the protest: Increased tuition. I will not add the other issues of racism, police brutality, FTP, Palestine, sexism, divestment, etc. that were tacked on to give more legitimacy and perhaps garner a wider audience. The audience to bring your protest to was NOT the Santa Cruz community. It is to the Regents in Oakland and to the Governor in Sacramento. Most of you are guests of our community for four to five years. Don’t S*** where you eat.

    I suppose these writers are OK with some of the effects of the 17/6 protesters that we know of at this point. Information is from reliable sources. Maybe we’ll be seeing these stories in our local media soon. I’ll keep you updated.

    Here’s a radio segment that speaks of a few of the following incidents that happened during this “inconvenience”:

    http://podcast.ethanbearman.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/KSFO20150307UCSCProtestDonLane.mp3

    A Hospice patient now lies in a coma near death because her Rx from Horsnyder’s didn’t get to her in time.

    One person lost their job.

    Several people had to skip chemotherapy.

    Two had a very long and delayed trip to ER

    One person’s cat died in her car trying to get to the vets.

    One concrete provider lost $10,000-$16,000 of material by the time he arrived at a job site.

    One unverified death by heart attack and one unverified childbirth while in the “inconvenience” of stalled traffic.

    The “protesters” screamed at children…

    We’ll know more in the coming days.

    The 17/6 students were arraigned with the felony charge dropped with them pleading not guilty. These seem to be dilettante “protesters” who weren’t coached that to stand up for your cause includes being jailed, fined to further promote it. Even Don Lane, current mayor of Santa Cruz, states that the 17/6 should be prosecuted, jailed, and fined to fullest extent of the law—-because that is the purpose of said demonstrating. Maybe the Professional Agitators from outside Santa Cruz and perhaps including a few UCSC Professors should have schooled them in such. Otherwise, they were used as pawns for someone else’s agenda.

    Here’s the petition to expel these students.

    Write emails to Dean of Students, Chancellor Blumenthal:

    https://www.change.org/p/george-blumenthal-expel-ucsc-students-who-participated-in-the-blocking-of-hwy-17-on-march-3-2015?recruiter=243758436&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

    http://chancellor.ucsc.edu/contact/index.html

    ctgolz@ucsc.edu, alma@ucsc.edu

  4. The ACLU gives legal guidelines that would help a cause protest for the full effect. NOTE: It does NOT include blocking traffic, access, and limiting the freedoms of others.

    http://aclu-or.org/content/your-right-protest

    Your Right to Protest

    You have a constitutionally protected right to engage in peaceful protest in “traditional public forums” such as streets, sidewalks or parks. But in some cases the government can impose restrictions on this kind of activity by requiring permits. This is constitutional as long as the permit requirements are reasonable, and treat all groups the same no matter what the focus of the rally or protest.

    The government cannot impose permit restrictions or deny a permit simply because it does not like the message of a certain speaker or group.

    Generally, you have the right to distribute literature, hold signs, collect petition signatures, and engage in other similar activities while on public sidewalks or in front of government buildings as long as you are not disrupting other people, forcing passerby to accept leaflets or causing traffic problems.

    Limitations on Speech
    The First Amendment does not protect speech that is combined with the violation of established laws such as trespassing, disobeying or interfering with a lawful order by a police officer. Also unprotected are malicious statements about public officials and obscene speech.

    Although an inflammatory speaker cannot be punished for merely arousing an audience, a speaker can be arrested for incitement if he/she advocates imminent violence or specifically provokes people to commit unlawful actions.

    Limitations on Action
    Demonstrators who engage in civil disobedience – defined as non-violent unlawful action as a form of protest – are not protected under the First Amendment. People who engage in civil disobedience should be prepared to be arrested or fined as part of their protest activity.

    If you endanger others while protesting, you can be arrested. A protest that blocks vehicular or pedestrian traffic is illegal without a permit.

    You do not have the right to block a building entrance or physically harass people. The general rule is that free speech activity cannot take place on private property, including shopping malls, without consent of the property owner. You do not have the right to remain on private property after being told to leave by the owner.