By Rachel Tennenbaum
The revolution is coming.
Last week I was on the phone with my dad and we were talking about the University of California and its various goings-on. I told him about the problems with rising student fees, the ensuing, almost inevitable, privatization of the UC system and the privatization of research, such as the collaboration between UC Berkeley and BP. And then I told him that I felt as though this was an example of the direction in which the world was heading: a general co-modification of everything, including education, and an overall out-of-touch mentality between humans, their communities and the greater planet.
Then I got totally shot down.
“Rachel,” my dad told me, “you sound like some crazy lefty college conspiracy theorist.”
What my dad wanted were facts — he needed numbers to support my claim that I felt the world was ending.
After this conversation, I called my mom and told her about my frustrations. “Dad doesn’t get it,” I told her, “He just wants facts. And all I know how to do is feelings.”
My mom began to talk about her youth, and she mentioned the year 1968. A 12-year-old French girl, my mom tells me that she did not even recognize the streets of Paris, they were so crowded that May exactly 40 years ago. It was 1968, when students took over everything, in Paris, in New York, in Mexico. The images have stuck with her forever — they’ve come to represent the epitomization of movements.
1968. The year begins on a dour note — on Jan. 10, the 10,000th American plane is lost over Vietnam. January quickly progresses into February, and Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a sermon in Atlanta. Preaching at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the speech is especially moving because in it, the reverend begins to eulogize his own life. “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others,” he says. “I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.” Exactly two months later in Memphis, Tenn., King is shot and killed.
Spring rushes in and with it the rumblings of student rebellion. On April 23, students at Columbia University gather to protest their university’s proposal to build a gym in Morningside Park, arguing that the building lent itself to both segregation and gentrification. The protest doubly serves to criticize Columbia’s involvement with the U.S. military and the Vietnam War. Demonstrations last a week, and students take over Hamilton Hall. Columbia scraps plans to build the gym.
A month later, it is Paris that is up in arms. May 6 marks Bloody Monday, the most violent day in the French student revolt. Five thousand students march through the Latin Quarter of Paris. More than 20,000 students, teachers and supporters shut down the University of Paris. Riots ensue with the police. The students espouse freedom, leftist ideals and demand for their voices to be heard. France changes forever. President Charles De Gaulle resigns a year later — some argue that it is because of the events of May 1968, a month that lives in infamy for student movements everywhere.
Student movements pick up again in the fall, this time in Mexico City. On Oct. 2, a march protesting the military’s occupation at a Mexican university ends in Tlatelolco Square for a peaceful rally. The police and military open fire and shoot into the crowd, killing between 200 and 300 people. Ten days later the Olympic games begin. American Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists in a Black Power salute when awarded their medals, and are then stripped of them.
The year ends with Richard Nixon elected President, and with the launch of Apollo 8, the first U.S. mission to orbit the moon.
“It was facts,” my mother concludes. “But before facts, it was a feeling. It was a movement.” And she says the same is true today.
2008. In January, the price of oil hits $100 a barrel for the first time. Kosovo declares independence from Serbia, and China conducts a military crackdown in Tibet. This leads to major consequences in April, when people gather to protest China’s actions at the Olympic Torch relay in London on April 6, Paris on the eighth and San Francisco on the ninth.
In May, the nation is again in upheaval. On the first of the month, longshoremen, workers and students take to the streets to protest the war in Iraq, fight for worker’s rights, and shed light on U.S. immigration policies. At UC Santa Cruz, students rally in the Quarry Plaza, then march through town.
UC students find themselves up in arms two weeks later when the UC Board of Regents votes to raise student fees. Protests ensue at the regents’ meeting at UCLA.
Meanwhile, in Iraq there are 4,080 confirmed U.S. soldier deaths and at least 85,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. The Olympics will open in Beijing Aug. 8, and Nov. 4 is our next presidential election.
The parallels are quite eerie.
2008 is a tumultuous year, to say the least. We are seeing another heated presidential election. We are stuck in another horrific, slow, deadly war. We’re seeing another Olympics again becoming politicized. We are fighting for equal rights — still.
What did we learn about history repeating itself?
And how do we differ from 1968?
While we are dealing with social crises, it’s undeniable that as a planet we are faced with problems that we’ve never seen before, and to a degree that we’ve never dealt with before. Even my parents agree with this statement, which is a bit disheartening. “No,” they tell me, “things weren’t this bad when we were your age.”
What do we make of this?
I see that Santa Cruz is like Paris, and that if change is going to start anywhere, it will start here. This is a call to the student body of which I am a part.
In Santa Cruz we’re seeing great leaps made. People are fighting big battles here. In the area of sustainability we see programs like the Farm and the Education For Sustainable Living Project (ESLP). The Cantú Center, the Women’s Center — they work tirelessly to promote cultural awareness. We have a Pro-Peace club working for love. We are seeing unity between campus workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the student body. We’re seeing people fight for things that they believe strongly in, and for all of the argued flaws, there’s passion. People are getting in touch with big things here. People get it.
And you know what? My dad relates to ’68 too. He was at Columbia, at Morningside Heights. This is where everything blew up. There were feelings behind his work and they pushed facts that he insists on now, that some of you are probably insisting on. This is all of us.
A small group of students rioting made changes in art, in film. They changed the country, and they changed the world. Did you hear that? Students can change the country, and the question then remains, why not us? And how are we going to act? We’ve got good ideas on how to save society, the planet and ourselves. What’s it going to be?
So with these facts and uncanny parallels in hand, it falls to us, UCSC students. We’ll go big. We’ll start in the forest, in the trees, on the beach, in the water. In the classrooms, in the rallies. Hell, we’ve already begun.
And yeah, it may be idealist, but it’s our only option.
So good luck.
The revolution is here.