Photo by Nick Paris.

Noah Miska didn’t come to college looking to be arrested.

But on May 9, Miska became one of 23 UC Santa Cruz students arrested for attempting to occupy the state capitol building. He said despite being aware of the social justice issues he now so passionately organizes around, before coming to UCSC his political activism was more focused on environmental causes.

“I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about the importance of higher education,” Miska said.

When he arrived at UCSC in fall 2009, Miska aspired to work as a lobbyist for clean energy corporations. To pursue this goal, he took an environmental internship editing the campus food guide.

“I interacted solely with a computer for hours. It is probably one of the few environmental internships in which you never get outside,” Miska said. “While I know activities like that are important, they are not for me. I need to be around people.”

Miska said education has been important to him his whole life, but he did not spend much time thinking about the social issues surrounding educational access until the UC budget crisis came to a head last year.

While attending rallies in protest of the 32 percent fee increases imposed by the UC regents in early 2010, Miska said, he found a home in the community of student activists.

“Most of my best friends I’ve met through organizing,” Miska said. “These are people who have my back. How many people do you know would be willing to be arrested with you?”

Participating in the Kerr Hall occupation in November 2009 was a catalyst on his journey to becoming an active member of the student organizing community on campus.

“I’d been to some of the rallies before, but I hadn’t actually been involved in any form of resistance,” Miska said. “Protest involves saying, ‘I disagree.’ But resistance generally involves using your body to stop something from happening. Doing something that radical forced me to justify my actions.”

Through researching the UC system and its budget crisis, Miska said, he found hope.

“I started learning more about how the university is run, and I realized that all of these fee increases and budget cuts that increase class sizes are not inevitable,” he said.

Miska has found ways to weave his passion for social activism with his academics. Earlier this year he organized a peaceful protest called “Free Education” as a student in Transformative Action, a class taught by UCSC lecturer Christine King. Miska had students use their bodies to spell out the words “Free Education” on the East Field, while a plane flew over to take photographs.

Miska said his experiences at UCSC have altered his viewpoint on the world to such a degree that he is unsure of what he wants to do after graduation.

“My perception of what is important in the world has changed so drastically that many of the avenues of work I could have imagined myself going into previously no longer seem like options,” he said.

He has, however, felt a stronger pull towards the arts.

“There are very few of my drawings now that don’t include some sort of social or political commentary,” he said.

Miska strives to ensure that his work remains pleasing to the eye despite its heavy political focus.

“For people to be receptive to that commentary, the artwork itself has to be aesthetically pleasing,” Miska said. “I think that’s the difference between some angry message sprawled on a wall in spray paint and [political art]. It has to be apparent to people that you care about what you are saying.”

Miska sees a connection between his more radical activism and his artwork.

“I think art can be a powerful catalyst for social change,” Miska said. “When people start to get creative, it’s a microcosm of this desire to create a newer, more beautiful world.”