Jewish Journal

Passe Protest Politics

by  Joe R. Hicks

March 5, 2010 | 4:51 pm

Yesterday, in what’s been called a “Day of Action,” groups of students, teachers, and their allies staged walk-outs, sit-ins and demonstrations across California.  In Oakland, protesters marched onto and shut down an Interstate freeway.  Activists at UCLA occupied administration offices at Murphy Hall, and at UC Santa Cruz, demonstrators smashed the windows of a car.  What’s the issue?  Budget cuts to education and increased student tuition costs.

In other recent protests a local event was decried. An off-campus fraternity party near UC San Diego (“UCSD”) featured a “Compton cookout” that lured partiers with the promise that it would be a slice of “life in the ghetto.”  Black students and campus activists organized, protested the “party,” demanded that more black faculty be hired and that Proposition 209 be rolled back so that more black students would be admitted.

To compound these developments, some clueless idiot left a noose hanging in the school library at UCSD, followed by copy-cat incidents a few days later.  The university’s chancellor has condemned the fraternity’s “ghetto” party, and quickly condemned the noose incidents. However, she has acted indecisively in the face of non-stop black students demands, in effect enabling the protesters. Has bucolic UC San Diego really become some sort of stronghold of white supremacists?

As someone who grew into political maturity during the Sixties when the politics of protest defined that era, I have been struck by the infantile nature of these and other recent “protests.” 

One student taking part in the so-called “Day of Action” said “they’re cutting the future.”  A student at the UCLA sit-in seemed to just be along for the party – if one developed—she said she was there “until something happened.” 

Another (wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt!), who self-identified herself as a teacher, demanded that taxes be raised to prevent the budget cuts. 

Okay … does she realize that we are in the midst of a national economic crisis, that California’s unemployment rate has now topped12 percent, and – despite populist antipathy toward the rich - that there’s a limit to how much we can continue to gouge the wealthy for taxes? 

The awful fact is the State of California is broke and facing potential bankruptcy.  It has been driven over the side of a cliff by inept leadership in Sacramento that has rolled over at every opportunity for teachers unions and other big labor demands; they have bloated the size of public sector employment to the point of explosion, making the state nearly ungovernable and fiscally unsound.

Where’s the anger at this ideology and the ineptitude that is manifest in our state capital?

Naively striking a stance that argues that education should somehow be exempt from the economic pain being felt in virtually every sector of society seems to me oddly spoiled – an “anybody but us” viewpoint.  But this sense of entitlement and self-indulgence seems to characterize many of today’s walk-outs, protests, and sit-ins. 

Self-indulgence seemed to be firmly in control during the UC San Diego protests as well.  To be clear, those engaging in “Compton cookout” parties and individuals who think that hanging a noose in a public place is somehow a fun thing to do are, without a single doubt, idiots, boneheads and fools. However, to hysterically argue, as the UCSD protest leaders have done, that the actions of a few stupid individuals somehow represent a dangerous, pervasively hostile racial climate at one of the nation’s most liberal college campuses is frankly ludicrous. 

We’ve seen this kind of over-the-top political theatre before. 

In 2006, several nooses were found hanging in a tree in the courtyard of the high school in Jena, Louisiana.  Subsequently, six black youths were arrested for assaulting a white teenager.  These six were dubbed the Jena Six.  The events drew the attention of national civil rights figures that converged on the small southern town, along with upwards of 20,000 angry activists and protester.  After all the dust settled, it was widely believed that racism played no role in the original noose hanging incident. This was long after the incident had spurred the charge that Jena was symbolic of a resurgent American racism.

Two years later, at Columbia University a black female professor claimed she discovered a noose hanging on her office door.  The school convulsed with protests that, like at UC San Diego, claimed the noose was symbolic of an oppressive atmosphere for women and minorities at Columbia.  It must be grasped that Columbia is widely understood to be perhaps one of the most left-leaning and liberal universities in the nation.  Nonetheless, students and off-campus radicals argued differently – it was, they claimed, a racist institution.  In an unrelated investigation, and with much embarrassment, Dr. Madonna Constantine, the same black professor who said she found the noose, was fired after it was revealed that she had plagiarized the work of former students as well as the work of a colleague.

But why engage in street theatre and play up racial hysterics?  Despite all the self-serving rhetoric, today race actually plays a remarkably insignificant role in the lives of blacks and other ethnic minorities. Yet, it’s almost as if these young activists are yearning for the days when someone could really sink their teeth into a “movement.”  Are we witnessing the romanticizing of racial struggle?

One year before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was made law, President John F. Kennedy said in his report to the American people on civil rights that “… race has no place in American life or law.”  How ironic that today the enemies of this simple premise are not primarily the stereotypical white bigots - but “progressive” racial activists who have hijacked the bully pulpit of civil rights. 

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