Friday, October 02, 2009

The Revolution Will Not Be Twittered

Were you to believe it from a specific cluster of blogs, the single most momentous event of the past two weeks has been the student occupation of various buildings around the University of California Santa Cruz. Too bad no one else thinks so. Granted, the students couldn't have counted on above-the-fold competition from dual disasters in southeast Asia, the polarizing arrest of Roman Polanski, more crotch-grabbing by Ahmadinejad, or the aneurysm-inducing echoplex of phony outrage over Kanyegate.

However, they certainly didn't make it easier on themselves by launching their incursion concurrent to China's "60th birthday" bash and the G20 clusterfuck in Pittsburgh. Doubtlessly, this coincidence was intended to highlight the shortcomings of the post-globalised economic model, but being 2600 miles away from the action in a town often derided as a patchouli-soaked corral for space cadets & pinkos is not the best strategy for scoring headlines, let alone sympathy.

Lest someone think I'm not on the students' side, let me be clear: education is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and the keystone to any society that can even pretend to be free. Distended tuition costs, the erosion of available scholarships, and funding diverted like water from Noah Cross' Los Angeles pose as great (if not a greater) threat than any nebulous group of extremists broadcasting ill-defined grievances from caves.

That being said, a well-funded & equitably accessible secondary education doesn't do shit for a country without a functioning primary education system. Speaking of too many students chasing too few dollars, the only state with a high school graduation rate above 80% that is also among the 20 most populous states is New Jersey, and 26 of the 50 largest school districts see fewer than 60% of their students complete high school. The most dreadful failures are the cities:
  • Chicago (52.2%)
  • Los Angeles (44.2%)
  • New York City (38.9%)
  • Baltimore (38.5%)
  • Detroit (21.7%)
Sorry, bioethics undergrads and comparative lit doctoral candidates, but as long as almost a third of Americans can't parse the 5th-Grade prose of USA Today to read for themselves how fucked the public schools are, you'll have to wait your turn.

Another, more manageable problem facing the UCSC protesters is how they're presenting themselves & their agenda. They're flush with the same spurious romanticism as every placard-waving pseud & bumper-sticker doctrinaire from the past forty years, but because I'm sympathetic to their ends I'd like to offer them a little advice. I first thought it best to address them in their own language - that is, in a needlessly declarative, excessively florid manifesto that's as impalpable & impractical as a Japanese anti-smoking ad. But in the interest of avoiding doublespeak, I've decided to employ the more direct method of a concise list.
  • "Occupation" isn't a term that rings progressive - quite the opposite. It smacks of subjugation & imperialism; just ask any Palestinian or Iraqi. May I suggest "engagement" or "reclamation"?
  • If grad students are going to take anything over, they'd perhaps want to infiltrate an environment that isn't, according to this UCSC spokesman, paid for, operated by, and "used by graduate students for everything from studying to a lounge area." That's like a second-amendment rights rally "occupying" a NASCAR track. City hall, the state legislature, or even the university administrative offices might make for more effectively sensitive targets.
  • For god's sake, don't blast weak-ass reggae over the PA. You'll turn yourself into a South Park stereotype.
  • Speaking of concrete directions, how about making some explicit directives? Its laughable petulance aside, "WE WANT EVERYTHING" is as meaningless a demand as "WE WANT NOTHING" in that it points to nothing as a goal. If what "we" want isn't yet clear, we should at least be able to express what we don't want and issue demands in the negative. Even to demand the impossible is more effective than demanding "everything": again, the impossible at least offers some imaginable (albeit amoebic) ends towards which to work.
  • If you want to be taken seriously, don't cull your slogans from cloying cocaine-nosebleed disco or self-involved emo "anthems"; do not ironically appropriate Bonnie Tyler lyrics; don't make presumptive statements about "the working class" or "proletarian" anyone unless you're damn certain you can count them amongst your ranks; and for crying out loud, don't declare that "we are power hungry." That makes you sound like a bunch of authoritarian thugs.
But beyond that, I wish the UCSC protesters nothing but the best of luck. I'm only asking their bravery match the level of their rhetoric; you can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding. The reason I don't bandy about "smash the system" hyperbole (anymore) is because I know I'm incapable of following through on the threat. The level of violence - on every level and in every sense of the word - requisite to enact a revolution, any revolution is far beyond the bounds of my own conviction. This doesn't mean there isn't nobility, righteousness, or good within the revolutionary's heart; it does, however, require a certitude found only in True Belief, in fascists, in fundamentalists, and in sub-criminal psychopaths. As I believe the ends don't justify the means, I'll gladly play along until my "counterrevolutionary" skepticism lands me in the gulag, which will serve me as an incredibly shitty, lifelong Told You So.

Below are some tunes dedicated to those fighting to get their learn on; click on the mix title to download.

The Revolutionary Gesture

1. The Birthday Party - "Mutiny In Heaven"
2. Metallica - "For Whom The Bell Tolls"
3. Harvey Milk - "War"
4. Nation Of Ulysses - "Target: U.S.A."
5. GZA - "I Gotcha Back"
6. The Clash - "The Guns of Brixton"
7. Erykah Badu - "Soldier"
8. Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers - "Indian War Whoop"
9. Spacemen 3 - "Revolution"
10. Michael Yonkers - "Kill the Enemy"
11. Lungfish - "Black Helicopters"
12. Pelt - "Hippy War Machine"
13. The Stranglers - "No More Heroes"

Updated (Oct. 4): Ads Without Products makes an invaluable expansion upon my last point, regarding the "adolescent insanity" of "toussled-haired hipsters, laptopped and bespectacled," fancying themselves urban guerrillas.

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