3.05.2010

Hyperbolic Rhetoric and the Men Who Love It

Yesterday was the big statewide strike and protests against the privatization of public education. The big news items were the "mostly peaceful" nature of the protests and the fact that about 150 people shut down the highways of the east bay before getting arrested (see: picture to the left.) Here in SC, it was the usual story: the protesters protested, the administration bitched and sent disingenuous statements to the press (there were, in fact, no protesters brandishing knives or clubs), and life went on.

I want to keep my comments brief. I had a great talk with my homie J the other day about the whole situation and he made a lot of good points. Basically, even if all the protests do is contest the logic of privatization, make it clear that public education is very, very important in democratic societies, then they're doing something legitimate and worthwhile. There is no easy answer for where the money is supposed to come from to "restore" public education, after all, but the trend that has led to the current debacle has been decades in the making, and it is important not to go along quietly.

That said, it's the most radical, self-serving, and straight-up fucking obnoxious elements of the protest movement that get a lot of the press and undermine the larger movement's efficacy. Calling for any combination of anarchy, communism, and the "destruction of the university" is counter-productive, because everyone recognizes those demands as hyperbolic nonsense. In the process, I think, the legitimate rejection of privatization is subsumed in that nonsense and is written off as equally unrealistic.

Finally, I'll restate what I've been saying to my further-left-than-me (I'm still weirded out that that's possible, BTW) friends for a while now: it's important to win over the mainstream in democratic politics. When you do something like stop all the traffic in a major metro area for hours during the commute, you alienate the mainstream instead. How many people were sympathetic to the student movement as a whole in the bay area before 5:15pm yesterday who were rapidly rendered very unsympathetic as they sat in their cars for hours?

1 comment:

first thing said...

I pretty much agree. On blocking the highway: If doing this was a message of some sort, then it really depends on who that message is directed towards. Pissing off the mainstream might be acceptable in some instances if the objective is to bypass the people (who, one might argue, are too busy listening to Glenn Beck and those of his I'll anyway), and lodge your protest with the state and it's officials directly. It's still a problematic form of protest-- for the very reasons you stated-- but perhaps swaying the public wasn't what they were going for.

I'm fine with the idea of stopping traffic, but the context and the message need to be appropriate for it to be an effective form of protest, rather than just a bunch of college students (and some professors, no doubt) doing it to see if they can.