Something is happening
I was startled twice by news that I read this week, startled and dismayed. In the LA Times I read the story “Two (UC Riverside Students) Arrested Outside UC Regents Meeting,” and my initial feeling went towards the arrested students. I speak with many students, many of the studio visits that I do are with UC students, and from these visits I hear many horror stories of high rates being payed for their education, and of problems paying off the accumulated debt.
I got busy with other things, and the story faded from my mind. This evening I scrolled through Facebook and I found that I am acquainted with one of the arrested students. Not acquainted really, I could not point Ken Ehrlich out in a crowd, but we are connected by a conversation we had on Facebook. At one point during last year’s Occupy period I challenged something that Ehrlich had proposed in the group’s Timeline, this had to do with an action the group would take that sounded to me like poorly thought-out and reactionary anti-capitalism.
What was important and enlightening for me was Ehrlich’s willingness to engage me in conversation. Instead of dismissing my input and having both of us go off thinking the other ill informed or poorly intentioned, we went back and forth over the subject for several days. I think eventually we continued to disagree, but we each had conceded points and I had learned much.
Reading of Ken’s arrest upset me in the usual way of, “Oh dear, I know this person and something bad has happened to him;” but this story has me more deeply upset than just proximity. There are many conversations we should be having: about the cost of education, about the ways we pay for it, whether a university education really has the importance to life that we have given to it, whether perhaps in contemporary universities the ‘selling of the brand’ has replaced the pursuit of understanding. Maybe it is true that guaranteed student loans have encouraged colleges to raise prices at will, rather than out of need? Certainly the ease of borrowing has affected the willingness of students to carry debt. Maybe the administrative side of the system has grown bloated to soak up the extra money?
And of course we need to discuss what appears to be a state university system that is priced to certify the intelligence of an upper class who probably could flourish through other means.
Amidst all this, some of us are occupying and protesting and some of us are working and wondering what might be wrong with ‘those people’ and becoming crabby when a protest inconveniences us; and none of it is this black and white, I know.
We need to talk. We need to have conversations as people, as each other, instead of as ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I think that at the ground level, we should start leading the way – because at the top, among the leaders? Um, yeah, take a look. Pretty disappointing. Top down leadership is so old fashioned anyway.
If you’d like to donate to Ken’s bail fund, you may do so here: https://www.wepay.com/donations/57128