Why is Social Activism at SF State weak?

Last week, I did a questionnaire for my school paper and asked SF State students how they feel student activism is on campus. The answer? Weak.

SF State has a strong history of activism. SF State was the first 4-year university to offer a Bachelor;s degree in Black Studies , and it was only after protests from students, workers, administrators, and teachers that resulted in a 5-month strike, the longest in college history.

I’m not sure if this is an SF State thing, or just a new generation thing.  But activism is definitely stagnant at SF State.  The biggest news this semester was the addition of Tasers as tools for University Police.  But most students haven’t heard, and the group that’s in protest of them is small.

Obviously the 1960’s and the climate not only in San Francisco but also in the country is not the same as today, to compare the two may not be fair.

There isn’t the same culture of activism or a strong social awareness.  I think students that are involved in activism on campus are considered to be on the outskirts not part of the mainstream of students body.  Students sometimes feel like administration doesn’t care what they think, and that they can’t influence them anyway.

In this day of social media I think the potential to mobilize a movement quickly is there.  In order for a social movement to be successful, organization is necessary, and reaching out to the community in as many different ways as possible.

There are some lost opportunities with the anti-Taser group on campus.  They need to reach out to the Black Student Union, other minority student unions on campus, these groups that are targets of police brutality and will be much more willing to hear about what SF State is planning for their police.

Reaching out to student of other schools, and groups against police brutality in the Bay Area is also a great way to mobilize a larger group. 

The opportunity is there but it needs to be taken advantage of.  Because it will be harder to get rid of Tasers once they are on campus, than preventing them from coming in the first place.


Urban Shield back in Oakland and getting backlash


Urban Shield came to Alameda County at the the downtown Oakland Marriott for a three day conference and trade show.  Protestors were there the first day October 25th.  About 100 protestors arrived, and about three times that in police soon followed.  Protestors were from Occupy Oakland, Berkeley Copwatch and other organizations. I had the chance to speak with some of them.

Unfortunately I was unable to talk with anyone from Oakland Police Department.

What can bring together Liberals and Conservatives?

One day after Oakland Hosts Urban Shield, a terrorist preparedness program called by others a militarization of local police, the capital saw 5000 protestors march against the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying.

These programs — Urban Shield, which uses money from Homeland Security, and NSA spying programs have many people saying that they contribute to the creation of a police state. We look at other countries, like Iran as police states, but many are seeing how the U.S. has been moving towards the same with the advent of these programs. And those opposed are coming from the left and the right.

This topic of government spying on citizens has been able to bring liberal and conservatives together. Many Republican congressmen have been speaking out against the broad powers given to the NSA, and the unconstitutional spying on citizens. Many former Occupy Movement activists have been speaking out against NSA’s spying program.

Events like the protest in D.C. was organized by over 100 different single groups, and brought out the ACLU, Occupy NY, and conservatives alive.  It is rare when people of such varying political beliefs join together against a government policy.  What does this say to the administration?

In the last couple days Obama has been backtracking, asking for a review of NSA spying.  Obama is after all a politician, public opinion is very important to him. Maybe the backlash from both sides, sends the message — this is not about liberals or conservatives, but rather the basic fundamentals that this country was founded on.

We have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that’s enough to bring together everyone.

Should government employees be allowed to strike?

After the recent BART strike ends (pending approval of the current deal on the table), and the AC transit strike delayed 60 days by a court order Wednesday, a question many are asking is: Should is be OK for government employees to strike?
Getting court injunctions for a strike is all but impossible. If grocery store Lucky’s employees wanted to strike, it would be hard for Lucky’s to find a judge to stop them. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, protects the rights of private sector employees to organize, collectively bargain, and if necessary strike. But BART who’s strikes affect almost half a million people daily, and can gridlock several counties, was court ordered at the request of Governor Brown to a “60-day cooling period”, basically a court ordered ban on a strike for the 60 days.
Many states have bans on strikes in the public sector. New York does not allow transit employees to strike. Called the Taylor Law, the Public Employees Fair Employment Act, prohibits unions in the public sector from striking.  Some are suggesting the same for our transit unions in the Bay Area.
Ideally every unions should be allowed to strike.  That is the way they have some power against a much larger and powerful employer.  But in the case of public sectors, consumers don’t have a choice of another place to go to get that service. If Lucky’s grocery store is striking, then consumers can shop at a Safeway.  But if BART or AC Transit, or teachers go on strike, where else can we go?  We are held hostage.
Other options suggested by some is negotiations are taken to arbitration, where a third party makes the decision. This does not give the option to the employer or the employee to walk away from mediation tables and leave the public out to dry.  It’s the best way to meet the needs of the employees, while still maintaining a public service we desperately need.

When did it start: Protests then and now

According to History of Social Protests an encyclopedia series on the history of social protests, one of the oldest references to protest was found on an an inscription in a tomb in Egypt, during the reign of Rameses III, 1198 -1166 BC.  Translated the inscription reads:  “Today the gang of workmen have passed by the walls of the royal tomb saying: we are hungry, eighteen days have gone by…the workmen remained in the same place all day.”

This puts the first recorded protest at over 3000 years ago.  So, pretty much since humans have been living in complex communities or early societies, people have been protesting.  The aim of these early protests was a more equitable distribution of wealth and privilege.

Since the Arab Spring in 2010, that sparked protests around the world.  Protesting for equitable distribution has come back to normalcy.  The changes that people were able to effect in the Arab world now 2 years later, has given many others around the world, the knowledge that they too have the power.

Protesting, especially if the point is to gain as many people in the fight as possible is easier now than ever.  With the internet and social media — protesting can be more effective now than ever in history.  Social Media as a Tool is almost a no-brainier now.

From the authoritarian regimes of Rome, and Egypt, till today where democracy is the goal for most countries and peoples, and modern societies are only considered first world if they are democratic, protesting is the voice of the people at the bottom of society.  Those without political and economic power, the laborers and minimum wage earners.  The people at the top of society don’t need to protest — they are the policy makers, and they will make the policy meet their needs.

The heart of protesting will always be the workmen.  And they will sit, until they are noticed, saying: we are hungry.

“Don’t let Ikea own all the glass in the world!”

“Glass is art!  Sign our petition!  Glass is art!”

Mat Porkola, student in SF State’s College of Extended Learning (CEL) Glass Blowing class, yells through a blow horn.

“Don’t let Ikea own all the glass in the world!!”

Students and arts department alumni protested the canceling of the Glass Blowing at the Malcolm X Plaza yesterday at 2 p.m.  Thought not a big crowd, the 15 students,  some holding signs, shouted slogans, chanted, and asked each person walking by to sign their petition.

The 41-year-old class is set to be cancelled at the end of the semester.  The class ,which is only available through the CEL and therefore not eligible for financial aid, costs each student a little over $1200 each semester.

Teacher Nate Watson was sent an email from the art department dean on August 1, telling him the class would be cancelled at the end of the semester according to student David Colton.
We don’t know why they’re even canceling it, we’re the ones that maintain that studio,” said Colton.  “I hand delivered a letter to the school president on the 4th, and have tried to call numerous times, but no response from him or his secretary.”

President Wong is currently out of town, on school business according to his office, but Associate Dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, Todd Roehrman, had this to say, “Paul Sherwin [Dean of the College of Liberal Arts] did respond to that students letter.”

“This is not an easy decision.  But since 2008, 168 students have taken glass blowing class, 47 of those are matriculated students, and only 5 of them are art majors.  We are in the business of educating students and granting degrees, it’s not an easy decision, but it was a carefully weighed decision.”
Porkola, an exhibit tech at the Exploratorium,  has been taking glass blowing at SF State for eight years.  “This is exactly the kind of thing that the CEL is for, so that professionals and students can take a class in something different.”

The protestors are hoping to get 1,000 names on their petition, but several conceded that getting the school to change plans about canceling the class was an unlikely outcome.

Sarah Band an Arts Major graduate said that what she really hoped was “that people know we have a glass department, and just raise awareness to the arts at the school.  Ultimately, it would be great if we would keep the class open!”  The SF State grad was in the glass blowing program for 3 years, and now does shows with her pieces.

When asked what it would mean if the class was cancelled, Band said this, “It would be a blow to the art department and waht art means at this school.”

The petition and letter are available here.