I’ve been at UCSB for three years now, and each year some student organization is protesting something new. Every now and then, the Arbor devolves into something like a zoo – there’s a lot of screaming, and at various times you feel like you’re having feces thrown at you.
These campaigns usually range from down-to-earth, noble causes like saving outreach, to broad global causes like saving Tibet, to downright ridiculous causes, like this recent campaign to stop “Killer Coke.”
Now usually I don’t mind students stomping around, screaming and chanting to their hearts’ content, no matter what the cause. What distinguishes the campaign against “Killer Coke” from other campaigns is that my money and the money of every student at this school went to fund this asinine venture through student fees exacted for our A.S. Student Lobby organization.
But let’s address the actual meat of the cause itself. The “Killer Coke” campaign is trying to get the university to give up its contract for Coca-Cola products, which ensure a Coke monopoly on campus. Why? Because, according to the flier I got, Coke used paramilitary mercenaries to assassinate union leaders in Colombia, where Coke is produced.
Sounded fishy to me, so like any good conspiracy theorist, I donned my tin-foil hat and went to the most prestigious news source available for skeptics: the Internet. The “Killer Coke” website, www.killercoke.org, features large headlines in black and red exclaiming that “Coke Can’t Hide Its Crimes in Colombia.” The website also has a list of the names of dead union leaders and some heart-wrenching sob stories about workers being taken from their homes and killed. So far, not looking so good for Coke.
After spending three of my university years shifting through the world of academia, I’ve learned that the key to being a scholar is writing in convoluted nonsensical sentences and citing your sources. The “Killer Coke” site fails in both respects. In addition to making simplistic and sensational claims, the only actual citations on the website are unnamed “eyewitness” accounts. Without any sort of substantial evidence, the scoreboard stands at Killer Coke, 0; Coca-Cola Corp., 0.
Coke’s rebuttal website, www.cokefacts.org, isn’t much better. The website expounds about how much Coke respects union workers which, upon reading, caused me to laugh uncontrollably. When it comes to union issues, Coca-Cola or any other mega-corporation is about as trustworthy as Jabba the Hut.
In an attempt to clear its name, Coke cites a court ruling made by a Colombian judge that dismissed all charges of wrongdoing on the part of the corporation – because we all know how honest, trustworthy, and free from corruption the Colombian justice system is. I trust the Coca-Cola Corp. about as much as I can throw their CEO, who looks to be a big, fat, white guy.
So after some research, neither side has provided any substantive evidence as to the guilt or innocence of Coke, which leads me to my original point: Why on Earth are our student fees going to fund such a campaign?
According to the Associated Students budget for 2004-05, Student Lobby received $2,011 of unallocated fee money. UCSB students neither know about, nor if they did know, would care about a campaign to avenge the deaths of union leaders in Colombia. I always thought that Student Lobby, as an organization, was supposed to lobby on behalf of student interests, hence the name “student lobby.” None of the students I’ve talked to think that the “Killer Coke” campaign is at all pursuant to student interests.
Every young activist thinks he or she can change the world. If the “Killer Coke” people want to independently lobby the university and the students about the evils of Coke, that’s their right. However, $2,000 is a high price to pay for a student organization that doesn’t represent students.
Neil Vislavanich is a junior history and political science major.