Several weeks ago, a meeting was held between Executive Vice-Chancellor Gene Lucas and campus staff, along with representatives from campus-based unions, students and community members. This was the latest in a series of meetings held over the past few years between University of California, Santa Barbara administration and various campus constituencies concerning the UC budget cuts. During that meeting, Lucas effectively said, “It is not ‘us’ (the UC system, or UCSB, for that matter), it is ‘them’ (the California State Legislature).” While this may have some validity — indeed, there have been massive cuts from the state to the UC system for years, or really decades now — in all likelihood, the state legislature will turn around and claim, “Well, it is not our fault, it is the federal government’s fault.” In turn, the feds will assert, “It is not our fault either, it is the global economic system’s fault,” or, better yet, “It is China’s fault.”
In April 1970, on the very first Earth Day — held partially in response to the infamous oil spill that occurred one year earlier, right here in Santa Barbara — the late comic strip artist Walt Kelly declared in Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Lucas would have us believe that the “enemy” is the California State Legislature, which it is, but this narrative absolves the UC system and UCSB from any culpability regarding this current mess that we’re in. It is not just their fault, it is the UC’s fault too. But let’s take a step back here, for a moment. Is it only the state legislature’s responsibility? Don’t they have less money because the federal government has cut back funding too? I would say yes, but why don’t they have sufficient funds and resources anymore? Why are the feds so “poor?”
On April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, one year before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his most impassioned, militant and, sadly, often-overlooked speeches, titled, “A Time to Break Silence.” In that talk, King sharply and eloquently observed that one of the primary reasons why people of color in first and third world countries were rising up and demanding change was that their basic needs were not being met. He boldly stated that the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” and people’s needs were not being met because the U.S. was engaged in a “senseless, unjust war,” as he said in his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, delivered on February 4, 1968.
With our “peace-loving” country currently in three wars that we know about, don’t these words ring true today more than ever? With a Pentagon budget that surpasses the military budgets of all countries in the world combined, don’t these words ring true today? With the United States having more prisoners in the world than any other nation, don’t these words ring true?
To quote Marcellus from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark,” but what smells isn’t just UCSB, the UC system or the California State Legislature (or our good old friend Jerry Brown, who the seminal punk band the Dead Kennedys mocked in the late 1970s) — it is militarism, imperialism and, dare I say, the capitalist system we all live in. Every day we passively participate in this system. I do too. I buy into consumerism and turn a blind eye while suffering takes place; this passivity makes me the enemy, too.
I thus agree with Pogo — we have met the enemy and he is us, but in saying this, let’s not forget that a larger enemy is out there. In the ’60s, they called it the “system.” In the ’90s, people raged against the machine in Chiapas, in Los Angeles and in South Korea. Even here, at UCSB, nine students staged a nine-day water-only hunger strike in April 1994 to push for lower student fees, a community center for low-income families in Isla Vista, and more outreach programs to recruit and retain Latina and Latino students from the surrounding three counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo). They also pushed to ban table grapes from campus, maintain El Centro and strengthen and expand the Chicana and Chicano Studies Dept.
That effort was not entirely successful, but it did bring about change — without it, this campus would look much different than it does today, meaning the campus did increase its efforts to recruit students of color. Without it, the Chicana and Chicano Studies Dept. would have no Ph.D. program. Without it, teens in Isla Vista would not have a space to “kick back and relax,” which they can do at the I.V. Teen Center. Change took place. Many years ago, Frederick Douglass said, “Power never concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will.”
We know who the enemies are and how we can defeat or challenge them. In his Riverside speech against the Vietnam War, King called for a revolution in values and, most provocatively, “love.” King believed in the power of love; not sentimental, romantic love, but love in action — that is, organizing a multi-racial coalition of poor people, as he hoped to do before he was killed, to ameliorate poverty and suffering in the United States. Love in action can mean many different things; for folk-singer Woody Guthrie it meant displaying the words “this machine kills fascists” on the side of his guitar. For the Good Samaritan — based on the biblical story from Luke in the New Testament — it meant not fleeing in haste as the priest and Levite did, but getting his hands dirty, helping the “man” who had been beaten and left for dead, tending to his wounds and then taking him to an inn where he returned and paid for his room and board. What did love in action look like recently?
It looked like 20 people marching through campus demanding that the abstract thing we call “budget cuts” stop because they are hurting people — workers are overworked and stressed out and some have become literally sick as a result of changes such as “clustering,” which is a fancy term for increasing one’s job responsibilities without any pay increase or eliminating one’s job altogether.
These cuts are literally “cutting” people up — they are barely hanging on and that is really no way to live, is it? Most of us are hanging on by a thread and we are happy to be working and living in our own homes (which many people do not, as witnessed by the foreclosure mess and staggeringly high levels of homelessness), but we all have our breaking points. How much longer can this go on until we see a massive uprising — a progressive or radical one, at that — here in the United States?
In his Riverside speech, King quoted former President John F. Kennedy, who famously stated, “Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible, make violent revolutions inevitable.” I hope and, yes, pray, that this doesn’t come to pass. I abhor violence, but something must change and change soon. In 1964, Sam Cooke sang about a “long change that is gonna come.” Well, it has come, but so much more needs to be done. When will it happen? When will we stand up? When will we “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world,” as King said? When will it be?
Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval is a professor in the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department.