Friday, December 10, 2010

"Their Royal Highnesses Are Unharmed" -- But British Politics Are Getting More Interesting

If Only The King Knew:  British Protesters Egg Charles and Camilla's Limo
I continue to be impressed with the capacity of what George W. Bush used to refer to as "Old Europe" to fight for a vision of the world where all of us are not being used to generate profit for someone.  Like Hannah Arendt, I continue to be suspicious of violence as a political tactic:  all movements that choose violence, she argued at the height of United States antiwar protest, are fascist, whether they originate on the right or the left.  I did not appreciate that at the time I first considered this idea in the 1970s, and I do now.

And yet, I wonder:  what is wrong with us in the United States that we just sit around and wait for the newest attack on our rights as citizens?  Why do we continue to insist on improvements in education, while politicians cut the $hit our of education budgets in the name of "middle class tax cuts" (by which, what they really mean is fighting wars on behalf of the oil and gas industry?)  Why do we continue to believe, as a society, that at some point the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance industries are going to realize that they have enough money and suddenly they will treat us right?  And why do we continue to entrust everything that matters -- education, health care, politics itself -- to the rich?

Most particularly, what is wrong with students that they are so suckered by the debt industrial complex that they will continue to take out massive loans for education that we, as a society, ought to be giving them for free?  Only in California have there been system-wide protests of privatization, while public school parents and their children -- who are most dramatically affected by privatization -- go from charter school to charter school to see which corporate executive can best prepare their kid for a standardized test?

Go Brits; go French.


Jessica W. said...

There's another approach in California. It's not a global solution and perhaps too local, but here it is. Massive fundraising by parents (and many still and formerly corporate Moms, with a smattering of Dads)in the form of auctions and walkathons to support art, teacher aides in the school etc. And it's not ALL 'in my backyard.' At every auction, a more in need school is selected and donations to their top project are collected. Plus weekends of community service painting, cleaning, and planting at the more urban and challenged of our city schools. It's not protest, it's not in Sacramento, but it is politics of a kind, and it is engagement and local. I was in London for some of Thatcher and her opposition and I agree w/ your post. But I had to light a candle for our inadequate but still helpful/hopeful efforts in Oakland.

Tom Elrod said...

Most particularly, what is wrong with students that they are so suckered by the debt industrial complex that they will continue to take out massive loans for education that we, as a society, ought to be giving them for free?

What's wrong is the fact that students think this is the status quo, the way things are and the way they always will be. They don't realize there is an alternative because they've been sold a line about education as little more than job training, and they are all looking forward to a few years from now when they'll be rich and content.

In a few years, when they are out of school and realize such things are lies, it will be too late.

Anonymous said...

Violence against property /= violence against human beings.

Anonymous said...

I had similar thoughts in watching the events in Britain yesterday. I remarked to my partner, whether they win or lose -- and I had no illusions about how the vote was going to go -- it is so heartening to see thousands of people engaging in a vibrant (ok, sometimes too vibrant) public debate regarding the meaning and value of education.

The protesters understood exactly what was at stake, win or lose. IMO, they saw that what was at stake was the very definition of the university, its purpose, and the values that shape a particular manifestation of higher education in a culture (including, of course, cost structure). In short, they seemed to either cognitive or intuitively perceive the circumstance as a critical flashpoint in the great Aristotelian question (what kind of people do we want to be?).

I lament the apparent fact that there seems not to be a critical mass of people in the US willing to engage in answering that question as it relates to universities and education with even a modicum of the passion and fervor I perceived on display in Britain yesterday.

So yes, very much, Go Brits.

Anonymous said...

TR, seems to me that if our congress passed a law tripling university tuition at one fell swoop you might see some American kids out demonstrating too. I think a major impetus of the Vietnam-era student protests was an aversion to being drafted.


Ellie said...

I also am constantly astounded by contemporary Americans' passivity in the face of injustice. Tous dans la rue!

Krazy Kitty said...

On the one hand, I am appalled at the lack of reactivity of American students. The UC fees hike has been protested, but in what felt to me a half-hearted manner, especially outside of Berkeley.

On the other hand, I'm French. I went to my first marches with my mom as a kid. When I recently told my grandma I was walking with the protests against the reform of the pension system, she said "I hope it's true and you don't say that to make me happy". So protesting is kind of ingrained in me.

Moreover, it's probably easier to protest a new change (e.g. sudden increase in fees) rather than a system that's already been in place for as long as you can remember. Not that you shouldn't question said system, of course, but it's not nearly as easy.

And last but not least, I understand that students don't feel compelled to protest when writing messages in chalk on the ground can get them arrested. Well, maybe they should feel more compelled to protest because this is so blatantly unfair...

Alan Allport said...

I'm curious: in what sense was the multi-millionaire's son who spent part of the day hanging from the Cenotaph whooping with delight "engaging in a vibrant public debate"? Could someone explain to me what exactly was heartening about this?

Natalia said...

One thing that's perhaps been less remarked is the public statements of support for their students by UK professors. Those students feel that they are defending their universities against a government policy. In contrast, student protesters here (I'm in California) are made out to be--and are received by admin as--protests against the university, which is of course the level at which fees are being raised and course offerings gutted. I highly recommend Rei Terada's recent post on the failure of universities to come to the defense of their students, in many cases criminalizing protesters who are, after all, agitating for something that administration claims to want.

LouMac said...

Alan Allport: There's nothing to "explain". This is a red herring. So one spoiled rich boy misbehaves; it says precisely nothing about the overall meaning or motivation of the protests. Trying to dismiss a social movement by pointing to the exceptional behaviour of one individual is silly.

Alan Allport said...

Au contraire; there's a good deal to explain. I agree that Gilmour's squalid story is not in itself particularly important (though in a pathetic twist, he turns out to be reading history at Girton). But the march broke down into disorder on Thursday because students themselves decided to abandon the route pre-agreed with police. There's no dispute about this: one of the NCAFC organizers has admitted it - but apparently it was OK because it was a "radical but good-natured" decision. Radical, you see! Never mind about public safety - the important thing is to épater le bourgeois. Why not, then, swing from a war memorial?

The protest organizers have done untold damage to their cause in this display of petulant adolescence. Prior to the march, about 70 per cent of the public were judged to be sympathetic to their cause. I wonder what that figure would be today. The Guardian makes a good point:

"Perhaps, 40 years from now, this week's demos will be the subject of nostalgic documentaries and writings, as those of 1968 have recently been. But it is worth remembering something else from that earlier period. The political victors of 1968 were Richard Nixon, Georges Pompidou, Leonid Brezhnev and Edward Heath, leaders of the right. The public dislikes violence, rightly so. And the public chooses the government. Be careful what you wish for."

Those grinning stupidly at the events of last week from the safe distance of 3,000 miles might want to think about that.

Anonymous said...

If we're going to wring our hands about the violence coming out of these protests, perhaps we should turn out attention to the police very nearly beating students to death; why does this receive so much less attention than a smashed window of a limo?

Mark Kille said...

"public school parents and their children -- who are most dramatically affected by privatization -- go from charter school to charter school to see which corporate executive can best prepare their kid for a standardized test"

That is not all charter schools. See, for example, St. Vrain Community Montessori School ( and Compass Montessori School ( in Colorado, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School ( in Massachusetts, or Trillium Charter School ( in Oregon. As a member of the founding group for SVCMS, I can say that a desire to avoid the standardized test fetish was one of our primary motivations.

Whether creating a parallel public school system is the correct response to the corporatization of American public education is an open question, of course. But charter schools offer as much opportunity as danger.

Kate Lowe said...

Have you read Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine"? It offers an interesting interpretation of the last forty years--the systematic campaign by Milton Friedman and his ilk to dismantle government in the name of "freedom." His strategy of economic shock and terror was used in South America, Asia, Russia, Poland, Great Britain, and now the United States. Shock (or the incredible passivity of the people in the face of flagrant abuses of power and the erosion of basic freedoms) will eventually wear off, but it takes time.