Comment: Does anyone else have protest fatigue?

u_cal_protest_0925When I heard the news on Wednesday that:

1) The organization World Can’t Wait will be picketing the Berkeley Law School graduation at the Greek Theater on Friday to protest the presence of John Yoo on the faculty;

2) State Senator Gloria Romero won’t be attending the Latino students’ graduation to protest the fact that UC Berkeley is underpaying its custodial workers;

3) Author Karen Joy Fowler pulled out of the English department ceremonies for the same reason;

4) Ditto for former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg. He won’t speak at the Political Science department graduation ceremonies on May 17;


5) The students protesting the draconian immigration law in Arizona agreed to end their hunger strike, but then blamed Chancellor Robert Birgenau for making them fast for so long, I thought just one thing:

I have protest fatigue.

This may have been a record year for protests at UC Berkeley, at least since the Vietnam War era. The crippling budget reductions and fee hikes infuriated practically the entire campus. And it seems each week brought a new picket and a new demonstration. Along the way there were a remarkable number of sit-ins, blockades, and street rampages.

While each group of protesters is admirable in its own way, it has become increasingly hard to differentiate between them, or, frankly, to summon up the energy to fully understand their concerns. I am tired, I will admit.

Summer is rolling around. The problems aren’t going away, but the students are.


Fewer students = fewer protests.

Here’s a recap of this busy, tumultous academic year at UC Berkeley:

September 24, 2009 – About 5,000 faculty, workers, and staff walked out of classes to protest budget cuts and furloughs and hold a huge rally in Sproul Plaza. After the protest, thousands of students marched down Shattuck Avenue and briefly blocked traffic.

October 2009 – protests against cuts to library hours

November 20, 2009 – Huge demonstrations on campus; students set off fire alarms in buildings and occupied Wheeler Hall. Forty-one arrested.


December 10-11. 2009 – Students occupied Wheeler Hall, pledging to “open” the university. Police arrested 66 students occupying Wheeler Hall.

December 11, 2009 — A crowd of about 50 students protest in front of the campus home of Chancellor Birgeneau around 11 pm. The Chancellor and his wife were inside. Some break lights and overturn planters. Eight people are arrested.

February 26. 2010 – Students protesting budget cuts and fee hikes swarm onto Telegraph Avenue, breaking a store window and setting fire to a dumpster. Police in riot gear come out to stop them. Two people were arrested. Accusations of police brutality are made.

March 1, 2010 — Hundreds of African-American students block Sather Gate to protest a series of racially-motivated incidents at UC San Diego, including one where a noose is hung in the library.

March 4, 2010 – Day of Action to Defend Public Education. Students, teachers, faculty, and parents from elementary schools to college protest against state budget cuts to education.

March 2010, The ASUC senate passes a resolution calling for the university to divest from companies that do business in Israel, suggesting they are complicit in war crimes. The discussions, which continue for months, bring hundreds of students to the hearings.

April 29, 2010 — About 100 students gather at Sather Gate to protest Arizona’s new immigration law. They mimic deportations.

April 30, 2010 – Jewish students protest “hidden hate” on campus after swastikas are found at Clark Kerr campus.

May 3-10, 2010 – A group of students and staff stage a hunger strike outside California Hall. They want Chancellor Birgeneau to denounce new Arizona law, make the UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus for undocumented workers and students, and offer amnesty to the students arrested in the November Wheeler Hall sit-ins. Four students go to the hospital during the strike.

Then there were a number of non-UC Berkeley, but UC-related protests, including protests at various meetings of the UC Board of Regents , confrontations with UC President Mark Yudof, the car fire in front of Yudof’s Oakland house, and more.

Of course, Carl Nolte’s excellent article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle is an compelling  rebuttal against protest fatigue. May 13th is the 50th anniversary of the first major student protest, the one that really ushered in the era of student mass movements. On this day in 1960, students from San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley, and elsewhere flocked to San Francisco City Hall to protest hearings being conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The students were not allowed in the hearing room and gathered at the top of the stairs of City Hall. Police sprayed them with high-power fire hoses, knocked them down the stairs, and hit them with batons. U.S. Senators and others connected with Senator Joseph McCarthy said the Communist Party was behind the protests. Of course that was not true and the allegations further angered the students and prompted them to continue speaking out against authority.