Being a bit out of the loop, I didn't learn about the impending Berkeley Pay By Race Bake Sale until late the night before. Being a punk rocker at heart forever, I was immediately drawn to the offensiveness of the whole thing.
The event is a protest against a bill that would bring affirmative action back to the UC Berkeley campus. The idea is to sell off baked goods priced with discounts for race and gender.
Before I go further, let's be clear. I'm for affirmative action. I'm a liberal, and I'll admit I'm for government interference with our social problems. I think our country has made great strides with it's racial issues, and I think it's still got a long way to go.
All that said, I'm also for offensive things that are well thought out, that provoke and make people think. We don't really consider this stuff enough, because if we did, we'd be farther along. Punk rock was provocative and shocking, and you may not realize it, but it left the world a better place.
The movement of these sales, which have happened at several campuses recently, reminds me of something I would have done at that age. The sales are being put on by student republican groups. It sounds more like performance art then anything else to me, and though I don't particularly agree with them, I'm glad they're doing something that will make us all think about how we feel about this issue.
There will be a day when they're right, when we don't need to legislate to give an advantage to the less advantaged segments of our country. I hope we're all open to when that is. And I hope someone does something to let us know that it's time. So for my part, I'll go, watch what happens, and probably buy a cupcake mostly because I just can't say no to sugar.
So at 9:30 this morning, I ran out of the house, camera and video cam in hand, went and picked up my friend Linda Seccaspina, and we got ourselves to Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley Campus just in time. I convinced Linda it would be interesting for us both to post about this, so she's done a photo blog today on OS.
It was pretty easy to spot, there was a crowd of reporters and onlookers. The first strange thing I noticed was that of the 2 people sitting at the bake sale table, one was an older black gentleman who couldn't possibly have been a student, certainly not your average student, and he was doing all the speaking.
There were students holding up signs, so I took pictures of them and approached them asking who the man at the table was. I quickly found out that the sign holders were not allowed to speak. The student Republican group that was doing this protest limited speaking to 4 of it's members. I found this disappointingly ironic for a group that is using free speech to defend it's offensive behavior.
There were also intermediary members who approached nosy people like me and hooked us up with the ordained spokespeople. I ended up talking to one of those student spokepeople, and when I asked him about the irony of the no speaking policy for a free speech event, he gave me some double speak convoluted response, claiming it's what all activist groups do. Not any activist group I've ever been around.
So, sadly, I went into this with high hopes for a disagreeable but awesome spectacle, sure I would walk away with respect for these young protestor people. Instead, they lost me with their attempts to control their own and their message. They also all seemed kind of unpleasant, and I noticed after about an hour the young man I spoke with was looking pretty tired and worn down.
A bit into it, a couple of other groups appeared. A satirical pair of guys mixing Harry Potter into the thing. They kind of ran out of steam pretty quickly, but they added a little something. Then the very well spoken opposition showed up. They were all allowed to talk, and I appreciated how well informed they were. Perhaps a little too well informed, and I forgot to ask if they were students. Someone asked the man who appeared to be the leader if he was a student, and he kind of waffled his way through various credentials like he was a law student, though I don't think he said where.
My favorite group was the free baked goods kids. They weren't taking any obvious sides, they just wanted to undercut the pricing of the Republicans. They were friendly and their free baked goods looked a lot better then the sliding scale offerings at the table. They even asked me if I wanted to help pass stuff out. I declined, wanting to get back home and write this up.
I don't claim to be a reporter. Maybe an observer at best. I just couldn't help but go see this in person, and writing a blog was a great excuse to interact with the participants. I see this trend where the extreme right is acting more counter culture then the extreme left. I recently wondered if the Teaparty has become the new punk rock. Certainly these Republican students were being very punk rock.
If nothing else, it was a beautiful sunny day, and I often forget what a nice campus Berkeley is. I got to hang out with Linda, which is always awesome. And I got to experience something new and different. Overall, it was a pretty good event, even if I ended up being disappointed with it's perpetrators. This is what democracy is all about. This was my first attempt to do a kind of “investigative” piece, and I found out saying I write a blog went over almost as well as if I said I was with CBS. The internet has made reporting and observing the news possible for all of us, and that's one giant leap in the right direction.
And no, I did not purchase any of the baked goods on the table.
Here's a video with brief interviews with both sides. Many thanks to everyone for speaking to me! I took the photos above, the bottom photo is by Linda, capturing me out in the field!