Guilt-tripping the no-shows

Where’s the progressive professoriat when it’s needed the most?

Retired as an English instructor from Butte College, Jaime O’Neill contributes frequently to Northern California publications. This is his final piece for the CN&R.

I met Norton Buffalo a couple of years ago when I did a cover piece about him for this paper. It’s not his musicianship that makes me proud to know him; it’s his sense of commitment to some quaint notions that used to cluster under the phrase “the American way” back when that wasn’t generally thought to stand for torture, unbridled greed, first-strike warmongering, or preferential laws favoring the best connected.

Wally Herger, the Republican congressman for this district, has helped sully the definition of America over the 22 years he’s held office. He’s fought environmental safeguards, blocked legislation for working people, and argued for chipping away at Social Security by sweeping a chunk of that money into the hands of Wall Street money managers. He’s been one of the “deregulators” who’s virtually killed the golden goose for the rich while dashing the dreams of just about everyone else.

Herger has had a pretty good run in a district considered “safe” for Republicans. But now he’s facing a climate and a candidate likely to sweep him away. Jeff Morris’ family has been in the North State for nearly 100 years, and the Morris candidacy promises to bring vibrant new leadership.

Last week, Norton Buffalo, Lisa Flores and Joe Craven held a Chico benefit for Morris and other local progressive politicians. Just over 100 people turned out to lend their support. It was a mid-week event, and there may have been lots of reasons more people didn’t come. But the disappointing show of support for change was consistent with what I see all too often at events for progressive causes in and around Chico.

The academic community is nearly always conspicuous by its absence. At such functions, I never see any of my former teaching colleagues from Butte College—all of them big talkers in opposition to right-wing policies. Nor do I see much commitment from the professoriat at Chico State, a community that should be the bedrock of opposition to the tyrannies and anti-intellectualism of the current crop of Republicans.

Guys like Norton Buffalo ain’t rich, don’t enjoy the job protection provided by the tenure system, but give of their energies, and risk alienating their fan bases and jeopardizing their income stream. Meanwhile, it’s increasingly difficult to find progressives on campuses who are even willing to put bumper stickers on their cars, or turn out for a bargain-basement evening of top-flight entertainment. (Tickets were just $20.)

In a district like this one, Chico and Chico State should be the intellectual locus for change. But apathy, or an excess of caution, has largely silenced the well-paid academic community. Those profs could all take a lesson from Norton Buffalo, who puts his mouth harp where his principles are.