For UCD activists

All it took …

All it took …

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Have you ever held a protest sign on a busy street corner? Stood in a crowd and chanted in unison? Nervously held the mic in your hands, waiting to address the rally, your brilliant political rhetoric dimming in your mind, but nonetheless you begin to speak because it’s your turn, please-oh-please may I not babble like an idiot?

Ever passed a leaflet to a stranger? Gotten arrested, been pepper sprayed or maced?

In short, have you ever partaken in the whole activist … thing?

Many people have—right, left and center. Many more people have not; it’s part of our own ambivalence toward democracy, or our material contentment; maybe it’s something humble in the national character. Or something much worse.

Auntie Ruth did the activist thing for years, and as she stood among the crowd at UC Davis protesting the pepper spray, those activist feelings welled up in her. They are a mixed bag, a tumble of political analyses, moral certitude, anger, deluded vs. actual empowerment, a willingness to sacrifice, a dance between the practical and the ideal. All of this swirling around, head and heart.

More than 1,253 people were arrested in protest of the XL Pipeline. Enough people gathered in Washington, D.C., to form a human chain 2 miles around the White House. A victory of a kind for climate change was achieved.

But it took an act of authoritarian cruelty to light the world on fire: a dozen-plus students just sitting there on the ground, arms joined; the cop casually strolling the circle. That strange orange liquid sprayed like PAM olive oil (Fox News’ Megyn Kelly said pepper spray is “a food product, essentially”). And the viral media explodes, the traditional media follows, then the calls for Chancellor Linda Katehi’s head on a pike. And then … what?

In the late ’70s, Auntie Ruth met a UCD organizer who had been arrested protesting UC’s investments in South Africa. The next year, Auntie was quite active in that movement (nearly flunking out of UCD). Five years later, Ruthie married that organizer. Five years after that, a student activist stopped Ruth on the street and said that UC had divested from apartheid. Ruthie laughed and said, “I used to work on that.” The activist said, “I know.”

And so a toast to the UCD activists. You are changing the world. You are changing your lives. You are changing yourselves. Our very best to you.