Issue date: 4/18/08
Over Spring Break, I went to visit some friends down at UC Berkeley.
While I was there, the campus was buzzing. A student, who called
himself "Fresh," had barricaded himself in a tree on the school's
quad and had been living in it for 17 days in protest of, well, I
don't know quite what. The tree had been surrounded by a metal
blockade and a ring of police officers. Fresh's supporters, many of
whom were barefoot, were hotly defending his protest against a group
named "Students against Hippies and Trees." When I pressed for why
Fresh had resolved to climb into the tree in the first place, I was
given a variety of answers ranging from a protest of nuclear warheads
to the genocide in Darfur, among others; however, most students who
had only moments before been screaming, either at or in favor of
Fresh, stared back dumbfounded at my question. They had no clue what
he was doing up there.
I consider myself lucky to have been on the Berkeley quad when, in a
moment of confusion, Fresh clambered down from the tree and into
police custody. As soon as he was arrested, 20 or so students rushed
to the tree and climbed it in a blatant test of authority. From the
high branches, a female student screamed, "We're giving the
University back to the people!"
What people? The hippies these students were romanticizing are
working desk jobs now and retiring to golf course condos. There are
no more real hippies. But we refuse to believe this. Sure, I own a
pair of Birkenstocks and consider myself an avid recycler, but my
actions are a far cry from radical. We are a generation of frauds
lost and disillusioned with what we should stand for. We want so
desperately to have a revolution that we are willing to compromise
our logicality for the thrill of effecting change. But how can this
act constitute change? We are stuck in a cycle that we know not how to exit.
Ironically, as I was walking to class a while back, I saw a
prospective Knight dressed as a gorilla throwing bananas from a tree.
As I ducked, dipped, dived and dodged my way around his projectiles,
I realized that his task and Fresh's quest for change had the same
College is a vast void that we must fill. We know of no better way to
fill that emptiness than with misguided attempts at petty reform: We
attempt to be political. But we attempt to be the college students we
romanticize from a Vietnam-era America. Sure, we're all still the
"fortunate son[s]" Credence Clearwater Revival condemned, but we are
no hippies. We may all still go to the Gorge and get drunk, smoke and
listen to Dave Matthews, but we will never re-create Woodstock. And
don't even try to tell me Madonnastock was political. We are farm
turkeys bred our whole lives for a Thanksgiving feast, that at a
moment's notice are released into a vegan world. Finding ourselves
free-range could prove more dangerous than the ax. We are bred to
consume and, in effect, be consumed. From Lucky Brand jeans to what
we hear on the "Daily Show," we excrete what we are told to believe
and buy into the bedpan of a groupthink society. Finding a "purpose"
may be our downfall.
What should be our resolve? How do we break from the mold of what we
imagine we should embody (Fresh's dilemma, and a stale one at that)
and enter a world that we have been told from birth we are the future
of? Feigning activism is worse than blatant apathy. Personally, I can
sleep well at night knowing that I cut a $10 check and supported
Sudanese refugees. Of course, in the process I would also gain
another shirt to add to a growing collection of political activism
banners which scream, "Look at me! I'm for real!" Or are we? If we
think that checks can solve the world's many problems, think again.
If we think that climbing a tree will save lives, reconsider. These
are ways in which we are preparing to cast in stone our resolve to do
much about nothing. We need to stop faking it and find something that
we are passionate about and can actively pursue. So climb down, rub
your butt where the tree bark chafed and get to work.
Kevin O'Toole is a freshman at Gonzaga.