The UC Irvine Muslim Student Union (MSU) hosted Anti-Oppression week in an effort to remind the UCI student body on the social issues that affect us, but that we rarely think about. From April 11 to 15, MSU dedicated an entire week to presenting a series of informative events that dealt with various forms of cruelty and oppression.
“The biggest thing from the MSU perspective is that we are solely trying to educate students on oppressions not heard on a daily basis,” said Faisal Ansari, one of the organizers of the event. “We are fighting for freedom and justice.”
With the help of co-sponsors MECHA and Uncultivated Rabbits, MSU covered a diverse range of themes including oppression caused by money, war, government corruption and inaccessible education. Students were given the opportunity to learn how money drives oppression, whether it is through the government, university or drug-trafficking gangs.
“These were issues that we were passionate about, and ones that could not be ignored,” Ansari said.
Despite the selected themes, MSU also provided a space for students to define their own oppressions. Along with the main events, MSU held displays out on Ring Road all throughout the week. One of the displays was of the globe, and students were asked to label an area of the world where they thought oppression was happening.
“They were defining it by having the ability to show others that other oppressions were going on around the world that we might have not touched during the week … These issues affect everyone, but we still didn’t want to mask all the other ones around the world,” Ansari said.
Anti-Oppression Week kicked off its event by first showing a documentary revealing the dark world of drug trafficking. The documentary “Narco War Next Door: Vanguard,” revealed how greed for money and power drives drug dealers to heinous crimes and ultimately tragic deaths for many of the young males living in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. From the documentary, one gets a sense of how the drive for money and resulting crimes leads to an oppressive society — one that deprives people of their right to feel safe and to live a normal life.
Another issue that the events brought to light was the role that the government plays in our lives with the impact of war. Co-founder of March Forward and Iraq war veteran Michael Prysner, who came to UCI to speak on this topic, used the Iraq and Afghan wars as the pretext to make the point that we are a society that is constantly being deceived by the government. He claimed that we are often led to believe that our government has good intentions behind its actions, but that too often they are driven by selfish motivations, such as money.
He pointed out that while the government claims to have no money to help Americans afford health care, there is always somehow some way to fund continuous war in the Middle East.
Yet Prysner expressed confidence and hope that we could do something about it as long as people come together.
As our present circumstances show, without action and movement by the people, many will not receive the justice they deserve. Such concern was shown during another of their informative sessions, titled “Education Deferred,” where a panel of UCI maintenance workers and students spoke about how each entity was personally affected by the rising tuition and budget cuts.
The panel’s personal testimonies revealed the distraught situation that many of the workers and students had suffered for a long time. Mostly custodians, the workers testified to the ill treatment they received from their company ABLE, and how they are deprived from receiving benefits as university employees. Lack of benefits include having to work without a good wage, pension plan, dental insurance and good safety and health standards.
When these workers requested that the chancellor and the university improve their safety and health conditions against exposure from harmful chemicals, they were rejected on the claim that there was no money.
One of the students on the panel, a fifth-year grad student, Fernando, remarked on the higher political and administrative power’s tendency to avoid being held accountable for the issue.
“The university says that they are making decisions based on what the state wants. Then the state blames the economy. Who then has the power?” he asked.
It is this passiveness and deliberate ignorance of widespread suffering that MSU and other student coalitions tried to fight against and bring awareness to. Anti-Oppression week was meant to expose our student body to the social issues that we don’t usually think about on a daily basis, but are ones that many find unbelievably important to their lives: possessing the rights to a safe living environment, jobs that treat employees with fairness, an affordable and accessible education and ultimately, a government that respects these rights.
“History shows us that change only happens when people fight,” Prysner said. “Changes come from a mass movement in which we force the government to do things differently.”