The Very Least We Could Do

For six weeks, I stood on Ring Road near the flagpoles, handing out literature against the odious Proposition 32 and supporting Prop. 30. I endured grimaces and taunts, was ignored by students wearing buds in their ears, received polite smiles from non-English speakers and, yes, was thanked by many who wanted to read what I described as the position of UC Irvine teachers, which is to say librarians and lecturers represented by my union, the University Council-American Federation of Teachers.

One fellow instructor asked me what I was doing out there; as if it wasn’t obvious.

Here, then, like my volunteer outreach work — unsolicited — is a post-election analysis.

First, it was (mostly) nice to meet you all. Even the young sorority women wearing their weird “Amerika” (sic) T-shirts and the young men who screamed at me, smugly, that they’d voted the opposite.

Second, we won. Big-time. The voters of California saved, temporarily, public education and crushed the cynical and super-millionaire-funded anti-democratic effort to destroy a key privilege of the democratic trade unionism.

But here’s the real takeaway — at least for this activist teacher. I stood out there, and mostly enjoyed it, for only a total of 10 hours. Only 10 hours, total. I still taught my classes, graded papers, drove my kid to school and otherwise lived a full, rich life. It was, to be honest, the very least I could do.

Just 10 hours to help win a campaign or two and re-elect a president. And it was less, much less, than the excellent collective work done by the Associated Students, whose volunteers registered something like 2,000 UCI students!

So, maybe we did a lot, by way of doing very little. The absolute minimum required for participation in the flawed, sometimes annoying democratic electoral process, involved registering voters, handing out literature and talking to our community. Granted, we had to compete with other “outreach efforts,” with some frankly anti-democratic: religious proselytizers, merciless boba and cupcake hucksters, coupon peddlers and come-on artists. You haven’t lived, friends, until you’ve stood for two hours on a Wednesday mid-day and watched the campus go by. And, no, you have not been an engaged citizen until you have jumped in and asked it to stop, please, to listen, read and talk about the most important if easy way to change the world.

Me? I wish we had more of that, a lot more. I wish we had elections every month, if only to remind me (you, us) of how good and bad and, finally, good, things are — or could be — and how little it takes to be a part of them.

Andrew Tonkovich, president of UC-AFT Local 2226, teaches composition.