Civil Unrest Must Consider Civility

I would like to talk about the UC tuition hike protest that happened last Tuesday and how it is viewed from the outside. The protest went well, although our message was tarnished when we began to let our passion get the better of us. The protesters attempted to enter Aldrich Hall and later banged on the windows on the front of the building, trying to break them. Luckily these activities, which would most definitely NOT have helped our cause, were quickly stopped. But, its potential for spiraling out of control is what people will remember about our protest that day.

We are students who have a legitimate complaint, with a tuition increase almost none of us have accounted for.  A 5 percent tuition increase each year or roughly $600 (which would rise every year) is about two quarter’s worth of textbooks, the food budget for three months or simply the nest egg in your account for your future.  In that way, it is justifiable to be angry at a tuition hike, as we have little input on that kind of financial decision, which is imposed from the top. By exercising our right to protest, we show dissatisfaction with this unfair system. But when we act out of passion and anger, and incite others to do the same, the threat of the protest devolving into a mob becomes more likely and the public will fear us, rather than support us.

I am not condemning those who express their anger in public.  When nothing seems to work and our administration will not listen to us, demonstrating our own frustration, sometimes with excessive vigor, seems to be the only avenue left. I understand those powerful emotions because I have felt those same feelings and acted accordingly; but I have also been on the receiving end of a mob’s anger and that experience has helped shaped my perspective on balance. Although it is one of the hardest things to do, we must remain civil and not allow our anger to cloud our usual sense of right and wrong.

We are a part of a culture that does not condone most actions based on extreme emotions.  Society sees that as a sign of immaturity or a lack of self-control, like a child throwing a temper tantrum when he does not get what he wants.  In the eyes of the administration, we appear to be that child when, over the course of a civil protest, we shout rude slogans, disobey the law or attempt to break windows.  They are looking for ANY reason to trivialize student voice and it is sad to say, but expressing our anger in public makes their own justification to ignore us much easier.

When the world is looking at us, they tend to remember all the times we act at our worst and glance over the times when we are at our best.  If we act civil throughout a protest, we deny the public and the administration the ability to write us off as simply rowdy upstarts. Controlling yourself, especially when among equally unhappy and disenfranchised peers, is difficult.

It requires your mind to assert itself over the mob mentality. It means saying no to damaging school property, not insulting members of the administration and most of all, suppressing our rage to act out and make provocative statements. While such actions make a crowd feel powerful, it is not the insulted administrator who loses public credibility but the crowd that has thrown that stone at him or her.

Anger is not an inherently destructive emotion.  But if we express it openly then we will be the enemy that people fear, whether we are in the right or not. But if we can use our anger constructively to galvanize more people to support the cause or actively engage the administration fairly, then we will win the moral fight. We must remain an example of civil protest that keeps the pressure on the administration rather than give anyone the slightest excuse to look at us as anything other than peaceful and respectful.

The next time there is a protest, please stop and think for a bit about how your actions and words will be interpreted by those around you.  Over the course of the protest, if it becomes clear that we are polite, respectful people who see the UC administration as a part of the solution to our grievances, then administration will be more sympathetic to our cause.  But if we alienate people by unleashing our unrestrained anger, then we lose public support, while administration looks on as they make the decisions they already know are deeply unpopular.

 

Tin Hong is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at tinth@uci.edu.