Monday, November 23, 2009

Student Fee Hikes, Moonlit Bike Ride

Last Thursday the UC Board of Regents met at UCLA and voted to raise undergraduate student fees by 32% (Here's an NY Times article on the subject). I went to UCLA to protest along with students from throughout the UC system.

I am still fairly new to protesting, having succumbed to the apolitical stupor encouraged, unfortunately, by a liberal arts education. What I mean is that, having fully accepted the concept that there are multiple perspectives to everything, and that action in one direction will not necessarily achieve the desired effect, I spent my first adult years detached from the political system. The first step toward shaking me out of this inactivity came when a colleague at the nonprofit where I worked in Portland in 2007 listened to me brag about not voting (as if I were somehow too smart to participate in the system) and shook his head. As another Chicano from Orange County, he straight out told me that I was being an idiot, especially because I can represent an underrepresented group. Point taken, John!

Now that I'm up to my ears in bike activism, I've learned oodles about how decisions get made at a local level, and I do my best to stay informed about elections. After I vote I wear my "I Voted" sticker with pride for days.

And even my academic self is okay with action, as I've been pushed by my progressive department to view any choice to remain "objective" as a choice to cede control of my work to others. Because, the theory goes, we are gonna be biased one way or the other, and the more effort we make to choose a bias, the better we are at accurately representing something.

So this academician-citizen took the 720 over to Westwood to join the protest. As I rode my bike through the commercial village that separates UCLA from Wilshire I saw four helicopters circling over the campus, the only indication that something unusual was afoot.

At a protest there is lots of chanting. At a protest largely attended by undergraduates, there is also lot of leg, cleavage, and flirting (see the NY Times article picture). My grad student friends and I pulled back from the crowds at some points to comment on the act of protesting as a nostalgic performance, a reference to some 1960s fantasy brimming with youthfulness, passion, and whimsy. It really felt to me like a rite of passage more than anything, like a thing that these kids knew how to do because of what they'd seen in movies, read in books, or whatever.

A simulacrum, but a heartfelt one. Many of the protesters were students of color, and as a teaching assistant it thrilled me to see so many undergrads demonstrating for their own and their peers' rights to a quality, affordable education.

And now, a tale from my regional lifestyle:
When there no longer seemed to be a focus for the crowd of protesters, I embarked on an adventure via 920 to Santa Monica. I needed to get to Long Beach to shake hands with Jeff Mapes, author of Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities, and I figured I'd try to do it by heading south on the beach path that zips from Malibu to Palos Verdes. From there I could hop on a bus, #232, all the way along PCH to the Long Beach Transit Mall.

Just as the sunlight faded, I made my way down the path through Santa Monica, Venice, and then Marina Del Rey. At that point, though, there's an inlet for boat traffic, and I ended up zigzagging through marinas for about half an hour before giving up and trying to find a major street that would take me across the water. I found a path that eventually led me to the Ballona Creek trail, and I got to ride straight into the moonlight along the funny peninsula that runs between the creek and the marina's channel.

Then I made it back to the beach path, sliding along an empty white road with the moon on my right. I mean it was freaking awesome. When I made it to Hermosa Beach, I popped up the hill to PCH and had a delightfully short wait for the 232.

The bus ride took an hour, meandering through such exotic locales as Lomita and Harbor City, eventually cutting through Latino Wilmington, and then meeting up with the Blue Line along Long Beach Boulevard. I saw a few classy mid-century strip malls and motels, and more than one homey diner.

Leaving the bus, I hopped into the new 1st Street bike lane and zipped through my old neighborhood, Alamitos Beach, making my way to the museum. I arrived at 7:45 pm, my epic journey taking me 3.5 hours total to travel about 30 miles (it would've been less if I'd known how to get through Marina Del Rey).

I did what I'd gone there to do and then went home on the Blue Line.