I fucking hate opinions. That is not to say that I hate other people’s opinions. I just always avoided giving mine. I attribute it to being the youngest of three brothers with a vocal father — to avoid fights I became a natural listener.
I just never felt confident or smart enough to go toe-to-toe with people, so instead I just listened, emphasized … whatever.
But you know … fuck all of that. It is worth speaking your mind when it matters. And I finally sacked up enough this break to figure out some shit really does matter. And not just matter the way grades or your salary matter. But really matter. In your bones.
Over break, I tried my hardest to forget about all things Berkeley. Classes, papers, protests, this fine publication you are reading, all of it. This last semester had been so difficult I just wanted to purge my brain of all traces of Cal-trauma. At Christmas, I would avoid talking about school with all my relatives, even my bleeds-blue-and-gold uncle who came here in the early 90s on about a dozen scholarships.
But then one of my many little cousins — we Mexicans have a lot of cousins — came up to me. She was wearing Cal sweatpants and asked me about school and more importantly if she could one day go here too. If she could follow in my uncle’s footsteps. In my footsteps.
“Well, fuck,” I thought, “There is a great question.”
Could she come here one day?
I know the question won’t be one of academics, that is for sure. She is as smart as any eight-year old can be, and in 10 years she will be ready. But then I thought about the other side of that question. What will UC Berkeley be like in 10 years? Will it still be here?
The answer is, of course, yes, Berkeley will be here. It will endure. But what will it look like? What will it stand for? Who will be here? Will it be my cousin from Oakland or a rich kid from Virginia? Will they pay 15 grand a year or 30? Will classes be online? Will beakers have little BP stickers on them? Will we be public at all?
These thoughts raced through my mind. At first, I figured, yeah, some things will change. Not all, but some.
“Sure,” I told her.
But later on, I felt like I was lying to her. I felt like I hadn’t been honest with her or with anyone else. Because things are not going to be alright. Because there is going to be a moment, five, 10 or 20 years from today when we look back on our time here at Cal and realize, fuck, we let the greatest system of higher education fall apart.
And the worst part? We would have nobody to blame but ourselves.
Sure, it’s easy to sit around and think our generation has been dealt a shitty hand by all those before us — those people who ruined the global economy, destroyed California’s tax system and buried us in debt. But at the end of the day, it is us students who are here now who have to deal with the problems of the day.
Fifty years ago, it was a different Berkeley, and those kids dealt with the university’s deplorable efforts to stifle free speech. Forty years ago, it was students fighting to establish an ethnic studies program. Thirty years ago, it was the anti-apartheid movement.
But now it’s much closer to home. The entire future of the University of California is at stake. That may sound like hyperbole, but it isn’t. If it isn’t this year, it almost certainly will be next year, but a massive multiyear fee increase will be passed. The word “affordability” — part of the UC’s mission, alongside “excellence” and “access” — will be totally gone. And sure, Berkeley will survive, but it is a matter of what part of Berkeley will survive.
I want the Berkeley I know to be there for my cousin and I want it to be there for your little brother or sister. I want it to be there for my kids and your grandkids. I know it’s foolish to think that this is possible, but fuck it, some things are worth doing on principle no matter how ridiculous they may sound.
There are some things in this world that are just plain fucking wrong. War, racism, the spread of preventable diseases, all that stuff. And letting the UC system fall apart in the very state where the idea of a free public education was hatched has to be up there — it is just plain wrong. We can’t let that happen on our watch.
This isn’t a call to occupy the capitol, torch the chancellor’s house or hold a bake sale. It isn’t my place to tell you what to do. Do whatever the hell you want.
But don’t do nothing, and don’t be ignorant of the momentous times we live in. There is a lot at stake now.
Give a shit.
’Cause when we’re older, what are you going to say when your kids look you in the eye and ask you: “What the fuck did you do when the UC system and California fell apart?”