Student Protest - A "Lifestyle Choice"? | Halas Časopis studentů Fakulty sociálních studií. 32. ročník

Student Protest – A „Lifestyle Choice“?

Do rubriky Okénka napsal (Čtvrtek, 15. březen 2012)

When I was asked to write about student protest in the United States, I thought to myself, “Oh no – how embarrassing; there is none!” In the 1960s and early 1970s, students fought in large numbers to ensure civil rights for black Americans and to end the war in Vietnam. As in Europe, the year 1968 represented a watershed moment for student protest, not least because of the coming of live television, which revolutionized the nightly news. (It’s not that I am obsessed with television, as students that have taken my class on popular culture will testify. The live broadcast of the Tet Offensive, in which viewers saw Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan blow out the brains of his captive in a Saigon street, will be forever etched in the minds of millions of viewers.) But that all happened decades ago, and even the huge antiwar protests of 2003 are already a distant memory.

So as I considered the recent protests by students in Brno, Prague and other Czech cities, it seemed clear to me that U.S. students would never rise up and take action against tuition hikes and the suppression of autonomy for institutions of higher education.

Well, I was wrong.

Just a few days before I sat down to write this column, students and members of the Occupy movement called for a “National Day of Action to Defend the Right to Education” on March 1. They called for protest against increased tuition and student loan costs as well as “the lack of democratic decision-making in schools and universities.” Sound familiar?

At the same time, however, I was right.

While news reports estimated the number of protestors in Brno at 5,000–6,000 at one rally, in San Francisco, which has twice the population and several times more universities, only 200 or so students showed up on March 1.

Why aren’t students in the U.S. filling the streets? It’s not as if tuition increases are small – the cost of studying and living on campus at the average U.S. public university in 2011 was US $21,447 (about 400,000 Czech crowns). And this is a bargain compared to $37,000 for private universities.

Generations of social scientists have tried to figure out why there is so much “political apathy” among contemporary youth in the U.S. and the U.K. I think Paul Armstrong from the University of Leeds, is on the right track. He says it’s a “lifestyle choice reflecting the fact that party politics is no longer part of the fabric of everyday life, no more important than any other lifestyle choices such as fashion and popular cultural activities. The choice is not to consume politics.”

What a poor choice indeed.

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