Op-Ed: On The Art of Protesting

Anna Vila (A ‘15)

I was in St. Marks Market getting a sandwich after the [deferred art students] rally and I saw a member of the Cooper Union custodial staff. We started chatting. I asked him what he thought of the rally. He replied, “Oh yeah, it was nice, but you know everyone has it bad, it’s not just you guys, times are rough, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Which I totally understand. But does that imply that because everyone has it bad, it’s ok? Are we supposed to just sit down and take it? Should we just believe the lies that we’re fed and do nothing because life sucks and we might as well deal with it, since we’re just “spoiled and entitled brats?” Hell no. Are we spoiled and entitled for looking out for future kids and trying to ensure that they have a great future?

I don’t see how spending countless hours, out of pocket money, and a whole lot of effort and planning could be seen as selfish. When I listened to those kids speak [at the rally], I realized just how much I care about all of them, and the kids that will replace them, and the kids after that.

I want them to have a fucking beautiful college experience and education, I want them to come to Cooper and I want them to learn amazing things. I want to get to know them and talk to them about art and life and become life long Cooper alum buddies with them. I want them to grow, and change, and find out things about themselves that they never knew existed. I want their entire lives to be turned upside down like mine was, and I want their minds to be blown every single day like my mind is. I love this school and I love my teachers and I love my classmates and I love my future classmates and goddamn it, I will do everything I can to make sure that there will be future classmates to have.

During the week of action back in December, we received so many letters of solidarity from student activist movements from all across the country and the world. It was beautiful. Solidarity is an amazing thing… You have all these kids somewhere, out there, and you don’t even know them but the mere fact that they exist becomes a motivation. And let’s not forget the fact that this is happening everywhere. Being part of a student solidarity network is important because it just makes you realize that you’re not alone.

Elsewhere, out in the great big world we live in, people lose their lives fighting for what they believe in. Where I come from, people set themselves on fire to make a statement about injustice. Don’t look up self immolation in Greece, that shit’s fucked up.

I try to stay neutral and look at both sides of the situation, but protesting is something that I feel very strongly about. Obviously, people can do whatever they want and stand on whatever side, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand people who actively sneer and make fun of people trying to show that they care.

“Silly artists, so emotional – and artistic – and radical!” We’ve heard it all before. It’s not that funny. I get frustrated trying to explain gestures and poetry and symbolics to people who immediately look for holes and mistakes in everything, because a lot of protesting is poetics: the beauty of people coming together because they care about something so much that it tears them up and all they can do is scream. I went to my first protest when I was 14 and I don’t think I had ever felt more alive.

I’m not saying protesting is for everyone. I am a firm believer that people should decide their own level of involvement. I know personally, when I have been in situations where I’ve been obligated to participate more than I was prepared to, I left feeling gross and frustrated. Activist and social justice circles have a way of fostering a safe environment, which I think is super important.

Generally, if you’re uncomfortable with something, you are more than encouraged to do whatever you think is best for you, [whether it be] speak up, leave the room, etc).

This isn’t just us. Shit like this is happening everywhere. There are student protest and activist movements happening in Canada, England, and around the world because of the cost of education. Kids in Quebec hold nighttime rallies denouncing the Prime Minister’s attempt to raise their tuition, often ending in fights with the police. Students in Bulgaria have been credited for helping to overthrow their government by holding rallies in response to increases in tuition.

We in the Cooper Union are part of a global movement towards fairer educational practices and administrative decisions. Beyond that, the Cooper Union needs to stand as an example to the rest of the world of what happens when we believe and demonstrate that education is priceless, when we believe that students are our future and not customers.

Leave a Reply