Tuesday, February 16, 2010
It’s been a seriously dramatic year at the University of California, where hundreds of students seized buildings, demonstrated and shut down regents meetings last fall to protest rising tuition and the perceived privatization of the public school.
It’s also been a satirically dramatic year, thanks to the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization, a fledgling group of mostly grad students in business attire that uses humor tinged with sarcasm to lampoon UC officials.
Their own name is an example. Many UC students believe leaps in tuition and reduced state funding are turning the public university into a private institution.
The UC Movement for Efficient Privatization says, “Why not?”
“Unlike others whining about the direction of privatization, we’re concerned about the snail’s pace at which the inevitable transformation is proceeding,” said Shane Boyle, 27, unofficial chairman of UCMeP.
That’s You See Me … you get the idea.
In the spirit of theatrical political activists, from Billionaires for Bush to the Yippies, the 5-month-old group says its goal is to help UC leaders advance their goals.
“We take them to the logical extreme to show how ridiculous they can be,” said UCMeP’s Chief Artistic Officer Brandon Woolf, 26, a doctoral student in theater with Boyle. “It’s another tactic for protest.”
On Thursday, UCMeP organized a dozen or so people into a Student Counter-Activist Brigade, or SCAB, to film an instructional video on better ways to cross a picket line than using police batons, widely perceived to have backfired last fall. Using a Trojan horse, for example. Or having Moses part the sea of demonstrators.
The group expects such skills will come in handy on March 4 when students and faculty across California plan large demonstrations for public education.
Encouraging everyone to cross the picket lines will “support UCMeP’s plans to dismantle public education,” said Boyle, whose doctoral thesis, “Playing With Authority,” examines performance activism in 1960s Germany.
UCMeP has made itself known on the Berkeley campus since September. That’s when UC President Mark Yudof, who earns about $600,000, drew students’ ire for telling the New York Times he’d take a $200,000 pay cut for salary parity with President Obama – if Air Force One were part of the package.
Seeing this as a philanthropic opportunity, UCMeP issued fundraising flyers: “Help Buy Mark Yudof a Plane!”
The group showed similar magnanimity toward the UC regents after students criticized the board for raising tuition
32 percent. Its Adopt-a-Regent campaign supported “California’s 26 most underappreciated and undervalued public employees.”
But UCMeP’s shining moment came on Jan. 29 when it honored Dan Mogulof, spokesman for UC Berkeley administrators.
“You have spoken courageously and eloquently on their behalf, waxing poetically on the value of autocracy during times of emergency,” Boyle said at the standing-room-only gala where he declared Mogulof the Top Outstanding Oratorical Leader (TOOL) of the Year. “You truly embody everything a TOOL stands for.”
Mogulof showed up to graciously decline the award.
To be sure, he appeared on condition that the event be invitation-only. Among the select crowd were Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard, campus Police Chief Mitchell Celaya, and students who’d been arrested for seizing buildings.
“I am unworthy of this awesome honor,” Mogulof said through a spokeswoman.
Asked later why he agreed to join in a ceremony meant to mock him, Mogulof said: “We have to be open to opportunities for interaction – both conventional and unconventional.”
His reaction shows how performance activism can be a catalyst for bringing together warring students, faculty and administrators, said theater Professor Catherine Cole, who had donned a wig and transformed into Mogulof’s spokeswoman at the gala – Gloria O’Toole.
‘They make both sides laugh’
“The danger in a protest situation is that it breaks down to just two sides that stop listening to each other,” Cole said. “UCMeP can shift the tenor of the discourse. They make both sides laugh.”
The participants did, in fact, end the gala with “Kumbaya.”
UC Davis Professor Larry Bogad, author of “Electoral Guerilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements,” called UCMeP’s stunts “a form of serious play.”
“Things are dire in this state,” Bogad said. “They’re using the tools of satire to make their point. And they’re doing it pretty effectively.”
To learn more: Visit the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization at www.ucmep.wordpress.com.