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Viva la revolucion? Increasing student apathy in the age of lost resistance

September 3, 2009

I don’t know how many—if any—of you remember this, but for us UBCers the year 2008 was the year of The Knoll, with a small but active group from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) waging a vociferous campaign against the administration’s plan to tear down the campus’ beloved grassy knoll in order to build an under-ground bus loop. SDS waged a peaceful, 1960’s-esque hippie war against the administration, taking over the hill and creating a “People’s Park,” named after a strikingly similar protest that took place at Berkeley in 1969, also over a small piece of land pegged for parking-lot development. The parallels between the two parks is striking, not only in their development but also in their demise. Berkeley’s People Park dissolved after a protest ended in violence, with one student being killed by the police and another bystander wounded. UBC’s People’s Park also dissolved after police-student confrontation, when a late-night bonfire ended in a handful of students being arrested and a few slightly wounded.

I was reminded of both People’s Parks in speaking to my dad about his involvement at Berkeley, who joined the Park’s protest in 1969. Despite the similarities between the two actions, one major difference is blaringly obvious: the size, and intensity, of each protest. While thousands of Berkeley residents and students came out against the administration’s proposal, UBC’s Park was supported by only a handful of active students. For much of the UBC student body, the knoll argument was trivial, and nasty attacks on the protesters spread campus-wide, with students-attacking-students for their respective radicalism and apathy. Hippies ruled at Berkeley’s Park; hippies were shunned and condemned at UBC’s.

Having been away from UBC a year now I know little of the knoll’s current status, but understand that the parking lot is still set to be built in the midst of student complacency. While I understand the argument that the knoll is just a piece of grass and that development is inevitable, I do lament the loss of the support for radicalism and student movements. With the eve of the Olympics upon us, I wonder if the Vancouver student population will continue with such complacency towards development, allowing a plethora of perfect-protest opportunities to pass them by. I can only guess how the charged Berkeley of the 60’s would have reacted; and I predict that we’ll look pretty subdued in comparison.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. marakardasnelson permalink*
    September 5, 2009 2:28 pm

    Hey Corsullivan,

    Your question regarding whether or not a grassy knoll is indeed worth fighting for was at the centre of students’ criticism of The Knoll movement. In many students eyes, the knoll was just a piece of grass, and although a lovely spot to sit, it’s demise wasn’t something to be especially sad over. But SDSers and other supporters contended that the knoll’s death was a representation grand of development on campus that took place with little student consultation and with the interests of corporations at the forefront of the decisions.

    I don’t know much about what the steps the protesters took, but I do believe that they tried on several occassions to negotiate different ways to save the knoll, and discuss campus development more generally with the university administration.

  2. corsullivan permalink*
    September 5, 2009 11:42 am

    As an academic myself, I’m willing to acknowledge that protests and radicalism have their place in the life of a university, but I do think that calm, constructive dialogue between students, professors and administrators should be the preferred approach except in the most drastic cases. In other words, radicalism is all right if something comes up that’s worth being radically opposed to – but does the disappearance of a grassy knoll really qualify? Did the people who protested take any realistic counter-proposals to the administration first?

  3. marakardasnelson permalink*
    September 5, 2009 9:06 am

    Hey Renee,

    I had no idea that UBC was a conservative, complacent campus “back in the day.” While I was involved in the student activism scene throughout my university degree, this included a small, select group of people, a meer percentage of the 40,000 + campus members. Students involved in HIV/AIDS, organic farming, The Knoll, etc. were quite tight and often ran in the same circles, participating in the same meetings all championing progressive causes. Therefore I don’t know whether things have changed that significantly since your time at UBC, or if I just have a different perspective. Campus-wide I’d say the place is still pretty complacent and conservative, with only a few rabble-rousers breaking the silence.

  4. September 4, 2009 7:49 pm

    Fascinating post – as a UBC Alum. I didn’t know about “The Knoll’s threatened demise. Back in the day, gulp, you know, er, the 80’s (!), UBC was one of the most conservative, complacent campuses in Canada. I’d be interested in reading your further thoughts on why this might be the case. R

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