image via NYU Local

image via NYU Local

Looks like “my generation” was out in full force last night, when 70ish NYU students, random protest junkies from neighboring schools (including some dude who came all the way from Pennsylvania!) and an intrepid NY Times reporter “occupied” the third floor of the NYU student center. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a recent alum NYU’s graduate journalism program. You’d think that would make me somewhat sympathetic to these kids, and yet…)

Watch them put up a “barricade” here:

You may have noticed that the barricade looked kind of far from the doors and didn’t seem to really be barricading anything. As the guards told a blogger from nyulocal.com–who is liveblogging the “occupation” and generating some of the best, and funniest, coverage of the event–“It’s not a barricade, we could tear that down anytime. Get something heavier.” Amazing.

Okay, so I make fun, but let’s examine the demands: They want NYU to be disclose its budget and endowment, to provide transparency regarding its investments, to allow student and faculty participation in the university’s financial decision-making, official recognition of and negotiation with NYU’s graduate student union, divestment from Israel, reinstating a ban on Coca-Cola products on campus, tuition stabilization for students, scholarships for 13 Palestinian students every year, donation of excess supplies to the University of Gaza, and for the school to open its main library to the public. (They also, of course, want amnesty for everyone involved in the demonstration. That’s demand #1.)

Wow. That’s a whole lot of demands. And many of their goals are laudable: The school should be fiscally responsible, as well as responsible to its students. Tuition hikes could be debilitating in this economy. And the graduate students should be able to form a union, just like any other group of working people. But then you get to the part about Coca-Cola on campus, and it’s like, “Really? Haven’t we got bigger fish to fry, here?” Also, while it would be lovely for the school to sponsor scholarships for Palestinian students and donate supplies to the University of Gaza, that isn’t their responsibility, and they shouldn’t be strong-armed into doing it. Finally, I understand that many of these students aren’t great believers in capitalism, property rights, etc., but no, the NYU library should not be open to the public. It is for paying students and faculty members, who need to have priority access to the computers, study space, and books. As the NYU Local blogger pointed out, New York City has the best public library system in the country. It’s not like New Yorkers are deprived of opportunities to appreciate literature.

But what does it say about “my generation”? I mean, I’m looking at the pictures, the pathetic barricading, the vitriolic statements, the fervent blogging, and this is what occurs to me: Politics, for us, is a game. We’re completely disconnected from what we’re doing. There are kids in these photos running around in bandannas–which people use at real demonstrations when they think they’re going to get tear-gassed. Those students may get expelled, but no one is going to touch them. They first resisted the university’s offers of vegan food, but then they accepted platters of chicken and mashed potatoes. Their demands range from reasonable to petty to downright ridiculous, and one item on the list has very little to do with the next. And the whole thing looks like an on-campus slumber party.

It also says something about us, I think, that only 70 students are there. NYU is an enormous school. In 1968, every white-guilt victim in the university would have been in that room. But, from what I’ve read, it looks like the majority of the community thinks this stunt is stupid. One student went to the protesters’ window with a sign that said, “YOU SUCK.” So we’re a little smarter than we look–not to mention, dare I say it, smarter than our ’60s forerunners, too. We realize that this is just a weird outlet for certain students’ (and here I lay no blame–I was one of those students in my stupider days, too) feelings of confinement and helplessness and confusion about growing up and selling out and blah blah blah. We realize that kids who want to run protest organizations will one day want to run corporations, because what they want is power, not justice. So maybe our cynicism is good for something, after all.

P.S. Someone give this NYU Local kid a job. Seriously. He’s got talent.

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