The Choice of Activism 

By Gaurav Kale 

During Week 3 of Fall Quarter, an effort by UCLA lecturers and professors flew under the radar. Over the past six months, the UC President, Michael Drake, had been in stalled negotiations with the lecturers across all ten UC campuses. On the table were pressing issues such as healthcare, salary adjustments, and job security. Lecturers, who make up nearly 40% of the professors at UCs, had no rehiring rights or contract guarantees, and often had to work at multiple institutions to keep up with California living costs. With students finally coming back to campus, UC-AFT, the council that represents all University Lecturers in California, saw an opportunity to gain traction by having an in-person demonstration.

Despite an active Twitter presence and attempts from UC-AFT and the Labor Studies Department to spread the news of an impending demonstration, most students were not aware of the picket’s existence, let alone educated on the issue. It seemed illogical: here is an issue that most students can directly contribute to, on a campus inclined to support social justice initiatives. Yet most of us were more aware of whatever fringe infographic was circulating on instagram during the week’s news cycle. 

When examining the situation with UC Lecturers, one could argue that they did not market well enough to the students, which would explain the low visibility. Though that may be true, it also proves just how much we are influenced by social media marketing campaigns. We cannot truly be educated on the important issues if our involvement with social justice solely depends on the Instagram stories we mindlessly scrolled through. By subscribing to ideas in such a way, We spread our attention thin. Of course, there are issues outside our immediate life worth getting invested in, but it’s equally important to prioritize how we dedicate ourselves to them.

Compared to the international scale of petitions online, the UC Lecturers’ fight for better conditions is in our backyard. Many of these lecturers are able to dedicate more effort to providing a meaningful quarter of teaching, unfettered by the necessity to do research, and end up as mentors. Since the burden is in the hands of the UC Board to negotiate in good faith, direct pressure from the students has real purpose. If even a fraction more of the student body had been educated in their immediate environment, UC management and President Drake would have been actively pressured to act in good faith and bargain with lecturers. Recognizing where additional support could quickly shift the tide is an important step to ensure that activism has a tangible outcome. Since the initial picket, lecturers were thankfully able to secure a tentative agreement, but not without doubling down on promotional efforts. In the future, having a more engaged community would benefit local initiatives that may not have the resources to market themselves.

Prioritizing is difficult – it’s hard enough to decide whether or not to go to lecture, let alone validate and rank the importance of passing headlines. According to The Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit committed to social justice, some ways to choose include: judging how local the issue is, learning about the immediate support groups working to fix the issue, and aligning the problem with your own belief system. If all of the above points have feasible answers, then perhaps the fight is worth joining. Getting more involved within the immediate community increases our awareness of issues that may not be as widely promoted on social media. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. When there arises an urgent issue that warrants immediate support (think the peak of BLM protests last summer), it makes sense to shift focus. Ultimately, it’s up to our moral compass to prioritize social justice efforts in a way that balances both individual and shared interests.

In the long run though, it’s these local, grassroots movements that help build towards larger achievements. In 2020, during the Presidential Elections, the state of Georgia tipped the scales because of the organizing done by local labor unions. These unions were originally established two decades ago for marginalized communities, but heavily gained local trust since. By solving the pressing issues that we have immediate influence over, the community around us is strengthened from the ground-up, leaving it in prime position to lend support to the big issues when they emerge.

As students at UCLA, we all have a responsibility to our immediate community, and to be educated on the issues important to us. As the role of media in our lives continues to expand, constantly bombarding us with new information and “breaking news,” organizing meaningfully will be a challenge.  It’s far too easy to keep scrolling through global headlines, and forget to look out the window. Progress will only be possible if a majority of us are able to filter through this white noise and focus on the injustices that exist right under our nose.

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