Prominent feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem cancelled a planned speech at UC Davis in December, reportedly in recognition of the ongoing labor dispute between the University of California and members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.
Steinem was scheduled to speak on campus on Jan. 16 as part of the Mondavi Center’s Distinguished Speakers Series for a talk on the role of elders in modern society.
AFSCME Local 3299 president Lakesha Harrison told The Aggie that the union asked Steinem to cancel her appearance because she would be giving the university undue credibility. Harrison said that having Steinem cancel her talk sent a strong message to the university.
Harrison is wrong. Steinem’s cancellation did nothing but deprive a large audience of students and community members of an educational opportunity to hear an influential activist speak about her work.
The students and community members who are being hurt by this scheme don’t have any significant impact on the university’s negotiations. Further, it’s not as if the university is suddenly going to comply with the union’s demands simply because Steinem cancelled her talk.
If AFSCME Local 3299 really wanted to use Steinem’s lecture to make a point, they could have lobbied Steinem to change the topic of her speech to focus on labor and the current dispute. Steinem was given this opportunity by Mondavi Center producers but refused. This would have been a win-win for everyone involved: the union would get attention for their cause, Steinem would still get paid for her speech, students and community members would get the chance to hear Steinem speak and the Mondavi Center would not lose money.
Instead, the union insisted on clumsily wielding the blunt force of its power to the detriment of people who have nothing to do with its problems. We hope that in the future, Harrison and AFSCME Local 3299 will seek ways of making their point that don’t interfere with the educational mission of UC Davis.