The University of California tuition increase, budget cuts and certain administrative behavior have spawned multiple protests and strikes, perhaps none as unconventional as the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization.
The group, commonly referred to as UCMeP, is the brainchild of UC Berkeley performance studies graduate students Shane Boyle, the organization’s unofficial chairman and Brandon Woolf, who acts as chief artistic officer. UCMeP’s main objective: speed the privatization of the University of California.
Irony and satire abound in the group’s mission statement. They do not actually advocate privatization of the UC system, but instead use this cover to convey, in their view, the absurdity of such a notion.
The idea for UCMeP came about after UC Davis Associate Professor of Performance Studies Larry Bogad spoke of tactical performance at UC Berkeley. Both Woolf and Boyle were in attendance and the talk sparked the idea of using performance protesting in regards to the present UC budget crisis and how the UC administration was handling it. UCMeP was born.
“There’s a lot of duplicity out there, especially in regards to administrations and governors,” Boyle said. “This idea [is meant to] imitate and satirize these people who are supposed to be working in the best interests of the students, but really aren’t. We make it look like what it actually is; [we] make it look ridiculous.”
Bogad said the term used for this is, “riffing on reality.” Examples abound, he said, including the organization Billionaires for Bush (now Billionaires for Wealthcare), in which Boyle is a member.
“We would go out to wherever Bush was going,” Bogad said. “And hold signs saying ‘Free the Forbes 500’ and ‘Two million lost; it’s a good start,’ as if we thought it was a great idea.”
UCMeP did their own “riffing on reality” when they took a quote from UC President, Mark Yudof, in the New York Times, which effectively said he would consider lowering his salary $200,000 dollars to match that of the president’s, if Air Force One was part of the deal. The group then began their “Help Buy Mark Yudof a Plane” campaign. All donations were tax deductible.
They also held a “Top Outstanding Oratorical Leader (TOOL) of the Year” award ceremony for UC Berkeley’s Executive Director of Public Affairs Dan Mogulof. Mogulof actually came to the event, only after many requests were seen to, such as keeping the ceremony private.
“I think [UCMeP] is emblematic of Berkeley students at their best; passionate, intelligent, idealistic, committed, clever and innovative,” Mogulof said. “I don’t necessarily agree with all their points or positions but they certainly found an effective way to get their message out and its one that you can’t just walk away from.”
UCMeP’s most recent project has been producing, “The How to Cross a Picket Line on March 4” instructional video series in preparation for the Mar. 4 strikes in support of public education.
“The goal [of UCMeP and these videos] is to really increase awareness of this mobilization that’s happening around the state,” Woolf said. “And really try to alert people who might otherwise not think twice about what ethical and moral dilemmas might be of crossing a picket line.”
Boyle, Woolf and Bogad all agree that while performance protesting brings something new and different to the table, other forms of demonstration are no less valuable.
“I think all different forms [of protest] are important,” Bogad said. “You have to have tactical diversity in order to move a good policy forward.”
KELLEY REES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.