On Mass-Mentality (and my Absent-Mindedness)

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

2-4-6-8 C’mon now negotiate! 3-5-7-9 Michigan, it’s contract time!

What do we want?! [A CONTRACT!!!!/ JUSTICE!!!/ EQUALITY!!!] When do we want it?! [NOW!!!!!]

•••

I feel uncomfortable in crowds. I like crowds, as long as I can stand on the edge and observe, or remain otherwise anonymous.

I feel uncomfortable when asked to chant/ sing/ march along like a sheep. Or a lemming. Even if I more or less agree with what they’re chanting for.

I went to the Graduate Employees Organization rally this afternoon, in the honest hope that my presence would add to the crowd and actually do something to prevent a work stoppage next week (although secretly I also want two days off in the middle of the week!). I spent the first five minutes looking around for people I knew: ran into a cohort-mate on his way to class, saw my old boss (a militant socialist, and generally cool guy), saw my friend’s girlfriend (the same one I’ve been seeing everywhere lately). She smiled and waved at me.

I stood on the edge of the crowd and read over the chant list while people waved their signs angrily. I chuckled. I don’t have any problem with chants like “What do we want? A contract!” That’s a pretty concrete request. I want to be protected by a contract while I work, thanks. I’d like that contract now. (And I’d like it to meet X criteria.)

I feel funny (ie: it makes me laugh, literally) hearing chants like “What do we want? Justice!” I mean, c’mon! We’re mostly humanities or social science students in this crowd. Maybe a few physicists. Part of our job is to study just what this abstract concept of “justice” actually is.

I want to hear some chants that unpack “justice” and situate it in its socio-historical/ -political/ -economic/ -cultural context. Perhaps we could problematize it a bit? Justice for whom? By whom? By what criteria will we determine “justice”, and how will we grapple with the “injustice” we wreak on those in opposition to our construction of “justice”?

What do we want?

Justiceasdefinedbyaraiseinsalarytoallowustoliveinoneofthemostexpensivecitiesintheco

untrywhileattendingthemostexpensivepublicinstitutiontoreceiveadvanceddegreesinabs

tractacademicdisciplinesthatgiveusthe’authority’tostudy’others’andcometoconclusionsa

bouttheirexistenceandpublishthoseconclusionstomakemoremoneytoallowustoliveinone

ofthemostpriviledgedsocietiesonearthandmaintainthelargersocialstructuresthatallowed

ustogettothispointinoureducationstobeginwith!

When do we want it?

NOW!

The funny thing is, the more you hear it said, and the more you are asked to defend it to others in the name of “collectivity,” the more reasonable it sounds.

What do I want?

A living wage!

Okay. You know what? I am making more money right now than I ever have in my life. And if I weren’t in grad school? I’d likely be making about the same amount, sans benefits, because you better be damn sure I am not the Corporate America- type to begin with. $15,000 a year, plus tuition ($30,000/year) and benes?! Not just benefits, mind you– DENTAL. Woo! Yes, please. Sign me up!

And yet, here I am chanting along with my coworkers. Yeah! A living wage! Damn those greedy bastards that only give us $15,000!

There are issues on the platform that I agree whole-heartedly with, and that’s why I’m in favor of the work stoppage. Better childcare allotments. Mental health coverage (I mean, our job directly depends on the health of our minds. That one’s in the U’s best interest, yo.). Hourly wage and health care parity for lower-fractioned employees. Elimination of the ten-term funding rule (you’re only allowed to teach or receive comparable funding for ten semesters).

That last one is enough for me to agree to an open-ended strike.

So I guess I lost my mind a little with the chanting. I wasn’t all gung-ho about it, but I raised my voice. And I marched to bargaining with the crowd.

Maybe it’s the full moon.

Speaking of losing my mind: I lost my wallet today! I realized it when I got to the lecture I GSI for two hours later… my wallet was gone. I ran back to the coffee shop where I had been the last time I was aware that it was in my possession… and I had left it sitting on the counter when I refilled my travel mug.

Yikes.

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