Watching a band of neo-hippies try to take the thunder from President Richard Brodhead last week by climbing on stage during his speech with a banner demanding a “living wage” for Angelica laundry workers was a sorry spectacle. Though it’s true he advised students to “transcend homework” and engage the world’s problems, you don’t transcend jack by being a jackass. Truth be told, I’m not sure that Angelica workers would disagree with this. The last thing they need is a bunch of skinny, self-important college kids telling them that they are being exploited and underpaid. They know it and have other major problems to deal with-like hospital laundry. But—seriously—what I object to most about this disruption of the president’s speech is the fact that these silver-spooners of the soiled sheet have taken it upon themselves to perm-press the dignity out of the lives hard-working people.
Members of my family have packed meat and worked in coal mines. My great-grandmother, Maria Montoya, was a single parent who worked her J-Lo booty to the baby fat at “menial” jobs to build a better life for her kids. If you-—n affluent Duke protestor—would have told her that she was helpless and exploited she would have slammed burritos in every orifice of your body and left you bleeding refried beans down the storm drain. She loved her family and was proud as hell to be feeding them. She loved God, America and the Virgin. That was damn well plenty. Even though she wasn’t given to reading journals, she knew what modern economists know: more money doesn’t make people happier. People make people happier. Having a strong social network and people to live for makes so much more of a difference in human happiness than an extra two bucks an hour.
But the liberal student agitators don’t give a sheet. Like Texas congressman Tom DeLay and his quest to preserve the “life” of cortex-free Terry Schiavo, it’s more about them than the workers. For these people, activism is a sick manifestation of the natural human will-to-power—even worse than writing a column in The Chronicle. Standing up there on the stage they were visible; they had attention, they were in the spotlight.
This, of course, is the secret desire of everyone. We can’t help it; it happens in everything from lemurs to chimpanzees. Natural selection has engineered us carefully to be good little slaves, dutifully doing our homework and striving for dominance in our endeavors, whatever they may be, so that our genes can make the most number of copies of themselves as possible. But it takes it to a whole new level when this drive involves becoming like Dr. Seuss’s “Lorax,” who “speaks for the trees.” Duke workers don’t need anyone to speak for them. If they so choose, they will do it themselves.
Who are you, queens of the protest, to represent University employees, many of whom live lives of dedication, honesty and devotion we would be hard-pressed to emulate? Unlike me, Perk goddess Tenal Alston can come to work and have fun without sniffing the chemicals. And what about Wallace in the marketplace? He is a terrific artist who brings the same attention to form and detail to his conscientious Sunday morning omlettes.
Can we, the future white-collar criminals of America, lay claim to anything so noble? Perhaps, but the jury’s still out. What I am sure about, though, is that we shouldn’t be putting words in the mouths of our elders, unless they have Alzheimer’s or like Spaghetti-O’s. We should be listening to them, learning from them, and not supposing that we know better than they do, because we don’t. The opinion of one self-sufficient Angelica worker who is fighting to support herself and her family is worth 50 unwashed Angelica “living wage” protestors.
Ultimately, everyone is free to choose what career to pursue, and anyone who works has the same claim to dignity. Don’t devalue people by telling them what they “need.” They are indeed capable of taking care of themselves. If they feel exploited and underpaid, they will quit. The choice is theirs.
Go back to your Winnebagos, degenerate hippies of the silly banner. Many of you are “professional” protestors whose humorless faces are familiar to us from the un-intellectual PSM conference. Your thinking was slap-dash then, and now your moral presumption is unbearable.
Matt Gillum is a Trinity senior. His column appears Wednesdays.
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