This Wednesday, Yale University workers, union leaders, students and plain old passers-by came together at the intersection of College and Elm streets to make a statement about labor relations at Yale. That statement was: we’re almost bored enough to care. Wednesday’s supposed act of civil disobedience was a wonderful spectacle of indifference. It was the saddest excuse for a demonstration I have ever seen. It reminded me of my old high school fire drills when a few students would coerce a freshman into pulling the fire alarm so that everyone could run outside and bask in the joy of simultaneously goofing off and annoying the administration.
In all honesty, I love the Jonathan Edwards College dining hall workers who greet me with a smile each and every day, and I also love the great opportunities the Yale administration has provided me over these past few years. So, I am decidedly neutral on the Yale-union debate because I really don’t know enough to form a sound opinion.
It seems that I am in good company. When I came to the show I saw lots of people standing around doing nothing. Some union supporters held up signs urging others to “stand up for change at Yale.” The signs were all the same, clearly mass-produced for the event, and had about the same emotional appeal as the latest soft drink commercial. Facing this crowd was the always-annoying group of Yale’s disgruntled conservatives asserting that the right to squeeze Yale for money must be reserved for students only.
I stood between these two gaggles and realized that we all have way too much free time on our hands. Then, slowly a few tired souls lumbered into the middle of College Street, connected hands, and began the arduous task of waiting to be arrested. The police had earlier agreed to treat the pseudo-protesters in a calm and gentlemanly manner and therefore had specially prepared a loudspeaker system to help everyone avoid confusion; unfortunately, there hadn’t been much time for rehearsal. Everyone seemed quite calm, and the well-dressed group blocking College Street didn’t seem to be too worried about police brutality.
The most amazing thing was that for every person awaiting arrest I could see at least 10 who just came for the show. And, boy did the show stink. The police went around and calmly herded those already preregistered for arrest toward the New Haven Green to issue citations.
I asked a lady standing on the sidewalk with me why she was supporting the unions’ cause but not participating. She told me that she didn’t want to get arrested. Makes sense to me! In fact, when I looked at the faces of the self-proclaimed civil disobeyers I recognized the same tired faces of union-backed bureaucrats — the very people who are paid by the unions to organize just such publicity stunts.
So, some folks came to perform, but most came to watch. Perhaps among the spectators there were many Yalies who, like me, came because they cared, at least a little. They came to investigate the issues, learn from the proletariat, and form an enlightened opinion. Yet, if many came ambivalently curious, all left staunchly apathetic. If there truly are serous moral issues at stake here, most union members don’t think they’re worth a class C misdemeanor citation.
My family emigrated from Moscow in 1989. My father hasn’t had a steady job in 13 years now, so I hear complaints about work all the time — the lack of it, that is. I know that most people around the world, from Russia to Ghana, are desperately looking for work, any work at all. In New Haven, people complain about their low, unfair wages. They complain that they don’t have the money to make ends meet and that they don’t have the time to work two or three different jobs. I wonder how much money everyone who went to Wednesday’s gathering could have earned if instead of protesting they had worked a couple of hours of overtime? But, then again, most people like protesting a lot more than working.
Philip Ostromogolsky is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.