As the University of California gears up for tomorrow’s day of action, I’ve been hearing one argument against the walkout that deserves a little further attention. This argument proposes that there is a contradiction in a protest in favor of education that proceeds by students and academics halting education for a day. This argument is, of course, deeply moronic; it’s not, I suppose, entirely surprising to hear it from students, but it’s extraordinarily depressing to hear it from some of my colleagues in, of all places, a political science department, or from an actual politician, Robert Reich, who admonished us, at a teach-in this evening, to address our efforts to persuasion.
The problem with this argument is the incredible poverty of its understanding of politics. The suggestion seems to be that the only possible meaning of an action can be purely symbolic, an entry in a process of debate. The horizon of any conceivable action is “awaring” people. What this misses is that the staff, student, and faculty walkout might be a political action, an attempt to exercise power, or at least make a threat of exercising power. The very idea of politics has gone missing.