January 11-17, 2006

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Santa Cruz Über Alles

Whenever the SANTA CRUZ CITY COUNCIL weighs in on matters of nationwide or international importance, the seven councilmembers tend to hear about it from the locals. Sometimes the feedback consists of angry squawks from those who feel that the council's job does not involve reaching beyond repairing pot holes, balancing budgets and building hotels. Sometimes the feedback consists of cooing claps from those who believe that while Santa Cruz isn't Washington, D.C., its citizens have the right, nay the responsibility, to press the nation's leaders for honest answers and leadership--especially when Congress seems to be falling down on doing that job itself--since the fallout from national missteps ends up costing us all.

Either way, according to former mayor and current councilmember MIKE ROTKIN, the council's rationale for taking such stands is based on "trying to amplify the voice of citizens, who feel frustrated that they don't have much impact at the state and national levels."

"Sure you can call your senators and representatives," Rotkin elaborates, "but there's a sense that a collective action makes a bigger impression, draws media attention and puts pressure on the government."

Suffice it to say that, in the last year alone, the Santa Cruz City Council has adopted a wide-reaching bunch of resolutions, including urging the withdrawal of the NATIONAL GUARD from Iraq; opposing extending the powers of the USA-PATRIOT ACT; supporting legislation to establish a federal DEPARTMENT OF PEACE; endorsing the KYOTO PROTOCOL; supporting broad election reform; reaffirming its opposition to the death penalty; and directing the mayor to write the HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE communicating concerns expressed by many Santa Cruz residents about PRESIDENT BUSH's actions regarding the war in Iraq.

In the case of the latter action, it's worth noting that the council first advised the House Judiciary Committee of these grievances in September 2003, after researching constitutional law and seeking advice from its congressional representatives. But according to Rotkin, the HJC "never even sent Santa Cruz a 'Thank You' note, or a dismissive letter. In short, silence was all we got. So, we sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee again, protesting their lack of response and adding a couple of additional points to our original request."

Rotkin says that, since the United States invaded Iraq, many Santa Cruz folks have asked the City Council to request impeachment proceedings against Bush. According to the council's latest letter, said citizens "have raised thoughtful, provocative questions about the President's misguided justification for the war and subsequent denial of any degree of deliberate misrepresentation." So Rotkin and the council felt called upon once again to communicate these concerns--and pose additional questions to the HJC about the president's handling of the war, deafening silence notwithstanding.

All of which may also explain why Nüz recently spotted a bumper sticker that said "Impeach Santa Cruz."

Support the Troops

Asked about the National Guard resolution, Rotkin says, "If we felt the National Guard was involved in the defense of the U.S. and its security, then there might be a rationale for them being in Iraq, but given that current U.S. policy makes us less safe, and the National Guard has tons of things--like fires, mudslides and earthquakes--to take care of back home, it makes no sense for them to be there."

Noting that representatives from CODE PINK--a grassroots peace and social justice movement that formed in December 2002 to join the growing ranks of antiwar groups protesting against America's then-impending war in Iraq and was founded by JODIE EVANS, MEDEA BENJAMIN, DIANE WILSON and WICCAN activist STARHAWK--brought the council petitions asking them to take action on the National Guard question, Rotkin says most resolutions are triggered by councilmembers or community members coming to the council with a large number of signatures.

"An important aspect of council resolutions is that we make them in response to citizens' concerns," says Rotkin, noting that the council doesn't take such stands when there's a 50-50 split on issues, locally.

Campus Matters

Rotkin, who also holds a full-time job at UCSC as a community studies lecturer, added his two cents' worth on another campus-related issue that have been in the headlines this year: the rise of conservatives and cronies (not that we're suggesting that the two are related, or anything).

As Rotkin, who has worked on campus for decades, notes, "There was a long period on campus of very few conservatives and of those that there were on campus having no voice. Periodically, there's been some small piece of evidence that conservatives exist, like the publication of the Redwood Review."

As for how things look on today's campus (where 28 percent of students hail from Orange County), Rotkin insists, "There are still a lot of strong progressives on campus, but the coherent voice of conservatives now stands at about 10 percent, not 1 percent any more."

Furthermore, these folks are "clearly, not just vaguely, conservative. They have pretty clear convictions."

That said, Rotkin observes that "the remainder of campus is as activist as ever" on the lefty side of the political spectrum, and that the Marxism class that he is teaching next quarter "filled up on the first day, not that everyone has to be a Marxist to take it, but interest in it is a measure of the political landscape. Sometimes, enrollment in that class has dropped to 75 or 80 percent."


As for the question of cronyism, at UCSC in particular and throughout the UC system in general, Rotkin says people on the UCSC campus are very angry about it.

"It's a public university, which means they are using taxpayers' dollars for this foolishness. Sure, they say it's coming from this fund, not that fund, but eventually, all these funds get commingled, so there needs to be more transparency, especially because people at the top are constantly saying, when those at the bottom ask for stuff, 'Well, we'd like to help, but there is no money, so what can we do?' And then we hear that UC provost M.R.C. Greenwood has resigned and that now they are paying her $25,000 a month to take a year's sabbatical and then take another plum job, when she ought to be out of there, or stay and take heat--it's an insult to all those who get paid $25,000 for a whole year of work," rages Rotkin, noting that UCSC's "administrative assistants, who used to be called secretaries, are 40 percent behind in pay and perks than UC-Berkeley, which is another campus in the same system.

"Why? It's not exactly cheap to live here. The problem is that they are treating Santa Cruz as if it were a rural area, not an urban one."

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