A large cement “C” sits on the Box Springs Mountains above UC Riverside. It stands for California. In mid-October, a group of students climbed the mountain and added a minus sign, so that when you looked, what you saw was a C -. An email sent to the UCR media relations stated:
Students from various disciplines came together to design and create this symbolic criticism of California. The diversity of the participants is reflected through the work itself, which is a fusion of politics, philosophy, and art (among others). Most of the students involved were inspired by the Occupy Wall St. movement and its potential impact. Over 2 dozen inspired students carefully and inconspicuously scaled Box Springs Mountain with over 1,000 lbs. of cement, water, and paint. After construction all trash was removed. Continued budget cuts, rising tuition, and lack of commitment to higher education have led students of UCR to downgrade the state in this symbolic fashion. Additionally, we wanted to make the minus sign out of concrete to send the message that what California is doing to its higher education system may have permanent negative effects. However, we did not intend to construct an overbearing minus symbol above our campus or community, but rather to give the students on campus below a subtle reminder that their frustrations can be heard if they indeed take action to voice them. We are currently in contact with other inspired students throughout California who are planning similar activities. We urge all students of CA to take action and express their sentiments in a similar non-violent fashion until education is adequately funded.–Students of CA
In my fiction workshop class at UC Riverside, I was surprised that the majority of my students hadn’t seen the C-, or heard about it. The minus sign was removed within days. I wouldn’t have known had I not read the student newspaper.
Wednesdays after my class, before my drive back to South Pasadena, I would stop by Occupy Riverside. At the most there were close to twenty people, at the least, five. This was close to the time that the Riverside police department had forced them to dismantle their kitchen and tents.
My first visit, two men in lawn chairs greeted me. I asked if they needed lunch, coffee, anything, and one of the men said that I could make a donation, and he called over a woman. We talked, and before I left, we hugged. A man drinking from a paper sack become belligerent, but the others handled him beautifully. Signs set against a cement arch were blowing over, and as I walked to my car, I paused to realign them. Turning, I saw that I was being watched, and one of the men raised his fist in solidarity.
In my fiction workshop, we voted to keep a jar for deposits of quarters to deter us from undesirable workshop habits. The use of television and movies would cost, i.e., “Your story reminded me of this episode of CSI Miami where the guy got shot by his ex-wife.” Also the word “interesting” as a simplified catch all. A quarter seemed reasonable to ward against the distinctly southern Californian ubiquity of “like” in our discussions—“Like, when I was, like, reading your story, I thought of, like, my uncle.” We didn’t take it too seriously and yet it kept us aware. Sometimes a student would preemptively deposit a quarter, he or she unable to resist the temptation to bring up a movie, etc. It was great fun. And by the end of class, we had close to ten dollars of change.
By unanimous decision, my students decided that rather than purchase a pizza or donuts for the class, the best use of our money was a donation to Occupy Riverside.
This gives me hope. Something is happening. People are paying attention. Voices are being heard, sometimes in ways that we don’t expect or know.
My sons are thirteen and eleven. We took the train to downtown Los Angeles and walked to Occupy Los Angeles on a cloudy and cold November afternoon. We circled City Hall, reading signs and watching people. A man approached and talked to us, asking my boys if they understood why all the people were camped out. My older beckoned to the younger to speak, and he did, saying, “Because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” The man went into a more detailed explanation, and then he gave us a tour. A large mural was being painted, a couple of radios played, and there were people dancing and riding skateboards. My sons were wide-eyed, and so was I.
We were quiet on the way home. Later, my eldest said, “It wasn’t what I expected.” We stared at each other in a reflective silence. Then my youngest said, “It feels like things are going to change, and people are ready, and they’re already changing.”