We talk a lot about community at Pomona. As a residential liberal arts college, we’re in a unique position to build a democratic political system that can be accountable to our community. The extent of student and faculty involvement in Pomona’s governance is evidence of our investment in this ideal. Our pedagogy, too, is built around this ideal. We’re so used to talking out our problems that it can be pretty jarring when someone picks up a megaphone.
I’m writing in response to last week’s divisive op-ed “Workers for Justice Disrupting the Peace”, by my good friend and former roommate. I mention my personal relationship with the author as a way of reminding people that Pomona is still a tight-knit community, although the anonymous vitriol of the piece’s online comments might indicate otherwise. Many of these commentators are doing their best, ironically, to prove the author’s thesis about the ineffectiveness of reactionary dissent.
But the piece leaves me with a profound sense of discomfort, and it’s not just about the belabored description of just how annoying the early morning protest was. This sentiment is all-too-common at Pomona: I’ve heard plenty of people who’ve made only the most casual efforts to understand the motives of Workers for Justice extolling the ‘sensible’ and ‘reasonable’ claims of this article.
And yeah, getting woken up is annoying. (Author: take a cue from your roomie and invest in some earplugs.) But maybe it’s not such a bad thing, every once in a while, to be reminded that there are members of this community—most of whom only debatably earn a living wage—preparing our food for us while we sleep. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to be reminded that we take some things for granted.
But this isn’t the only thing that the author’s article takes for granted. His take-home point seems to be: why not have all involved parties take a seat at the table and discuss their grievances? Couldn’t we all benefit from a little more learning and a little more discussion? Can’t existing channels serve the needs of our community if we use them correctly? In short, why make noise?
Underlying these questions is a single dubious assumption, which is that we—‘we’ being whatever we define as our community here at Pomona—act within a political system that is responsive to this community. Do we have convincing evidence that this is the case?
Even within our community, there are deeply embedded structures of power that determine just how responsive our political system can be to community members. The system has an incentive to respond, to a certain extent, to the faculty who maintain its prestige and the students whose parents foot the bill. But what incentive does it have to respond to the staff members keep the place running, those who conventional wisdom tells us we could replace?
Not only this, but Pomona’s political system exists within a larger structure that has its own political organization and its own laws, and those laws are sometimes indifferent or even antithetical to what we consider community at Pomona. The events of the last two weeks have made this abundantly clear.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to here thinks that the verification of I-9 forms that’s currently underway is bad for the community. And people are starting to realize that the administration’s claim that it had no choice but to initiate this process is true. This is not a matter of being “aware and active enough to see and prevent what [is] occurring”. It’s a matter of our ability to prevent injustice, period. When we find that we don’t have that ability, when we find that our political system is unresponsive, when we find that there are no “effective channels for enacting change”, then maybe it’s time to demand those channels, time to pick up the megaphone, time to occupy. At the very least, it’s time to wake up.