A few steps forward, a few steps back

Antoine Abou-Diwan

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Military recruiter protest spurs Sierra Hall march on Monday May 3, 1971/Sundial file photo

CSUN’s Founders Day is a good opportunity to reflect about changes in the CSUN community over the last 40 years.  In many ways, changes at CSUN have reflected changes in our nation.

In a discussion with the Daily Sundial’s former publisher Cynthia Rawitch, she said that CSUN—then known as Valley State College—was a hot spot for student activism in California in the 1960s, second only to UC Berkeley.  But times have changed.  Berkeley isn’t as radical as it used to be and neither is CSUN.

If the Daily Sundial has been doing its job informing, educating, engaging and reflecting our community and nation, a look through the newspaper’s archives reveals what has and has not changed.

Starting with the lighter side of things, Anheuser-Busch, the company that owns Budweiser, no longer advertises with the Daily Sundial.  And reflecting global economic reality, Anheuser-Busch was sold two years ago to InBev, the Belgian-Brazilian corporation that owns a number of well-known brands.

The January 11, 1967 edition of the Daily Sundial had the following headline:

“Dumke announces admissions freeze.”

The February 21, 1967 edition of the Daily Sundial offered this headline:

“Enrollment cut threat grows.”

It was followed by the heading, “Reagan’s budget proposal may turn away 1,700.”

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

A number of our professors last semester bemoaned our seemingly apathetic student body.  Aside from the Day of Action last semester, in which students and staff walked out to protest budget cuts and furloughs, this campus has been quite calm.  This contrasts sharply with the atmosphere on campus in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The confluence of the hugely unpopular, debilitating and costly Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and labor movement created a sense of urgency and agitation across the nation, not the least of which played out on college campuses including this one.

There have been many positive changes since then, across our nation and on our campus.  Minorities are now better able to share benefits that this nation offers.  Our president is black, something that was unthinkable to most Americans 40 years ago.  And CSUN is an incredibly diverse place, in cultural, religious and economic background, as well as in thought and opinion.

There have been other changes as well.  There were no personal computers and no Internet in the 1960s.  Consider this for a moment.  The majority of our student body grew up with the Internet.  The benefits and drawbacks of our networked age have been documented elsewhere.  A number of protests have been organized through Facebook, for example.  The speed with which an idea—right or wrong—travels these days is downright frightening, and the numbers that can be massed seemingly in an instant through Facebook and Twitter can be breathtaking.  Conversely, the momentum gained from protests can dissipate when the next idea presents itself.  Could the sheer volume of data and information—accessed through our telephones and laptop computers, at home, at work and in school—be distracting us from getting to know each a little bit better?  Could the massive amounts of entertainment available be distracting us from the task at hand?  What would the civil rights struggles have been like if personal computers and the Internet were integral parts of life back then?

Not everything has improved in the last 40 years.  Real wages for most Americans have steadily fallen.  The income disparity between the rich and the poor is getting wider.  Most households nowadays are dual income households.  Whether this is by choice or necessity is debatable, but it’s probably a bit of both.  So much of our manufacturing, industry and intellectual property have been outsourced in the pursuit of some fast bucks.  The idea of job security is dead.  Our infrastructure is crumbling.  Monumental greed combined with a sociopathic level of disregard for others and total disdain for ethics by our business leaders and politicians sank our economy and dragged most of the rest of the world down with it.  And we just “concluded” another hugely unpopular, debilitating and costly war.

Perhaps some old-fashioned political activism is needed again to remind our elected officials whom they are supposed to serve.

In “The Storm at Valley State,” a documentary about student political activism at CSUN in the 1960s and 1970s, former student Marc Cooper said it best:

“If you ever have the luxury…to change and shape the world that you live in, it’s when you’re a student.  And if the pressure is so great by the time you’re that age so that you have no time except to worry about your grade point average or to worry about your career opportunities, etcetera, I think that is a very sad statement about our society.”