We didn't make this up. Our university happens to be based in the safest city of its size in America. So we wondered, given all this safety: are there stories to be told, people to contemplate, risks to be taken? Find out alongside our blog's authors -- two sections of a journalism reporting class whose goal is to show people at work and at play in and around Irvine, Calif. We invite you to read the articles below.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
It's afternoon at the Cross Cultural Center Ring Room, where a group of soulful, creative students are meeting. They are known by their pseudonym, Uncultivated Rabbits, a spoken word poetry club at UCI.
On Monday of the third week of classes at UCI, the Uncultivated Rabbits hosted the first of their poetry writing workshops, or what they like to call, “Creative Sessions.” The club opens these workshops to everyone, not just registered members. The purpose being not just to encourage membership, but mainly to introduce others to their passion and love for the art of spoken word.
At this meeting, as with many other clubs on campus, I saw a lot of energetic people meeting, greeting, hugging, and laughing. At about ten past four the workshop finally started. The board members introduced themselves, welcomed us, briefly explained who they are and what they do, and went right into explaining the icebreaker: beat-boxing.
They split us into two groups, each group alternating between making up a line, or providing the back-beat of beat-boxing. The club historian Miguel Mendoza demonstrated. One of the other board members in the opposite group created a beat, while his group members caught on, nodding their heads and tapping their feet to the rhythm.
Boots... cats…boots…cats…boots-cats..boots-cats..boots-cats boots-cats…
“Yo, yo, yo, YO. Unh, I know this girl, her name is--” Miguel froze and couldn’t think of anything. “Shit.”
The beatboxing stopped and the whole room burst into laughter. The game continued, and I even joined in, providing a silly rhyme about the movie “Inception” after someone mentioned the words “Immaculate Conception.”
After a couple rounds, the icebreaker ended, as club secretary Robert Zavala introduced the workshop. He told us this workshop was just to get us started writing, brainstorming and get some creative juices flowing. Typically, Uncultivated Rabbits hold themed “Creative Sessions,” every week, hosted by any member who proposes something interesting to write about. Topics for these workshops can range from like “Punctuation,” to “Emotions.” For this session, Robert wrote one word, ‘dark,’ and then had other people branch off and brainstorm related words to write about. They gave us about fifteen minutes to come up with our words, and write poems in silence.
I picked the word “graveyard” and tried to sound profound, comparing life mistakes and regrets to decaying bodies buried under tombs. A couple minutes into writing, one girl started getting frustrated and made a noticeably distressed facial expression.
“Ugh, I can’t do this. It’s like, I’m writing proofs.”
Robert playfully imitated her distressed face, “Oh my god. But we are SO not writing proofs.”
Miguel pushed Robert aside and talked to the girl. “Try to string words together without stopping. Vomit. Just vomit words out onto your page. And keep throwing them up.”
The girl laughed and continued writing. “Okay…”
After the fifteen minutes were up, people volunteered to share their poems. My poem seemed to possess extreme morbidity, because of which I decided not to share. But after hearing others tell theirs, I actually felt mine wasn’t quite deep enough.
Words such as dragon, chainsaw, death, death of a relationship and devil were mixed about. One poem, “Attack,” set a mood of hurt and sorrow, capturing the feelings of an adolescent girl who was a rape victim. Supportive snaps and “Mmhms” of agreement and admiration were given with each poem. Each person shared parts of themselves, bearing their souls in these poems for everyone to hear. Some seemed to hit all of us deeply, and others showcased real personality and humor. One guy stood up and shared his poem, about food. Which to him, had a dark, yet a spiritual side. “Cheese..my soul’s nirvana.”
After the meeting, I sat down with three board members, Miguel, Nghiem, and Isabel, and asked them about their experiences in Uncultivated Rabbits. They expressed their love of poetry, and personal experiences that are reflected in their writing. We sat outside Starbucks as I asked them questions.
I learned that Uncultivated Rabbits started in 2005, with a small amount of members and hardly any options for venues to play at for activities or meetings. As the club grew, they started to get more requests to play at other on campus club events and outside venues. They eventually thought up more ways to get members, or ‘Rabbits’ involved. With the start of the Creative Sessions, UR was able to gain more members, but also just more support in general. They workshops created a place for non-members to try their hands at poetry writing, possibly join the club if they wish, or for some, just allowed them to listen and appreciate students cultivating an art form.
“We just do it for the love of the art.” Says Nghiem, Club Vice President. “I mean, it’d be great if people attending our workshops could join, but our main purpose is just to help Spoken Word as an art form grow. It doesn’t matter how big our membership is, as long as we know we helped spread the ‘word’ if you will.”
Uncultivated Rabbits at the moment is made up of about 20 members. They range in majors from Biological Sciences to Studio Art. Some just write for the joy of writing, others need an outlet for their emotions, while even more others find it is their niche.
So as a UR board member, what exactly do you do? In addition to administrative duties, members are in charge of taking care of membership, deciding which Creative Sessions to schedule each week, organizing, and planning performances.
Nowadays, Uncultivated Rabbits host their Creative Sessions once a week, open to members and nonmembers. They hold Open Mic Nights once a month; again, open for both members and nonmembers to join. Only paid members get a chance to perform at events. They usually having the option to request how many and which events to perform at. Due to the success of the past couple years; an increase in membership, as well as winning the “Most Outstanding Performance Club” award from UCI, the Uncultivated Rabbits have created for themselves a great following, and have come a long way from the small rabbit population they were in 2005.
So then, what exactly is Spoken Word?
“From what I remember,” says Miguel, “it all seemed to start off with this guy. He was at a bar, he was really really angry, and so decided to get up on a table and say, ‘Hey! I shall spit out some poetry at you! And that’s kind of the birth of it so to speak. Jack Kerouac is actually one of the older pioneers of poetry. It also seemed to originate from Beatnik poetry. Beatnik is basically like you’re typical coffeehouse poetry, with the bongo drums and the berets and the coffee.”
Indeed, Spoken Word’s origins can be found through Beatnik poetry, or rather, the broader brand of “performance poetry.” Performance poetry includes any poetry in which one simply performs their poems to an audience. Though many past poets have been known to perform their poems, notable performance poetry dates back to the Beat Generation, when post World War II poetry writing arose in the 1950s, inspired by the time period’s growing rebellious and experimental culture. The original Beat poets include the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg.
From the Beats arose more performance poetry in the 1970s, where many poets performed protest-like poems on radios and television; some even would perform with music. Eventually, the form of poetry most similar to the Spoken Word we know today originated from the “spats,” Miguel describes, or more correctly, “poetry slams.” Original slam poetry can be seen internationally, like through the common cabaret style-poetry dueling that was popular in India during the 1980s. However, Slam Poetry seemed to have ultimately emerged from the growing popularity of Rap and Hip Hop in the 1980s. With new styles of hip hop art forms, such as freestyle rap, hip hop culture adopted Spoken Word poetry, performing poems in a protest-manner like those of the past, which eventually turned competitive. Later, Slam Poets started to perform for audiences without competition, thus, the origin of Spoken Word Poetry.
The late 1990s and early 2000s found Spoken Word in its cultural height, with the production of the successful television show “Def Poetry Jam” on HBO. Spoken Word gained popularity from the show and moved to colleges, coffee houses, and many of media.
Uncultivated Rabbits actually showcased a popular artist, Shihan, from Def Poetry Jam during Spring Quarter of last year.
“Yeah, he was really nice.” says Isabel. “He did a couple poems from Def Poetry Jam, like ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘This Type Love,’ so it was actually great because we recognized them.”
Uncultivated Rabbits fundraised with Hip Hop Congress and ASUCI to house the popular poet. Miguel, Nghiem, and Isabel all agree that it was probably the best special guest that Uncultivated Rabbits had ever hosted.
On the first of November, Uncultivated Rabbits held their second Open Mic night. Many brought a couple of their own poems, while many others just came to watch. I went over to the Cross Cultural Center, again in the Ring Room. The room was set up almost similarly to that of its Creative Session setup, however, with chairs facing the mural on the side wall of the room, and no tables. There was no podium, nor microphone. Miguel, Isabel, and Nghiem quieted down everyone, and then introduced the show.
First up was Nghiem. He walked up and stood in front of the large mural painted on the side wall of the room. The crowd greeted him with supportive cheers and howls. He provided a short introduction to his poem, “Inspiration.” It was about a friend of his who was a female basketball player, someone whom he believed to be a great inspiration to him, because of her great passion for the sport that she loved.
Complete silence thing heard from the crowd as Nghiem started expressing his admiration for this basketball-playing girl he was talking about. Constant snappings, ‘mhms,’ and some occasional ‘aws’ were injected by the crowd with almost every line. Nghiem’s poem, though short and simple, provided a unique insight into a man’s appreciation of the beauty of passion and dedication. The poem itself created a rhythmic flow that made it feel as if it were someone’s feelings expressed more than words performed. He created a level of dynamics with his tone of voice and speed of speech. When he ended the whole room burst into applause and Nghiem welcomed the next volunteer to the floor.
“I actually didn’t notice this until now,” Nghiem told me during our interview, “A lot of what I write about is about love, women, and beauty. About women who influenced me, and how they should be appreciated more in society.”
Nghiem has performed several female-appreciation poems such as this, like one called “Mirrors,” which expresses his belief that the media’s portrayal of beauty is unfair.
During the interview, Miguel discussed his own inspirations for his poems.
“Like Nghiem, I also write a lot about love, and how women should be treated, and how I feel about women in general. It comes from how I grew up. My dad has very conservative views about women. So my mom and I moved here with my stepdad and I basically grew up without a real male role model. So I talk to my mom about like, treating women with respect. I mean, the way I joke around it doesn’t really reflect that unfortunately. But I just mess around a lot. That’s kind of my thing, ‘comic relief.” I also used to be that guy who like, when he sees a girl who just got dumped by some jerk, would be like, ‘Stop dating these jerks. There are all these different guys out there who would kiss the ground you walk on. Even if its like, covered in shit. It didn’t make sense to me.”
Isabel Bogarin, newly elected club president, explained her motivations for spoken word:
“What I usually write about it, well, I went through a humongous breakup. I was with this guy for three years. So a lot of my pieces are about heartache, sorrow, anger, and bitterness. As I started getting over him I started writing about what was going on, how I was moving on and how I didn’t really care. I also recently came out, so now my poems are about equality, rights, and being gay. “
Isabel said she feels free when she performs her emotions on stage.
“My favorite poem that I wrote was called, “God’s Smudge Mark.” It’s about how I went through a lot of pain through the past year. And how I was no longer gonna hide in the closet. I talked about how finding love is very difficult for me.”
The three board members reflected on how relieving it is to have an outlet to express their emotions.
“I’m glad I have this because I have a niche, where I can express myself without having to worry about what people are gonna say or think about me,” says Isabel. “UR cultivates a form of art, and no one can critique your art. Well, they can, but they can’t critique because you are basically performing your feelings.”
Some Last Words…
Though the Uncultivated Rabbits themselves are at a time of great height for their club, how popular is Spoken Word itself in this day and age?
One of the most popular venues of Spoken Word Poetry known to popular media, “Def Poetry Jam” ended in 2007, and with its end begs the question, where do we see the future of Spoken Word? Surprisingly, Nghiem, Miguel, and Isabel all agree that it has only gotten it start.
“Spoken Word is really important to me,” says Nghiem. “Like Isabel said, it’s my outlet, the way
I express myself. I think in recent years it has become more popular. In times before that, Spoken Word was almost like an underground art form. Which, it was okay to do it, but people didn’t really care. Spoken Word is important to a lot of people, especially young people because it gives them a voice and a place to speak, in places where they never able to before. And with the advent of Def Poetry Jam and Russel Simmons presents, “Brave New Voices,” and other nationwide competition, Spoken Word is definitely making a place for itself now. Again. It is in the spotlight again.”
“I feel like slam poetry, or spoken word has been there for a long time” says Miguel. “But it’s just getting a lot more popular now because of all the open mics and lounges who don’t just do music but have a lot of poetry, even comedy. But also I think it’s getting more popular because it’s getting more associated with hip hop, versus before poetry came from ‘beatnik’ poetry. But it has definitely evolved a lot. Especially ‘cause you don’t just have these old guys. I’ve performed with some of these really old guys. Like, ridiculously old. They’re really beatnik-y. It’s really awkward when they hit on girls our age. I’m like, ‘what are you doing, that’s disgusting,’ ugh!
"But anyway, it actually is pretty cool to see how the older people perform, because you see how Spoken Word has evolved. It’s like going through time again, seeing how they write their poetry compared to how we do now. But in general despite time, we all just want to deliver a message and that is really good because people need poetry. People need art one way or another in their life.”
Though Spoken Word has seemed to have grown throughout the years, there are still a
couple traditions from previous years of performance poetry that have been kept. For example,
the appreciative snap. Nghiem explains proper snap etiquette.
“You snap when you hear a part of a poem that you really like, like an idea or concept or emotion that you, not necessarily have to agree with. But at very least it shows you support them. So like, ‘Some-times, some-rhymes, come out as dumb-rhymes.”
With the budding popularity of Spoken Word, there is then much hope for the world to see more Word artists at venues, coffee houses, and, in this case, at schools. Interested in Spoken Word? Just talk contact the Uncultivated Rabbits, they’ll be sure to welcome you to partake in their art form!
I also asked Nghiem, Miguel, and Isabel if there were any tips, or unspoken rules they would give to any promising Spoken Word artists.
“The first rule, you’re not supposed to talk about.” Says Miguel. “I’m kidding. But seriously, one of the biggest things that the old board recommended to me was, don’t rhyme, every single time, with every line, because that is ass-in-nine. Okay that’s not actually a word but just trying to exemplify what they’re trying to talk about. Don’t try to make every single word rhyme. It’s boring.”
“When you’re writing, don’t stop yourself” advises Isabel. “When you’re brainstorming, just go until you’re done. Then when you review, read it, revise, take out what you don’t like.”
“Put your heart into it” says Nghiem. “Especially when you’re writing. Cause if you don’t put everything into your writing, you can’t put anything into your performance. I guess that’s why it comes out so passionate. Something I don’t like to do is too many movements. That’s when it distracts from the actual piece. It takes away from the piece. Another thing, don’t yell unnecessarily. I went to a Spoken Word Grand Slam final over the summer, and every single perform, regardless of the variety of topics they talked about all yelled and did unnecessary movements.”
And, how would they define Spoken Word in their own, words?
“Spoken Word is verbal expression at its highest level.” Say Nghiem.
“Spoken Word is an art.” Says Isabel.
“Word.” Says Miguel. “I’m kidding. Spoken Word is the necessity for those who cannot
speak. If that makes sense.”
3 UR hosted writing workshops
1 Open Mic Event
-Lengthy interview with 3 UR board members
-4 individual short interviews
Friday, December 10, 2010
By Christian Roldan
She pulls her cart outside to the elevator and then goes straight to the guys’ restroom and right before anything she removes the trash from the trash bin and replaces it with a new bag. She gets to work with the sinks first by watering them down, scrubbing them, and finally applying her disinfector. After she cleans the toilets, she finds that there is dried up urine around the toilet floor. She quickly gets down on one knee and scrubs it off and then with a quick excuse me she moves to the showers and begins scrubbing the tiles. As I see all the foam fall to the floor, the lights turn off. I walk to the timer and right before I even switch the light, her hand reaches out and turns the knob, and she says, “It’s ok, I'll do it.” She continues scrubbing the showers and as soon as she finishes she sweeps the floor and mops. I ask, “Are you ok?”
She replies, “Yeah, its just that I almost didn’t make it on time to work today.”
She shakes the mop over the trash can making sure she gets all the trash, explaining, “I always get to work fifteen minutes before so that I can clock in and go to my houses calmly and without rushing, but, today I got here five minutes before and I had to be running around everywhere to make sure everything is clean.”
She adds, “ My husband and brother work here too. So we ride together from Santa Ana. It’s just that today the car battery died and I had to wait for my brother to recharge it.”
As soon as she is done with all the restrooms, we move to the next house. She opens the door and sees the kitchen. She is a little bothered because of the many dishes.
When I see all the dishes I say, “ Do you need help?”
She laughs at me and says, “No its ok. I’m not supposed to clean dishes.”
“What!” I reply surprised.
She responds, “ Yeah the only reason I clean the dishes from the other house, 1086, is because there is usually a few like three or four. In fact, I’m not even supposed to take out the trash.” She removes the trash bags from the trashcan and replaces it. I just do it because I know how it is to grow up in a house with young adults and, besides, my work looks cleaner.”
Fernando Chirino is a member of the Worker Students Alliance (WSA), an organization that fights inequality through multi-racial, anti-sexist, working class solidarity. He says that custodians in Arroyos Vista, a student housing community face unfair treatment from their superiors. Chirino claims that one employee has been threatened with firing due to her pregnancy. Further, WSA also claims that some workers are denied the right to FMLA (Family Medical Leave Atc, which allows for 12 weeks of unpaid job leave), as well as being threatened with firing and subjected to insinuations about having inappropriate relationships with co-workers. Two days later, I see Imelda and ask if they WSA's claims are correct. She responds, “I’m not sure. I don’t talk to anyone unless I have to. As for me, I have never felt like my rights have been violated. I get along with my boss.”
There are two types of worker in the University of California Irvine -- insourced and outsourced. Insourced means being hired directly from the university. Outsourced workers are hired through a private company. Insourced custodian workers do similar work as outsourced custodian workers; however, they receive better wages, and benefits like vision and dental insurance, retirement benefits, and vacation time. There are 17 custodial staff members in Arroyo Vista that are insourced. According to Cathy Lawhon, director of media relations at UCI, there are approximately 110 outsourced workers out of 21,000, and that number has decreased.
But WSA says that UCI is the last UC outsourcing. In addition, the group alleges, the subcontracted workers are not provided with any personal protective equipment or training on the proper use and disposal of hazardous chemicals (carcinogens, toxins, irritants, corrosives, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins) and biological wastes like blood born pathogens.
In November, Sociology class 63, Race and Ethnicity, hosted a documentary film about the abuse of workers. Its purpose was to display the hardships of both documented and undocumented immigrant workers from around the world and it included a look at police abuses of immigrants in Costa Meza, Santa Ana, and the City of Orange. After the film ended, a panel discussion was held on the subject of working conditions. Carmen, an outsourced worker spoke about her struggles being outsourced. She said later in an interview that at one point she had to work without gloves when handling cleaning chemicals because she wasn’t provided with any. Often times, she would provide her own gloves. Carmen also said her friend, an older worker, is being pressured and threatened by her supervisors because of her age. On the positive side, she added, her salary went up from minium wage to $12 an hour as a result of student and worker activism. Benefits remain a problem, however, as Carmen acknowledges.
“ We need our benefits. No vacation, medical, or dental," she says. "How are we supposed to live?”
Reporting Notes: 8 hours of observation/3 hour discussion panel With Jornaleros en la lucha, Tonantzin and WSA/½ hour interview with Carmen by person and phone /½ hour interview with Fernando Chirino/½ hour interview with Eric Kitayama/Research from human resources from UCI/Research from WSA facebook blog and joined group on Yahoo/Research from New University/Research from flyer “End subcontracting”
El Día de los Muertos
I find my way to the back of the stage where Macondo has their “backstage” set up - an improvised tent made of a large portable cabana with tarps hanging down as makeshift walls. Inside the tent, the group - Aldo, Luis, Franco, Daniel, Jaime, Fernando, Jacob, Gersael, Perla, Carolina, Estefania, Natalie, Jackie, Erika, Janet, and Lizbeth - is in a frenzy getting ready for the next dance - a slow, romantic style from the Veracruz region of Mexico. Colorful skirts are thrown onto the ground or any available surface as the women rush to pick up the white dresses they’ll be wearing for the next dance. “Ay, Perla! Come zip me up!” “Have Aldo do it, Fani! I can’t find my hair piece!” In a blur of color, fake hair pieces, and the quick fffzzzip of zippers, the group is ready to go back onstage. Third in line at the bottom of the steps leading up to the stage, Fani realizes the crimson flower in her hair is slowly slipping down to her shoulder. After quickly asking around for a bobby pin to no avail, she grabs the arm of one of the girls filing offstage. Motioning to her flower, there seems to be a telepathic understanding between the two of what needs to be done, and the girl slides a bobby pin out of her hair, handing it to Fani. As she walks onstage to take her spot, Fani pins the flower in place just in time to strike the opening pose.
The music starts up with a slow whine from the violin as the girls, dressed in all white, turn slowly, holding each side of their skirts out horizontally to create a half-circle shape with the fabric. In this dance, their movements are much slower, a flow of motion created with small steps and large turns. This dance is frequently performed during el dia de los muertos (or day of the dead) celebrations on the first two days of November, a Mexican holiday in which families remember their loved ones who have passed on. Floating unsmiling around the stage, the girls dance to depict the myth of La Llorona, or “the weeping woman”, whose story is being sung by the guitarist in the back left corner of the stage. It is believed that long ago a beautiful Mexican woman by the name of Maria drowned her children in order to be with the man she loved, who then rejected her. Not being able to withstand her pain, Maria committed suicide and is condemned by God to wander the earth until she finds the souls of her murdered children. When dancing La Llorona, the women wear either all white to represent the purity of the children lost or all black to represent the dark actions of Maria. The story and dance comes to a close as the women sway to a slow stop, arms outstretched to form a diagonal line, faces looking down to the right.
After the women leave the stage, the mariachis move to center-stage, plunging forward into an upbeat salsa number, allowing the dancers to take a break backstage. Now that it is just the crowd and the music, spectators are able to let go of their attentive audience persona and try a few moves for themselves. The first people to trickle out in front of the stage are an old, weathered man and a young woman who appears to be his granddaughter. His hand on the small of her back, hers resting on his shoulder, clasping their other hands in the air, the two move seamlessly into the quick 1-2-3 movement of the dance. While their moves aren’t perfect, the two are smiling and laughing the entire time, simply enjoying each other’s company and the music. More couples join them in front of the stage, each dancing in their own style, laughing it off when they stumble over their partner’s feet or miss their signal to come back in from a spin. Nobody’s dance is perfect, but that is not their focus. Watching the couples let go and just dance, joining the rest of the crowd in clapping along with the music, everyone smiling and simply enjoying the day is a feeling unlike any other. It’s a rush of freedom, acceptance, and pure joy.
I meet up with the dancers backstage, where the men are getting ready to go on to perform the second to last dance. It’s time for the women to take a breather and chat while putting away stray hair pieces, shoes, and skirts. They only have one dance left, another Jalisco number with the men to put an energetic end to their set. As they put away their white dresses and don the colorful Jalisco skirts, there’s a sense of relief and accomplishment among the women. “I’m just happy I didn’t drop my fan this time,” Perla exclaims as Fani ties a ribbon into her hair. “Ahh! That was so funny last time! And you just had to keep going without it...” “Like nothing was wrong! Ayeee...maybe next time we should just tape it to my hands!” The girls burst into giggles imaging Perla with the fan taped to her hand. Finally ready for the last dance, the girls line up at the steps and join with their male partners, swapping bobby pins, checking each other’s lipstick, and making sure everything is in place. They want to end on a good note, as the last dance is the one that will stay fresh in their audience’s memory.
The group, which meets twice a week for two hours each practice, mainly consists of from Mexican backgrounds; but there are a few exceptions. Jacob, whose family came to America from Europe hundreds of years ago, and Daniel, whose grandparents emigrated to America from Vietnam as newlyweds, originally joined Macondo for extra credit in their Spanish class. “At first, we really just came because we needed the extra points,” says Jacob, “but it was fun! And we liked hanging out with the other kids and performing.” “Plus, girls like guys who can dance!” Daniel chimes in with a laugh. Dating and extra credit aside, Jacob credits folklorico with helping him be more open to other cultures. “It’s not that I was ever racist or anything, I just didn’t take the time to learn about other cultures. Like, whenever I thought of Mexico, I’d always think of burritos and Cabo. The typical stuff, you know? But I’ve learned there’s a lot more to it. Like the stories behind the dances, those are awesome! And I like how they tie into the Mexican holidays and traditions. There’s just a lot there that I didn’t realize before.”
Not only do the members learn through dancing, but they learn from each other. One past member, Susana, who still spends time with the members of Macondo, credits the group with showering her that she didn’t have to follow a stereotype. “It made me very confident in who I am. I feel that the like, how the whole like stereotypes of being Mexican didn’t fit with me...I don’t fit in that category of I’m a gangster or I’m lazy or whatever...I became more confident of who I am and where I came from and that’s what formed me, I think. Just the influences of the older generations, of the older alumni, going to college made me want to be like that.”
As the older ones, such as Perla, went on to college, they continued to stay involved. “I couldn’t leave them behind!” she tells me, “They’re my family, my little brothers and sisters.” Even though she just graduated from UCLA, Perla still stays involved with the group, attending practices and performances. This is the dedication that keeps Macondo alive. “I’ve seen these kids go from awkward, insecure children to confident adults, and that’s what means most to me. I don’t care if we win an award or competition; my reward is seeing them go out to the world sure of themselves and proud of who they are.”
2 hours observation of rehearsal
4 hours attendance of Día de los Muertos performance
Lengthy interview with Susana Cruz, past member
Shorter interview with Señora Franco
Spoke with members in passing: Perla, Jacob, Daniel
By: Mariam Jehangir
October 2 was the first show that Acrobatics Everyday - a group in UC Irvine that organizes and hosts concerts on campus year round- held for the Fall 2010 quarter at UCI. At 7:00 on that Saturday night, the campus seemed lonely, quiet, and relatively dark. This made the task of finding the Social Sciences Trailer – which is where the event was to be held at – even more difficult for people, especially those who were not too familiar with the campus. Once located, the low-profile classroom trailer seemed to match the quiet feel of the rest of the surrounding campus area. Inside room 103 however, a transformation was taking place. A couple of girls sat inside the small room, chatting away by a ticket/money box. Acrobatics Everyday T-shirts, as well as CDs of the night’s performers were laid out over a few tables that were pushed together as a make-shift display rack. Soon more of the concert organizers started arriving with equipment and Sam Farzin, the lead person of the group, came on to the scene while giving directions to one of the bands that was to perform that night. In only about an hour, the classroom chairs were all pushed to the back of the room, the floor was opened up for the piano, microphone, drum-set and the big JBL speakers, and the quiet room from earlier was now a concert venue, buzzing with about 25 people made up of audience members, Acrobatic Everyday organizers, and the night’s bands. The rest of the night was centered around the music. In order of appearance, the night’s bands were Nima, Stay Cool Forever, Glochids, and Yellow Canary Black Belt. Breaks of about 10 minutes in between each band provided for a good stretch, socializing, run to the bathroom, or a few puffs of cigarettes outside the room. And then the next band, each rife with a completely different tune from the one before would go up to perform.
Fast Forward to November 19, 2010. We are standing outside talking to Sam as he and the other organizers get ready for another show. “We’re not a big company; we don’t hire people to do the leg work. It’s all us” he says as he pulls a dolly out of the Sudan, to move the equipment into the make-shift concert room. The concerts are usually set up in classrooms all around campus, a practice which earned the group OC weekly’s award for “Best Non-Educational Use of a Classroom” in 2009. Tonight’s concert – part of a 2 day show, near the end of the Fall 2010 quarter , entitled Open Melody- it is being held at a different place than usual: The Cross Cultural Center. Like always, the group is there well before show time to set up the stage, get the equipment in working order, set up the ticket table, and lay out the Acrobatics Everyday T-shirts as well as any CD’s from the night’s performers that the audience might want to buy.
“Yeah, we promote the band, but people have become fans of the group itself – so why not?” Sam says, while chuckling when asked about the T-Shirts. And customer comments on review websites like yelp.com seem to agree with this statement. One comment regards Sam and his group-mates as “easily the best people putting on shows in the southern California area.”
While Acrobatics Everyday members go about their regular duties to prep for shows, a trend among customers also becomes apparent. People start gathering around the concert room about 15 minutes before show time, socialize with other concert go-ers, smoke cigarettes, and talk about the upcoming show. In between performers, there is usually a 5-10 minute break and people use this time to go back outside to stretch, smoke some more, or do whatever else they want to. Janice Aliva, a UCI alumna says “I’ve been going to these concerts for about two years now and I love the atmosphere among the crowd as much as I love the shows themselves. The gathering before the show, between performers, and after wards is as much an experience as the music is.”
While Sam and a couple of other guys set up the room and give bands directions to the venue, 2 of the other organizers in the group – Katie and Emily- sit by the door with the ticket box. Most events cost $5 to get into the show, although tonight’s performance costs a little more. This two day Open Melody event features 23 artists. Both days cost $14 dollars, or about half for those who want to attend just one of the days. “Bottom line is, the acts need to get paid,” one of the girls says “We don’t charge much at all. We’re probably one of the most affordable forms of entertainment around. That’s something that keeps fans hooked too. Value. More bang for your buck.” And since the money goes mostly to the bands –they’ve made and kept extra money only a few times – it is evident that the members of Acrobatics Everyday do what they do purely for the love of music, not for money.
Soon after the venue is set up, the bands begin to arrive. As sound check begins, audience members start to gather inside. Since there is mostly a half an hour gap between the posted show time and the time when it actually begins, audience members have learned to use the sound check as a signal that the show is about to start. This is also the time when Sam and the other group members are busy making sure all the equipment is working, and conducting final tests on everything that is to be used for the show.
When everything is ready to go, the audience is in place, the band members are ready to perform, and the Acrobatics Everyday members feel time to begin the show has come, the regular lights get turned off, and the show lights get turned on. These lights can be anything from flashing strobe lights, to neon lights of several different colors, to even disco ball lights. The members of Acrobatics Everyday finally begin to relax and join the viewers of the show. Audience usually gets up close to the artist and then the music begins. The act determines the reaction of the audience. While one band may cause a spectator to sway side-to-side in calmness while seated on the floor, another may cause the same spectator to jump wildly up and down in rhapsody. This is the case during many shows. One of the performers from the first performance of the Fall 2010 quarter, Nima, is in attendance during tonight’s show.
She says “I see many of the same faces here tonight as I saw the night I performed. The people who were front and center in the mosh pitt a few minutes ago are the same ones who were quietly snapping their fingers to my melodies. I mean these people aren’t here for just one type of artist or one type of music – they’re here for the whole show experience. That’s the power of music.”
Sometimes during the show, technical difficulties arise. During these moments, a very intimate act takes place. Instead of asking the audience to give the crew sometime to figure it out, Acrobatics Everyday members and band members try to figure out what happened and find a way to fix it, right in front of the audience. On day 1 of the 2-day festival, one of the acts needed the microphone to be lowered to about 3 feet above ground level while she played the piano on the floor. After a few failed attempts to get the mike to do so on its stand, another one of the artists just decided to hold the microphone in her hand while the first artist performed. At another moment, there were problems with the lights and as the artist kept on singing, Sam and some other guys got up calmly and worked on the lights and sat back down like nothing out of place had happened. “Problems arise, you just have to roll with it…it comes with the territory. Actually is just another part of the experience,” one of the organizers whispers to someone. The show continues.
By the end of each show, the five factors offered on forestfire.com as the 5 reasons why these shows are so great- all ages are welcome, there is an eclectic lineup, good value, offers a unique experience, and offers the opportunity to meet new friends- all prove to be true.
Sam Farzin seems to agree to these while adding “At the end of these shows people are tired, exhausted, half-way deaf and smell pretty bad – but there are big smiles on everyone’s faces. That’s what makes it all worth it man.”
-23 hours of concert attendance
-One lengthy sit-down interviews
-5 shorter, at-event interviews
- Forest Fire website:
- OC weekly website:
- Yelp! Website:
-Acrobatics Everyday Website:
It begins. The enemies are barely visible in the thick foliage ahead, but like clockwork, the first man in the buddy team sees them and begins to lay down a hail of suppressive fire. Unlike the movies, he does not spray and pray with his weapon; instead he sends careful, timed shots, meant to keep the enemies’ heads down and conserve ammunition all at the same time.
While the first man suppresses, his buddy quickly assesses the situation with the knowledge that the element of surprise is lost and he must take action now. He senses a lull in the enemy’s return fire and bellows, “Moving!”
“Move!” the first man replies, and with that, his buddy begins to run towards the right flank. Even as his legs move in one direction, his torso acts independently, allowing him a full field of fire which he takes advantage of, shooting while moving. He reaches a vantage point that allows him access to the enemy’s flank and begins peppering them with his own fire.
The first man hears the chatter of his buddy’s weapon and knows that it is time to go. Using the same “Moving/Move” command, the first man closes with the enemy under the cover fire of his teammate. Within another minute, it is over. The enemy lies destroyed, with the buddy team victorious. The fight is done but the two never falter in their awareness. With the simple announcement “Loading!” the buddy team change out ammunition, ensuring they are ready for the next engagement, and continue on their mission. Instructor Henry Yen, however, is pleased.
“Weapons on safe,” he announces. “Endex!” “Endex” is military slang, a combination of the words “end exercise,” and is used to signal the conclusion of a drill or training evolution. The three gather together as another buddy team prepares to run the drill. They quietly discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what they can improve on the next time they carry out the exercise. Brian Wang, the first man, listens intently as Henry provides his feedback; Alexander Chang, the second, lets his rifle hang on a sling as he takes a sip from his Camelbak hydration system. The air is filled once more with the pop-pop-pop of semi-automatic weapons fire. To the untrained eye it would seem as if the US military was conducting exercises in the middle of Mission Viejo.
Henry and the two people he is instructing, however, are far from being in the military. While the techniques and theory utilized are legitimately in use by the armed forces, the enemies destroyed were Coke cans, the ammunition fired merely plastic bb’s. Instead of soldiers, the buddy team that so perfectly executed a basic military maneuver are civilians, both of them alumni of UCR and UCI respectively. Henry, the instructor, is a Irvine alum and currently works on campus. All three are members of West Coast MilSim (military simulation), an organization at UC Irvine, and avid participants of the sport known as airsoft.
To those who know it well, “airsoft” refers to an activity in which participants use exact replicas of firearms to engage each other in some soft of combat scenario, from video game-style shoot outs to actual training exercises conducted by law enforcement and military personnel. At the most basic level, players set up a controlled field, call “Game on!”, and have it until only one team (or one man) is left standing. More advanced games will have simple objectives for teams to complete, while complex operations will have tasks that have nothing to do with airsoft at all: for example, photographing enemy bases, capturing high value targets, and working with civilian roleplayers. Many people often explain airsoft as being similar to paintball. That is untrue on most counts: for example, in paintball, one is considered “out” when he is stricken by paint, for all to see. In airsoft activities, there is no paint and it is up to the player who has been to be honorable and declare a simulated “death.”
For others not so intimate with it, reports of blatant misuse come to mind; people have been shot and killed by police because they brandished airsoft replicas in public, and officers could not tell if they were real or not. These are the most common stories of airsoft available to the public. There have been several instances across the nation where uninformed police officers have approached an airsoft event with weapons drawn; at times, even police SWAT teams have been deployed on reports of airsofters. Most of the time, the players are sent home with a warning because they were playing on public land, which is illegal in most states. Rarely will an overeager officer fire lethal rounds at airsoft players, but it has happened; the highly-realistic nature of the airsoft guns and the general public’s lack of awareness lead to such events.
To Henry, “airsoft” means something much simpler. “Airsoft generally describes the general tool in which you use to propel 6mm plastic bbs out of a realistic looking gun,” he explains. “The whole point is to replicate a real firearm as closely as possible without making it dangerous. Beyond that, it’s pretty much what you want to do with that tool. The airsoft aspect of it only describes to me the actual replica, the tool itself.”
The replicas available in the airsoft realm are a firearm enthusiast’s dream. From the most simple handgun available to the civilians to restricted assault weapons issued only to United States Special Operations teams, most guns in existence have an airsoft form. In California, these can be purchased and owned without regulation, provided that the buyer is at least eighteen years old. Taking into consideration California’s stringent firearms laws, some people use airsoft as a means to be able to handle weapons that, in real-steel (actual firearm) form, would not even be allowed in the state.
These replicas are not cheap, however; the price range is wide, from as low as $100 for a replica MP5 submachine gun, made famous in Die Hard, to $1500 for a replica M4A1 carbine, the standard issue long gun to the United States Army. While the MP5 is not available to the general public in its real form, the equivalent of an actual M4A1 can be had for the same price as the replica, sometimes even cheaper. The high cost of basic replicas does not even include the plethora of accessories, combat gear, special weapons, and uniforms that most airsofters feel called to purchase at one point or another in their “careers.” For example, a player’s eye protection is crucial to protect their vision from the bbs. Casual players typically use $5 shooting glasses they buy at WalMart, while the MilSim players spend up to $400 for tactically-oriented Oakley sunglasses. They both do the job of protecting one’s eyes, but at a different price point and with different types of play in mind.
“It’s really cost intensive,” explains Henry. The amount of money one is willing to spend on airsoft is typically an indicator of their level of involvement and gameplay preference. Some of the more dedicated airsofters report spending at least $2000 to buy their initial batch of gear, a high price indeed when considering the low entry cost of other activities.
EAC and WCMS
For some, the basic weapon is enough to last them for casual use. Typically they participate in simple “force on force,” or elimination-style games. As explained by club president Steven Yong, the primary airsoft organization at UCI, Eater Airsoft Club (EAC), is meant to cater to these casual players who are not interested in committing their money and time to a dedicated team. Within the larger organization, however, is the smaller group West Coast MilSim (WCMS); they prefer a more realistic approach to their airsoft activities, and are willing to spend the money for the necessary gear. “We do a military simulation type thing where we have designated teams, actual fireteams and squads and we actually have to go out and complete missions,” explains Henry. “The whole point isn’t to go out and shoot at people, but to go out and complete a mission and, within that, shoot at people who get in the way.”
While most casual skirmishes last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, the operations that the MilSim group attend usually have them in the field for four hours or longer. During this time they must carry all necessary equipment on their person as they do not have the luxury of returning to their cars to resupply, as most regular players do. Members of WCMS don’t stop themselves from playing at casual games, however; while they do train and prepare for the more realistic simulation operations, they can also be found participating with the members of the casual grup at pick-up events throughout the area. Reactions to such events are a hit-and-miss, considering their public nature: the quality of the players varies, as does the quality of the venue.
West Coast MilSim was originally founded at UC Riverside by Brian Wang, originally from the Bay Area. He brought his experience and training with him to school in Southern California and brought life to the original club. In 2009, however, Brian transferred from Riverside to Irvine for a year; during his stay here he formed the Irvine chapter of West Coast MilSim, with Henry acting as Staff Advisor. In an effort to make airsoft more accessible to those who had never played before, several reforms were instituted that led to the creation of Eater Airsoft Club later that year. That is where the club has been since its inception, and the organization has drawn in members from all walks of life. Most members are students at UC Irvine; others come from as far as Rosemead and Riverside. Some members have prior or future military service: Hwirarm Park, from the Irvine chapter, is currently in the Army ROTC while Brian Myint of the Rosemead chapter went through the Marine Corps. Devil Pup program. While some airsofters learn valuable military skills from their hobby and carry them over to a career in the armed forces, most choose to remain civilians and only fight on the simulated battlefield. Alex Khachatoorian, one of the original team members, currently serves as an Emergency Medical Technician and Henry works in the IT field.
Briefing & Rehearsal
WCMS meets regularly for three different things: on-campus meetings, team training, and the actual airsoft events where they square off against other airsoft teams. On Wednesday nights, PCB1300 is transformed from a UCI classroom into something akin to a military briefing room. Using the projector and white board, President Steven Yong lays out the schedule for the next few weeks. Sometimes, he leads the team in an after-action review, or AAR, where they reflect on their performance at both games and trainings. AARs are valuable, as they allow the good to be emphasized and the bad to be highlighted for further analysis and remedy. As he talks, an easy banter floats amongst the members gathered before him, a sign of a close-knit unit. For the most part Steven lets it go, but when he needs to explain something particularly important, his eyes and narrow and his voice grows stern as he tells his teammates to quiet down and pay attention. The talking stops, forks and chopsticks come to rest on still-warm food, and they listen. They learn of projected enemy troop strengths for the next event, of the itinerary for the next training and they commit it to memory. Sometimes the meetings are as short as forty-five minutes; other times, the full two hours are used. No matter how long the meeting lasts, however, there is one ritual sacred to Wednesdays that the member of WCMS try to adhere to as much as possible: as soon as the meeting is over, they head to University Town Center to share a bite to eat if they haven’t eaten already.
Fast-forward four days. Now Sunday, the team is out at their training ground, a field known as Crown Valley fifteen minutes south of Irvine. White plastic pipes stick out of the ground with cans taped to their tops as targets; while most teams use human silhouettes for target practice, West Coast MilSim knows that it is impractical in that most of the time, an enemy never presents their full silhouette in the field. Few members are out today: Eater Airsoft Club prospectives Christine and Chris have come out to learn the trade; Bay Area Tactical member Matt has come all the way from Riverside to keep his skill set in shape; and WCMS members Michael, Alex, Brian, and Henry are doing the same. The temperature is high, but the trainees and instructor push through with their drills. They learn how to shoot their weapons under cover while lying sideways, how to properly change out ammunition magazines when they are empty, and how to manipulate their weapons around obstacles. They learn and practice techniques that ordinary people will never use in their life, all for love and dedication to their favorite hobby.
According to Steven, the main difference between Eater Airsoft Club and West Coast MilSim is the training. One thing that remains constant, however, is that after each training session there is always good company and good food to be had - typically, burritos from Albatros in Lake Forest.
It’s game day at Code Red Airsoft Park. With the field over an hour away in Colton, and the beginning of gameplay slated at around 10AM, the members of WCMS and EAS are up early. By 7:45 they have assembled at Henry’s apartment in Newport North to carpool to Code Red; by 8:00 they are on the road and en route. The trip there is uneventful as morning traffic is light, and the members pass the time by talking about anything other than airsoft: they discuss their favorite Japanese anime shows and video games and, reluctantly, they complain about their school work, papers due, and the like. By the time they reach the field at aroundd 9:30, however, all of that is forgotten.
It was once strictly a paintball field, but Code Red allocated a portion of the property to cater to airsoft. This early in the day, the weather is cool and a morning overcast hides the sun, but just barely. Early arrivals lounge around in the provided plsatic lawn chairs, having already checked in and registered their weapons. They are mostly children and poorly equipped, a far cry from the UCI students and their wide variety of equipment.
Again, like clockwork, the UCI team members get to work as soon as their cars are parked. First, they unload their gear bags and claim a free table for their staging area. With that out of the way, they take turns; half go to the registration booth to pay their fees and sign liabilities waivers while others stay near the cars to watch the equipment and begin loading up their personal gear. After about fifteen minutes, they switch.
By this time, more players have filtered in and almost thirty people have showed up for the airsoft event. Henry is pleased; more people means more opportunities to put their training to the test. Like the Irvine unit, most of the players arrive in groups and sit together. Most of them, however, do not seem to be as trained or cohesive as the crew from Irvine. How skilled they are will be determined on the field.
With mags loaded and weapons in hand, the team moves to the central briefing area for the preliminary safety and mission briefing. It is longer than usual due to the amount of new players to the field. The field official goes over minimum engagement distances and declares that players may not shoot each other with their airsoft replicas within twenty-five feet of each other; instead, they must “surrender” the enemy or “parlay,” by moving twenty-five feet back and re-engaging. This is to minimize the amount of injuries casued by close range shots. He also stresses that everyone must abide by the honor system and call their own hits, lest they be caught by refs and banned from the field.
The briefing concludes shortly, and they play a quick round of team deathmatch, an elimination-style game. The ears of WCMS perk up, however, when the ref announces that the next game will be scenario-based with roleplayers. This is what they trained for, a chance to try out the skills they have acquired.
Weast Coast MilSim gets put onto the team that represents the US military, while the rest of the group get placed on the insurgent team. The goal of the operation is to negotiate with a neutral party of indigenous personnel and get access to their city and resources. The insurgents and US teams insert into the opposite ends of the field, and slowly inch towards the center bunker where the neutral force is located. WCMS takes the point for the US team, and they move smoothly over the rough terrain. Each man covers a sector, weapon low but ready to be snapped up in case of an emergency. Unlike a normal game, a shot fired now, too early, can spell defeat for the team.
An indigenous guard sees them approaching and brings his weapon to bear. “Hold it!” he barks, “Weapons down and hands where I can see ‘em. We’ll only take one negotiator.” With a simple hand movement, Henry signals to the team representative to approach the bunker. Without a weapon in hand he steps into the hornet’s nest and disappears from view. From the opposite end of the bunker, the indigenous forces conduct the same screening with the insurgent negotiator and he, too, enters the bunker to make his case heard. There is tense silence for almost five whole minutes, unheard of to regular airsoft players but a relatively short time to those with experience in MilSim. Many players think the game will drag on, and hope that negotiations will come to a head in their respective team’s favor.
The negotiations never finish. Someone inside the bunker yells “BOOOM!” And seconds later, both negotiators and everyone who had been in structure exit with their hands above their head, signaling that they are dead. “OPEN FIRE!” yells Henry, and the team members each select a target. In the chaos, how to select a target is clear: whoever isn’t wearing their uniform gets shot. Semi-automatic fire erupts all over the battlefield and within minutes it is all over, with the US team victorious in the firefight but no team victorious in the objective. It turned out that, because negotiations weren’t going well for the insurgent team, their representative analyzed that there was a great deal of enemies all together in the structure; this is commonly referred to as a “target rich environment.” Feeling that it was more beneficial to kill everyone in the bunker rather than finsh the negotiations, he pulled a replica grenade out and acted as a suicide bomber, putting a quick end to the meeting. Henry, who was getting irritated at waiting, grins at this. “Awesome.”
The members of the Irvine group play for a few more hours, then begin to pack up for the ride back to Irvine. It will be a longer trip as traffic is more prevalent in the afternoon, but the make believe soldiers of UCI don’t mind at all. They have a full day of airsoft to tide them over as sit in the stifling heat on the way home; “war stories” are told on the drive, anecdotes of awesome stealth attacks and multiple enemy eliminations. But the number one thing on their mind is tradition: at the foremost of their priorities at the moment is getting burritos. Trading in their camoflauge for jeans and shirts, they hit the road, regular people once again. “That’s the thing about playing airsoft,” says Steven, a few days later. “Sure, you can go on your own. But it’s a lot more fun when you play with friends, as part of a team. A lot of people say negative things about airsoft and the people who play it, but we’re just having fun with our buddies.”
Interview with Henry Yen, 40 minutes
Interview with Steven Yong, 35 minutes
Interview with Alex Khachatoorian, 15 minutes
WCMS training 9/26
WCMS game 10/3
WCMS training 10/9
3 EAC/WCMS Wednesday meetings
Thursday, December 9, 2010
By Gloria Kwan
Deborah Tharp is a 37-year-old Libertarian who ran for State Assembly of the 70th congressional district in this year’s General Election. A self-admitted paper candidate, she ran for State Assembly while wholly aware that her chances at winning were slim. A decidedly philanthropic politician, she campaigned primarily for the purpose of getting the public involved and less for the prospect of getting elected when November 2nd came around. Though November 2nd came and went in which she ran and lost to Republican Don Wagner, Deborah Tharp still considers herself a politician, and she foresees herself running for office again. Despite the rather grim reality that she garnered only 4.0% of her constituency’s votes, she received the highest percentage of Libertarian votes that her congressional district has seen in the past eight years. Though this recognition has made her tenaciously optimistic, she is keenly aware that her main objective is still looking positively bleak: the voter turnout for this year’s General Elections is projected to be around 44%, a significant decrease from the 56.2% turnout in 2006 and the 50.6% in 2002. Worse yet, this year’s Primary Elections saw only a 24.1% voter turnout, the lowest in California Primary’s in 96 years. Suffice it to say, her campaign for greater involvement has got a long way to go, a verity that she readily admits. “It’s an ongoing battle; a lifelong pursuit,” she told me following Election Day, “Just because the Election has happened and it’s done, it doesn’t mean that I’ll stop. I already have the connections, but more so I have the responsibility. If I treated the campaign like a job, and the job is over, then I haven’t done anything for my kids.”
* * * * * * * *
I first met Debbie and her seven-year-old son in May of 2010 as she was recruiting for the seven-member strong Young Americans for Liberty club on campus. Though she began campaigning about a year ago in November of 2009, dressed in a full-length skirt and an oversized t-shirt she appeared to me, to put it quite candidly, a conventional, working-class mom. With short, ginger hair, self-effacing side bangs, and a rather large, but friendly build, Debbie had the looks and the demeanor of a stay-at-home wife. Life stories were exchanged, and she quickly proved herself to be not only a first-time running political candidate, but also a pre-med student heavily indebted to a $55,000 student loan and a recent divorcee single-handedly juggling three part-time jobs to provide for her three adolescent children. In August of 2008, she also became a kidney donor for her ex-husband’s kidney transplant, which cost $2 million of tax-payer money and two unnecessary years of dialysis and kidney tests to complete.
All too affected by it, Debbie knows the intricacies of our public welfare system. Though the narration of her story could have easily veered towards a personal pity party, through her extensive explanation of its implications on our health and education system, it turned instead into a lesson on the perverted paradoxes of our state: We pay more for our college tuition each year, yet we receive less of a quality education each quarter. We have gained “free” public health care services, yet we have lost accessibility to these services and the quality of its care. And we expect the few who are unaffected by these issues to somehow provide solutions for the majority of us who are. However analogous her story may be to the majority of our state’s, it was this discrepancy between the power that bourgeois-class politicians are given to solve the issues that only their working-class constituencies must face that Debbie claims motivated her to run for office. Canvassing her candidacy as “an everyday citizen, just like every other constituent of the 70th Assembly District of California,” Debbie campaigned for State Assembly to represent the working-class citizen who has decided to take the power back into her own hands.
* * * * * * * *
I reunited with Debbie on October 13th where she was supporting her fellow Libertarian candidate Mike Binkley at the 48th Congressional Debate against Democrat Beth Krom. (Republican candidate John Campbell was suspiciously, although apparently not-so-surprisingly absent.) Fifty pounds lighter and tightly fitted into a tight, black dress suit, Debbie looked much more befitting of a running Libertarian candidate and contender to a cut-throat political posse. With her hair pinned up, bangs swept to a side, and lips lined neatly in red, she was the spitting image of a composed and collected politician, yet her frazzled and flustered demeanor suggested otherwise.
“I just came back from a six-hour bike ride,” she told me through heavy breathing. “I was supposed to go to the voter information fair in Cal State Fullerton today, but my motorcycle broke down on the way so I missed the whole event and had to take the backstreets to get home.”
“You took your motorcycle on the freeway all the way to Fullerton?” I asked somewhat incredulously.
“Yeah, I’ve been using my motorcycle to get around because it consumes less gas. I still have to get my parking pass for it though. It’s only thirty dollars a month to park a motorcycle on campus, but I haven’t been willing to cough it up yet since I make such a meager fucking salary. My paycheck last week was 180 dollars and quite frankly an insult.”
It was 6:30 PM, and we were waiting for the debate to start in Crystal Cove Auditorium, which was barely half-filled with a little more than a hundred college students and a row of elderly constituents. We were sitting behind a seated line of UCI undergraduates who were all clearly Democrats: they each wore light blue T-shirts whose uniformed backs all proudly proclaimed: I’M VOTING FOR BETH KROM ON NOVEMBER 2ND. Amid an ocean of Beth Krom enthusiasts and a sprinkling of Mike Binkley defendants, the attendance at the debate was decidedly Democratic. Regardless, when the Krom-ies began hooting and hollering for Krom’s every sensational and sometimes nonsensical arguments, Debbie started cheering and yeah!-ing right back to Binkley’s less stimulating and somewhat tenuous rebuttals. Though the televised debate ended clearly in Beth Krom’s favor, we headed over to the Pub to celebrate the occasion, and Debbie bought for the both of us a 20-dollar bottle of Barefoot’s white zinfandel champagne.
After dropping all her belongings haphazardly onto the ground, plopping her embattled body down heavily onto the seat of her chair, and letting out a rather loud, exasperated sigh as if finally being able to take a break from the trials of the day, she said: “At least Mike showed up. John Campbell didn’t even bother to come. How are you supposed to legitimately represent your constituency if you’re not even there to give an opinion on their concerns?” A legitimate question. “He’s missed over a hundred votes and didn’t even bother to give us a valid excuse to abstain from tonight’s event. He’s insulting his constituents by refusing to participate in his congressional district’s one and only debate. ” Though not so wittingly like Krom, who at the start of the debate said in her typical catch-phrase fashion: If you’re not at the table, then you’re probably going to be on the menu, Debbie made sure that Campbell’s absence did not go by unmarked.
On August 24th, Debbie posted on the Orange Juice Blog an e-mail forwarded from an anonymous Republican informing “Anthony” why John Campbell will not be able to attend the debate: It has something to do with congress being in session and not wanting to campaign till congress is out. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience. A Paul Greenberg quote concludes the e-mail: No right is safe unless citizens are willing to exercise and defend it.
Headed by “Ultimatum for John Campbell from Debbie Tharp: You have one week, and then it’s on!” and placed under an unflattering picture of a closed-eyed Campbell wearing a JOIN THE RESISTANCE T-shirt, Debbie responds to this rebuff with: I will extend one more olive branch to Mr. Campbell: how about he names the date, and we will make it happen? Please relay to his office that this offer will stand for one week, that we demand an answer by this time next Tuesday, August 31st, and after that, we will assume that he does not want to address his own voters before the election and will take action accordingly to let the voters know of his disdain for their concerns.
Like Campbell’s invitation to participate in the debate, Debbie’s “ultimatum” went by unanswered. And it is this constant and blatant disregard towards our democratic system—he has missed 164 congressional votes, one of them to attend a car show in Florida—coupled with his abuse of the system to pass laws that cater to his own personal interests—he has added an amendment into the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act that exempts car dealers from financial rules that protect the consumers—that Debbie says is the bane of her political existence, the antithesis of her congressional candidacy. Unlike Campbell, who has not only avoided interaction with his constituency but has also passed laws that largely harms them, Debbie, through social-networking sites and events such as voter-information fairs and congressional debates, has informed her constituencies about her candidacy, gotten involved in discussions about their political views, and adjusted her own views accordingly to more aptly represent theirs should she be elected. When asked what she thinks makes a good politician, she answered: “What makes a good politician versus a bad politician is whether or not that politician’s views have actually changed, the result of that change being whether or not you were truly listening to your constituency. Because if you’re truly representing the people that you’re running for office for, then you’re going to take the time to listen to what they’re saying so that you can represent them. Good politicians tailor their opinions to the people because that’s where it belongs. I didn’t run for office to represent only my views. I mean, my views were a part of it because I am a constituent here as well.”
As a Libertarian constituent, however, inconsistencies inevitably arise when you consider the contradictions between Debbie’s personal and political views and that of a Libertarian’s. Libertarians believe in a world where “all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her own values for the benefit of others,” yet Medi-Cal is a government, tax-supported, and thus somewhat socialist program. They believe in an education system where schools are managed locally and without any interference from the government, yet Federal Student Aid is a nation-wide program that is entirely funded by it.
As a Libertarian Medi-Cal patient and Federally-aided student, Debbie recognized these inconsistencies, and this, she says, is where the “Compassionate” part comes in, which shifts her Libertarian beliefs away from the strict objectivist ideology of Ayn Rand towards the more sensible ideology of say Alan Blinder. In Hard Heads, Soft Hearts, Blinder argues for a beneficial government that helps the impoverished and poor as long as those who are being governed are able to pursue other liberal goals. And through her involvement in the UC system, Debbie realized just how important the impoverished sometimes need to be helped: “Realistically, private education can be impossibly expensive, and public education can sometimes be the only possible way that a student’s future can be made better, Federal Aid often times being the only way that their present can be made not so bad. I met a Sociology student here on campus who has resorted to stealing or as she so calls it “liberating” from the Zot-n-Go because she can no longer afford to buy food. She said that she doesn’t care about getting caught because if she does she’ll just say: I’m hungry. Paying for private education, in her case, is simply a ridiculous concept. It’s a Libertarian position to say that education should be 100% privatized, but after talking to my fellow students about issues such as the recent fee hikes, I realized just how much our public education system actually means to our state. My opinion on education is an example of how my political view has changed. Honest politicians opt out of their party platform sometimes, and I’m guilty of doing that.” And in her congressional debate against Republican Don Wagner and Democrat Melissa Foxx that was televised by Cox Communications, she publicly did just that.
* * * * * * * *
It was 7:30 PM, October 27th, and I was waiting for Debbie’s debate to start, which again took place in Crystal Cove Auditorium but that day was barely a forth filled with a handful of college students, a smattering of scattered couples, and an ever faithful band of elderly constituents. Unlike the Krom-ie congregation, there was no predominant political support for any one candidate, and the lack of structure in the debate seemed to stem from the lack of cohesive backing for any of the parties. As if the candidates were aware that the audience was there maybe more for their past-time amusement, the formal debate quickly dissolved into a disordered debacle, and the atmosphere in the auditorium quickly turned tense as Wagner and Foxx began sparring with each other in verbal warfare and in complete disregard to debate decorum. I felt embarrassed, as if I was watching an argument between two adult-sized children and intruding upon some intimate dispute that should have been dealt with in private. Though Debbie made a clear effort to detach herself from the quarreling and to maintain some semblance of cool, collected composure, she eventually and theatrically began rolling her eyes and letting out huge sighs and giving in to the spectacle on stage.
* * * * * * * *
The General Elections are over, and the Republican’s spectacular success is all the more remarkable for having occurred at a time when the state legislature receives only a ten percent approval rating, the lowest assessment of California state legislature in the past twenty-seven years. When considering that John Campbell has been in office for the past ten years, nothing in this election is more convoluted or more paradoxical than his re-election into congress with 60.0 percent of the votes. His win is nothing short of a comic tragedy, and I can only imagine his decision to abstain from the debate to be his way of laughing at it all.
I visited Debbie about two weeks after the Elections at the Humanities Gateway on campus, where she works as a front desk attendant for a few hours every morning. I asked her what she plans on doing moving forward from the backwards implications of the election results, and she told me that she plans on starting a student activist workshop here on campus to get students more involved, but involved in a more effective way: “When I see people protesting in front of Aldrich Hall or hear of them hassling our administrators in office, it becomes clear to me that the students here don’t know how our system works. They don’t seem to understand that it is our representatives in office who are the ones who control our state funding, not the administrators of our school. Continually complaining to Drake will accomplish very little, if anything at all.” Hearing this, I can’t help but think of the time when I worked as a waitress, where I was often complained to about the meager portion of food when it was the cook who doled out such a meager portion in the first place.
As Debbie was packing up to leave, Tom Ragan, a reporter from The Daily Pilot, came in to ask us if we knew where to find Jesse Cheng, the UC student regent for the 2010-2011 school year. After making an off-hand remark that she has a lot to say about the recent budget cuts, Debbie became a part of Jesse Cheng’s interview, and I had the pleasure of not only witnessing for the first time an interview done by an actual news reporter, but also meeting our student regent who was one of the five out of the twenty-six members on the Board of Regents who voted no on the recent eight percent fee hikes.
When Ragan asked why he did not agree with the other twenty-one members, Cheng said: “I don’t think it’s a long term solution. If we’re looking at a one billion dollar deficit, an eight percent fee increase only creates one percent of the budget solution. For the stress and the pain that we cause on our students, to offer only one percent of a solution to the deficit is almost negligible for our overall budget solution. I think we have to think about our priorities when we look at revenues. We are causing a lot of stress for what is not a long-term solution.” When asked what he plans to do upon graduating, Cheng answered: “I plan to teach English to middle-school students in Baltimore through the program Teach for America. Education is always a path.”
While continuing fee increases have not only failed to provide an adequate answer to the budget deficit, they ironically enough have also managed to produce other problems for our public education system. Over the last decade, banking institutions and financial aid offices nationwide have eagerly handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans. Coupled with a decline in grants and a raise in tuition, the increase in easy credit has resulted in more than two-thirds of college students graduating in 2009 in debt—up from the forty-five percent in 1993. According to the Project on Student Debt, a research initiative begun by the Institute for College Access & Success and aimed at increasing public awareness of the socio-economical implications of student borrowing, the student debt was averaged to be $24,000 in 2009, and it has been confidently estimated to be significantly higher in 2010. The irony of this situation is that while the debt for student tuition has been increasing, the availability of student services has been decreasing, and students are graduating not only with a weakened skill set and also with a degree spent largely making up for their financial disadvantage when it should have given them a propitious advantage in economic competition.
In an article titled “Report Card on Colleges Finds U.S. is Slipping,” Patrick M. Callan, the president of The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, is quoted as saying: “American higher education on the whole is underperforming and is being outperformed by many other countries.” With college classes and student services being cut and stress being increasingly incurred, it is clear that our underperformance is attributable to our schools’ lack of a quality education. In an interview by Declining by Degrees, Callan states: We have abundant evidence that colleges and universities that do better in teaching and counseling get better results. And if the college has no impact on whether people learn what they came to learn or if they finish, then it seems to me there's not a lot of justification for the dollars that society and students spend on what happens there.
Unable to receive certain student aid services, Debbie now questions her justification for going to college. When Ragan asked Debbie how the budget cuts have affected her, she answered: “I have a serious learning disability that was qualified by the Disability Center so I could enroll in the LARC tutorials for free. These tutorials were helping me pass my classes, and just when I enrolled in classes [this year], they cut the LARC tutorials, and I don’t have the funds to pay for it even though I’m already paying more for student fees. And now I’m failing my classes. I’m going to be graduating $55,000 in debt, and I’m not even going to be in the major that I intended to graduate with. My plan was to go on to medical school, and now it’s not going to happen because I’m literally flunking my classes.”
When asked what she thinks is the problem with our current political system, she answered: “Apathy. Our biggest mistake is apathy.”
2. Campbell: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/08/opinion/main6186201.shtml; http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/c001064/; http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2010/08/ultimatum-for-john-campbell-from-debbie-tharp-you-have-one-week-and-then-its-on/; http://www.ocregister.com/news/campbell-91136-ocprint-krom-orange.html
5. Public Education System: Project on Student Debt: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-data.php; The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/section/Home/5; http://chronicle.com/article/Report-Card-on-Colleges-Finds/3508/; http://www.decliningbydegrees.org/meet-experts-6-transcript.html
7. Public Opinion: The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research: http://webapps.ropercenter.uconn.edu/CFIDE/cf/action/ipoll/questionDetail.cfm?keyword=&keywordoptions=1&exclude=&excludeoptions=1&topic=Government&organization=Any&fromdate=1%2F1%2F1935&todate=&sortby=DESC&label=&QSTN_LIST=&QSTNID=1774109&QA_LIST=&QSTN_ID4=1774109&STUDYID=69682&STUDY_LIST=&lastSearchId=1236021&ARCHNO=&keywordDisplay=&x=7&y=14; The Field Poll: http://www.field.com/fieldpollonline/subscribers/
8. Election Results: General Election: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/2010-general/; http://www.ocvote.com/live/gen2010/results.htm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California%27s_70th_State_Assembly_district;
Primary Election: http://www.pensitoreview.com/2010/06/10/energy-on-the-right-voter-turnout-in-the-california-primary-was-25-lowest-in-96-years/; http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/10/local/la-me-california-election-20100610
Two lengthy interviews with Debbie
One lengthy interview with Debbie’s daughter
E-mail correspondence with Debbie’s intern Colby Seymour
Observed the 48th Congressional Debate
Observed the 70th Congressional Debate
Observed interview between Daily Pilot reporter on Debbie Tharp and UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng
Multiple visits to Debbie’s apartment and workplace on campus