Wednesday, 12 Apr 2000

BERKELEY, Calif.

The geeks next door start to drool when new computer software hits the market. The girls across the hall go shopping at the Gap after each of their midterms to relax. The frat boys down the street seem to live in an endless cycle of half-assed school work during the week and bleary-eyed weekends of drunken debauchery. The most exciting part of my month is getting the new issue of Adbusters in the mail and the ensuing two hours of mind-bending subversive ideology that gets poured into my brain.

Photo: Dave Harris, &copy 2000.

Why is that? Why do I love to muse about changing the world in ways that I perceive to be for the “better,” while the overwhelming majority of my peers dedicate their full energies to materialistic self-indulgence? Many activists, myself included, tend to lean toward the belief that our perspective is in some way “enlightened” or just inherently superior, and that some people have seen the light and others haven’t. I often find myself trying to define the underlying goals behind my activism and can’t help but think how much I must sound like some kind of religious extremist nut to about 95 percent of the people in the world.

Why am I an activist? I ask myself that question frequently. If I’d been raised to believe that everything is fine the way it is and that my place in the world is as a humble part of our glorious industrial machine, would I really give a damn about biodiversity and global climate change? When I was 16 one of my friends caught me saying, “When I grow up, all I really want to do is make a lot of money and live in a really big house.” My, how things have changed …

Photo: Dave Harris, &copy 2000.

Do people really do anything more than what the world tells them to do? Am I an activist now because I achieved some level of critical thinking ability, which enabled me to reevaluate my value system and come to the conclusion that it is my ethical imperative to change the world? Or was it just that enough people and posters and magazines told me that I should care about different stuff than I cared about before?

Last week the PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) state organizer was in Berkeley and he told me that I was one of the most entrepreneurial student-activists he’d ever met. I was a bit honored and a bit tickled at the same time. He was responding to my telling him that I wasn’t really planning on doing Earth Week next year at Berkeley.

I grew up in a family business that blossomed and then collapsed over the course of the first dozen years of my life. Without a doubt, it had an impact on me. The business was a toy store and before I made it to the double-digits I was helping out around the place — telling customers which games I liked, counting money in the back room with my dad, helping my mom order children’s books. A dream world for a child of the ’80s — I can still hear Madonna singing about my “material world.” There’s something about what I’m doing today that makes me feel like I’m surfing the same wave that my parents surfed in the ’80s.

Photo: Dave Harris, &copy 2000.

Although the world of Earth Day is rooted in something very different than that of retail, they share a common thread — hubris. You find something you want to do and you make it the biggest, best, most incredible thing that’s ever been done like it. When it comes to the end of the day, you judge yourself on how far you perpetuated your short-term goals, but you can never quite remember why exactly you’re doing it. Something about trees or changing how people think, or something like that.

It’s almost 3:00 a.m. and I haven’t even begun to study for my two midterms coming up on Thursday. I’ve got class in six hours and I can be sure that it won’t be an easy day. I’m going to have to figure out 1) how to do all my economics problems that will be on the midterm, which should be pretty easy, and 2) how to learn enough about hydrology and water politics to write about it for three hours.

It really feels healthy for me to get all these thoughts down on paper … Actually, now that I think about it for a second, it seems that there’s only a small chance that these words will ever make it onto paper. What an interesting world we live in. Tomorrow you can look for a diatribe on human rights and the environment and the phenomenon of their unification. I’ve left you with a few more of my photos.