Letter to the Editor: I’m (Not) White


Andrew Gabriel Pragin

You could call me a privileged white male who had the audacity to attempt to remain neutral this past Wednesday, but you would only be partially right.

I come from a diverse community in the San Francisco Bay called Cupertino. My parents are immigrants (a Russian-Jew and Armenian) that made it to these United States persecuted from their homes with $222 and a pair of nearly worthless degrees.

I learned about the senate meeting through my awesome activist allies and exclaimed my luck — I was presenting my candidacy for the Isla Vista Community Services District at the same meeting. Two birds, one stone.

What happened next appalled me.

My grandmother barely escaped from Azerbaijan with her life — she was deemed expendable by a government as a result of perceived affiliations. Though this use of force is much more extreme than what is being exercised across these United States (e.g. North Dakota, Ferguson), the source is the same: the voice of some certain peoples is being suppressed by those in power, under the threat of violence.

In 1970, William Kuntsler — lawyer for the Chicago Seven — came to speak at UCSB about the Vietnam War protests. His speech in front of a crowd of 7,000 — funded by Associated Students — would later turn into what was called “Isla Vista I”, the first riot of three (now four), that led to the burning of the Bank of America. Nowadays, some activists commend these riots for their inception of change: leading to the creation of the Isla Vista Food Cooperative, Municipal Advisory Council, Community Council, Recreation and Park District, and the movement for self-governance.

The authorities, under the guise of protecting our peoples clamped down upon the community with a force that was — with near consensus — deemed excessive. A student was killed while attempting to put out another fire by a police officer. People were dragged out of their homes and beaten with nightsticks. Some 300 students, as well as professors, were arrested at a peaceful sit-in at People’s Park.

Being a representative takes courage.

Ronald Reagan, at an event in Santa Barbara, historically said, “if it’s to be a bloodbath, let it be now,” while calling in the National Guard to better Isla Vista.

Because Kuntsler incited violence.

To those on Associated Students Senate here at our marvelous university: stand up for yourselves as I stand up for you. Do not cower away from cameras, from perceived oppression. Take ahold of the situation and fight for who you are.

Yes, a secret ballot was cast. Yes, an event was funded. Yes, there is uproar.

Let’s work together to create spaces in which we can continue this dialogue. Let’s use ballots rather than bullets. Let’s build the community we would all like to see.

Because you are the light of this world.

Because we have persevered previously in the most marvelous of ways.

I am as conservative as I am white. The labels are superficial attempts to box me in, to categorize me into a more digestible piece of food for institutions to consume.

I spend almost all of my time lending help to the marginalized. I was directly involved in the planning and execution of the of the Rally Against Rape Culture and the previous Million Student Marches. I am a vocal advocate for an Isla Vista Community Center that would provide much-needed services to the great Latinx population of our home. I have worked on such projects as UCIV and Isla Vista First* Fridays in the interest of amending the party culture of our school to regard safety as a priority.

I am a multi-racial non-gendered pansexual vegetarian that doesn’t give a shit about your political correctness. I am the change that I wish to see in the world. I have the courage to stand up to institutions of power and demand change. I have the power to stand for values that I believe to be true. I have the audacity to run without support of “powers-that-be,” and the gall to demand they quake in my presence.

Because you are not the only victim.

Because “inciting violence” is only one side to a story that has already played out, and conflict is a product of our plurality — that so many have fought and died for.

If you are ever in a pain that does not cease, reach out fearlessly. Those that care will be there for you, and those that do not will be at your mercy. You are empowered.

Because I love Isla Vista, and hope that it can find the strength to love as well.

Dedicated to Jerry Kang and Kathryn Lofton, visiting professors that have made me question my blanket critique of intellectualism and rethink what it means to live. Blessings.

Andrew Gabriel Pragin is a long-time contributor to the Isla Vista Community Center project, former organizer of Isla Vista First* Fridays, and candidate for Isla Vista Community Services District Director.


Nov. 6, 5:56 p.m.: Pragin has submitted edits to this piece clarifying his role in organizing on campus.