Roberto de Roock, 24, is the spokesperson for the Student Taskforce for Democracy, the newly formed group responsible for the March 5 protest at the UA. Five people were arrested--including a Tucson Citizen photographer--that day after four folks chained themselves to an administration door. The students presented a list of 12 demands to the university, including a smaller tuition increase, no new UA construction and student referendums on major changes. (Their protests fell on deaf ears; the next day, the Board of Regents approved a record tuition increase.) The group also presented four demands to the U.S. government--that the war movement be stopped and that military funds instead go toward education. Pictured from left to right: Mike Souza, 21, an art education major; Yusuke Banno, 19, a political science major (and one of the March 5 arrestees); de Roock; Zaliah Zalkind, 19, a sustainable development major; and Patrick Bigger, 19, a regional development major.
What in the heck is the Student Task Force for Democracy?
It's an ad-hoc group formed to deal rapidly with changes that are happening rapidly at the University of Arizona. It's a democratic forum made up of UA students and community members to deal with a process that's been removed from our control. We want to make sure student voices are heard.
What's the process that's been removed from student control?
Basically, the way the university is run in general. President (Peter) Likins has described the way things go as non-democratic changes. Things like "focused excellence"--program cuts, tuition increases, restricting the (university's) focus down to research-based instruction--are all designed by administrators and the Board of Regents without community input. Even faculty members are upset that they can't give input.
If you were in charge, what would you do differently?
The point is, we don't want to be in charge. We would like to see a decision-making process in which decisions are not just made behind closed doors, or by just a board or by an administrator. We want more democracy.
Did you participate in the March 5 protest?
I was the media contact. I was not doing any protesting, really.
So you weren't arrested.
No, I wasn't.
Are you bummed about that?
No. I don't like to get arrested. I don't think anybody wants to get arrested. That's what has to happen with civil disobedience when there are no other options.
Is there anything coming up with the group?
I would think so. Since things with the war process are heating up, I am sure other protests will be happening. And March 15 is an international protest day against police brutality, so there should be something happening here, too.
Wait a second. What do democracy at the university and war with Iraq have to do with each other?
That's a good question. A lot of people, including those in the media, have missed the point. Look at the research funding at the UA. Three of the top five corporate funders are related to defense. They give $15 million every year. The Department of Defense gives $13 million. The federal government gives $187 million. There's no reason this money couldn't be given to education, and it seems the university is more concerned (with doing research that's) concerned with war-making.
How did you become the spokesperson?
Because I am the one willing to do it. I am a writer and I have contact with journalists, so it was a natural thing.
Well, aren't you concerned that President Likins might come after you personally?
(Laughs.) That's always a possibility. The university does pursue code of conduct complaints. If you do something illegal, even if you are not convicted, you can be forced to go before the dean. It's arbitrary justice. The burden of proof is on you to disprove it. My concern is that there will probably be more protests with the war--and you can see how the UA Police treat even the media.
What do you hope will come from war protests? Do you realistically think you can stop this war?
When there are forces out of your control, the most important thing to do is to take local action against aspects of those forces that are localized. And when people take actions on a local level, things add up.