The Choice: Green or GET-UP?
Desperately seeking political passion—or flirtation.

 By Timothy Gunatilaka | I want passion. I want protest. I want to be inspired. Instead, I’m lucky if I get a phone number.

Twelve girls clad in green scarves, green hats, and green pants sit in a circle at the center of College Green. Cigarettes are chained, the morning’s gossip is shared, and plans for the weekend’s parties are solidified. Meanwhile, nearby chants advocating a woman’s right to choose and distant calls for the democratic process fall on deaf ears. On this brisk winter day, nothing disturbs the genial gathering. After all, these green girls have lunch boxes.

On Thursday, February 26, members of Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania (GET-UP) and its supporters went on strike across campus in an effort to pressure the University to drop its legal appeal, which has effectively blocked the organization’s bid to unionize. On February 26, the Penn Coalition for the March for Women’s Lives rallied on College Green for a woman’s right to choose. And on February 26, pledges of the Tabard Society—Penn’s
de facto secret sorority—were required (with lunch boxes in tow) to wear green (a lot of green) and camp out in front of the library whenever they were not in class. At least they have their priorities straight.

February 26 was a watershed day for Penn. Between GET-UP’s picketing and the Coalition’s rally for choice, the time was ripe for this school to defy its reputation as the politically apathetic Ivy. But guess what the big attraction was on College Green that day?

Suffice it to say that on February 26, the student body as a freedom-fighting force failed. Somehow, I think I am to blame.

I try to keep abreast of current affairs and politics. Really, I do. I scan The New York Times every morning. I check out the latest posts on Slate.com. Occasionally, I pick up an issue of The Atlantic Monthly; sometimes, I even read it. Early in my freshman year I flirted with the idea of joining the Penn for Choice cause. But now, on February 26, I’m trying to flirt with the throng of Tabards sitting before me. While I generally lean left, I would rather lean in whatever direction a girl in green is swinging.

What is it about Penn’s bubble-world that turns our attentions away from the GET-UP and Penn for Choice people to more superficial concerns? Can my idealistic urge to join a movement for the betterment of society truly be eclipsed by the hormonally charged impulses moving me toward this secret society of pretty girls? If the revolution will not be televised, then who will tape Friends for me?

In this post-adolescent, pre-adulthood daze, I want to be inspired. Sadly, however, the only parties at Penn setting my heart aflutter are the ones with premium beer on tap. Granted, a requisite aspect of political activity is activity. Yet, as I witness the GET-UP strike, I stand here cold, unaffected.

I want violence. That is not to say I call for bloodshed and destruction, but where is the passion? I sit in front of Van Pelt and watch two GET-UP members stroll down Locust Walk playing acoustic guitars and singing, “Count the Votes” with the brightest of smiles. I am reminded of “Kumbaya” at summer camp. Earlier, I thought I heard one of the picketers humming “Roll Out the Barrel.” Is this what the Sixties were like?

Now I am not arguing either for or against GET-UP’s mission; rather, I simply would like to point to some issues that possibly spoiled the strikers’ attempt to rally support for their cause.

To the GET-UP strikers: I know you’re angry. I know you feel exploited. And maybe something is amiss with the University’s legal wrangling to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from counting the votes in an election over the right of graduate students employed by the University to form a union—regardless of how entitled you graduate students, er, workers actually are to pay-improvements, housing subsidies, and other benefits. I also know you wanted to “send a message” while still respecting the day-to-day management of the University with a “porous” picket line. But as an undergrad sorting out this mess with (let’s be honest) relatively little knowledge of the nuances, I definitely cannot be moved by a group of loafers lollygagging about with smiles.

When the two-day strike began on February 26 (the anniversary of the presently sealed election), there you were marching in a circle with a little too much snap to your step. During this roundabout, I even saw one guy waving at a baby. A baby! I may be prejudiced, but this is a strike—not the teacup ride at Disneyland—so please stop looking so carefree. For obviously you do care.

So where does the problem lie? Is it the awkward expression of well-intentioned ideologues or the very absence of idealism in the wake of Greek gatherings? Should I simply revel in the more frivolous aspects of Penn socializing or bear the responsibility of trying to repair society myself? If I vote Green, what does that really mean?

The end of days is coming soon. And I am scared. Perhaps the inherent divide between undergrad and grad explains my relative indifference to GET-UP’s cause. As a senior, I will soon make my journey from Franklin Field to adult oblivion. I have the rest of my life to get bogged down by workers’ compensation, or lack thereof. And while I am neither promoting apathy nor devaluing the support of another’s plight, I do have only one month to plan my Spring Fling party.

Maybe there can be a silver lining to my superficiality. Penn may not be the Weather Underground, but it’s not the MTV Beach House, either. As I consider today’s rally promoting the Washington D.C. March for Women’s Lives in April, I realize there is some hope to be found in the honorable efforts of undergrads in organizations like Penn for Choice. Perhaps they’re not as glamorous as the girls in green, but one of them does look pretty cute. I think I will invite her and her friends to my party. I’d better order a keg.

Timothy Gunatilaka is a senior English major from Los Gatos, California. His confessions of sorority-girl crushes and political rabble-rousing can usually be found in the pages of 34th Street Magazine.



2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 02/27/04


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