Web Exclusives:

Tooke's Take

a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

November 8, 2000:

Passionate Minds
Just another Saturday night in Berkeley, CA

We had a riot in Berkeley on Saturday night. A group of Cal students and townies tried to get into a fraternity dance after the football game, and when the bouncers denied them admission, they ran up and down Telegraph Street breaking windows and looting stores. The closest the riot came to making a political statement is that the GAP suffered the most casualties - which at least means that Cal students have some sort of taste.

What has amazed me most about the riot is how calmly the local community has treated the event. The police didn't bother trying to break it up, and several hundred people just stood on Telegraph and watched the rioters fight and loot. This morning the quotes by shopkeepers in the local papers have been remarkably free of rancor or resentment. Apparently this town has learned over the past 40 years how to calmly handle a civil disturbance - no matter how stupid the motivation.

I've spent some time over the last few days trying to imagine what could cause a riot on Nassau Street. Maybe if the town council imposed a tax on imported Brie?

I am reminded of the old photograph of a guy holding a sign during a Vietnam era protest that read, "Even Princeton." I know what he meant; Princeton remains one of the most politically placid campuses in the nation. In fact, during my four years on campus, the closest we came to a political demonstration was when the basketball team beat UCLA.

I certainly don't think Princeton needs riots, especially over admission to a dance, but the campus could certainly use more passion. Every day on my route to the Berkeley gym I bike by a line of booths manned by students waving petitions. They are all recruiting volunteers for a vast array of student action committees seeking to save the rain forests, free Tibet, legalize pot. The Princeton part of me can't help but chuckle condescendingly as I speed past on my bike. Some of the phrases that have popped into my head include: "free range hippies" and "overpierced, undereducated, and overbaked."

But part of me is also jealous. A sizable percentage of Berkeley students get excited about more than the prospect of getting into law school or landing a Wall Street job. A teammate of mine wore a Youth Action T-shirt to our soccer game the other night, and after the game he and an opposing player - who had never met one another - wandered off the field talking about "ways to improve the movement." That kind of moment is the norm rather than the exception in Berkeley, and I've been refreshed by my discovery that wide-eyed idealism has retained a bastion in this country.

So I wish that Princeton could acquire some of Berkeley's passion while avoiding the ancillary foolishness because I know I would be a more complete person today if I had cared about something in college greater than the New England Patriots. I have no idea how to get a campus to start politicizing itself, but perhaps setting up a free nose ring booth at freshmen orientation would help. And I know that Professor Robert George would look great with blue hair.

By Wes Tooke '98


Wes Tooke is a regular contributor to PAW Online. You can reach him at cwtooke@princeton.edu