Sophie in Santa Cruz
“Back when I did Feminist Studies up at UCSC it wasn’t even a department yet. It was just run by a collective of women,” says the cashier as I pay for my textbook. In downtown Santa Cruz, in the bookstore called The Literary Guillotine, I feel myself tipping headfirst into history. This small space is crammed floor to ceiling with textbooks spanning most disciplines. You walk in, name your course code and are then directed to the stack of books tailored to your needs. An intimate Amazon reminiscent of a pre-digital age. The store does not, in fact, predate online information access. But it does seem indebted to Santa Cruz’s culture of counter-culture.
This culture is embodied in the people here: One of my professors opens her lecture by stating “I’m seventy-one years old and I studied at UC Berkeley in 1964”, to thunderous applause from students who have travelled from far away to experience Santa Cruz’s famed revolutionary spirit. We listen raptly as she tells us of her social justice engagement. My personal favorite, indicating that I may just have found my people here: “The only reason I passed physics was because the Teaching Assistant was sympathetic to the anti-war movement.” Narratives of political struggle meet international tourism and fan culture.
And the shopping: On Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz’s main shopping street, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters are outsiders in between stores like ‘Om Gallery’ which sells yoga supplies, incense, and Fairtrade scarves. Come to think of it, most stores here sell yoga supplies, incense, and Fairtrade scarves. Everything is organic, environmentally friendly, and exorbitantly priced. Green activism becomes intertwined with capitalism.
In Santa Cruz the revolutionary, activist past has settled down comfortably in old age and become just culture. Does it count as counter-culture if it has become a tourist attraction, an excuse for consumerism?