Paradise Lost in Santa Barbara

By Jamie Stiehm

May 30, 2014 5 min read

This side of paradise was lost in blood in the University of California at Santa Barbara community, Isla Vista.

Maybe the murders brought a moment that shatters business as usual. The impetus for social change usually comes from those under 30.

Twitter won't do it. The new hashtag #YesAllWomen builds a passing sense of community, yes, in the ether. But you need to show up if you want a revolution. Last I looked, you can't iPhone it in with 140 characters. Better to hold a rally with 140 characters in real life. Political movements depend upon the personal human face, voice and presence for momentum. Here's a tragic moment for young people to seize.

My beloved state is missing six students who never had a chance against the vicious killer in their midst. Sunrises and sunsets they had ahead on the open road, they were brutally taken. Three young men were stabbed, and two young women and one man were shot. There must be an answer to that. One victim's father, Richard Martinez, wept in fury at "craven" politicians and the National Rifle Association for its relentless refusal to budge on assault weapons. But his generation is not going to lead a mass protest.

Let's call it straight: The six students were slain because an armed hater of women was on the loose. From the ranting the killer left behind, he was hunting (outside a sorority) random women he didn't even know. The three youths who were stabbed had the bad luck to know him.

It's easy to blame Hollywood or "mental illness." I blame Elliot Rodger himself, the 22-year-old doer, the National Rifle Association, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, which fell down on the job.

"The Times They Are A-Changin'" (the Bob Dylan song) seems to fit the evidence before our eyes. Protest songs from the 1960s, which I wrote about last week, took a stand against the Vietnam War or for civil rights. The rousing anthem, "We Shall Overcome" was a testament to believing in a more just tomorrow.

But the old songs don't fit the times anymore. Maybe we should let them be infused with new meaning. "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" has bittersweet lyrics that ask where all the young men and women have gone. The last line is "Gone to flowers everyone. When will they ever learn?"

Grieving students may create new songs or a movement that responds to the loss they suffered. We shall see. But what is there to take arms against, besides the arms in the man's hands?

The six young people died in the name of misogyny, which should be assigned reading on the UCSB campus: a hatred of women by men, as old as ancient Greek. It's still in pretty good shape; try Nigeria.

In the fog, it may seem an "unfathomable tragedy," as Janet Napolitano, the University of California president, said. Now it's clear as day what happened here. An angry young man poured his plans and rage into the Internet, which stoked the coals. He could have been stopped. Law enforcement visited Rodger in the very apartment where he kept his weapons cache. So easy to look around like investigators. But officers did not treat his mother's fear with proper diligence.

Sexual violence on campuses and in the military is festering. Some say it's an epidemic. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel raised it at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Maryland. Fraternities are venues where alcohol, parties and assaults against college women are often mixed.

Isla Vista looked like California dreaming: sunlit, carefree, gleaming. Sidewalks full of voices. Once I visited my high school friends there in the dorms after I was sent to the snowy east for college. It was full of charm and beauty by the endless summery ocean. A surfer with wetsuit and board actually got on the elevator.

Now it's the scene of sorrow. The words of American poet Maya Angelou, who died a few days ago, seem to speak anew:

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

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