'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fear of an Anarchist Planet 

Last November, I posted about the protests that erupted within the UC system over registration fee increases of 30%. Police struck students with batons and tasered them during protests during the regents meeting in Los Angeles where the fee increase was approved on a bipartisan basis. Students thereafter barricaded themselves within buildings at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. As students occupied Wheeler Hall on the campus of UC Berkeley for approximately 15 hours, a large crowd of students, UC staff and the public generally rallied in their support, and prevented their forcible, potentially violent arrest, by UC police.

The protesters positioned themselves within the social framework of opposition to the imposition of neoliberal policies within California, policies that result in incomprehensible increases in salary and benefits for people like UC President Mark Yudof and the newly hired Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, while classes are cut, class sizes increased and students required to pay substantial increases in fees during one of the worst recessions in US history. Meanwhile, rank and file state workers experience 15% pay cuts, while judges complain about the closure of the courtrooms one day a week. In California, the more you make in the public sector, the more immune you are from participating in the sacrifice being imposed by the Governor and the Legislature.

Now, the students are back, as shown here and here and here and here, having performed significant outreach into the community, especially in the East Bay. Not surprisingly, the faculty at UC Berkeley, as it was during the occupation of Wheeler Hall, is scared the protesters will take control of the movement away from enlightened minds like them. UC Berkeley Academic Senate Chair Chris Kutz sent out the following e-mail in advance of the planned protests:

Dear all,

Like many of the readers of this list, I am very excited about the March on the 4th in Sacramento -- SAVE has done an incredible job organizing.

Perhaps like many of you, I am also getting pretty concerned by all the reports about plans for more occupations, actions, and more confrontational kinds of campus protests next week, including on the 4th. I know a lot of this is just smoke, an attempt deliberately to rattle the cages of those of us who think we need to make the public, political case for higher education. But Durant Hall is evidence that some things will happen -- things that have the potential to get students hurt, and to shift the focus from the insistent demand to restore educational funding, to violent internecine conflict on campus. I really don't want either of those.

The students bent on occupation and confrontation will do what they do, and will take the consequences. But I am especially concerned to avoid another Nov. 20th-like event, where the real chaos and danger lay outside, with large groups of protestors. My fear is that there may be many students, eager to support the inside protest or simply curious, who will not know how to protest safely, without putting themselves at risk of arrest, on campus discipline, or injury, especially when they hear voices of some activists urging them to rush the police lines.

So I thought the Senate might directly recruit some Casque bleu peacekeepers from among the faculty, who could be counted on to play the role some faculty particularly SAVE members) did in November, of trying to calm the crowd and instruct them, via bullhorn or leaflet, on Peaceful Protest 101. If you would be willing to play this role, or know someone who would, could you please write me directly to let me know? You won't be representing the administration, or any particular principle except informed consent on the part of students -- how to engage in protest without (unwittingly) risking injury or academic career.


Need I expend the time and effort deconstructing the arrogance and elitism on display in this e-mail by Kutz, the condescension, the assumption that they know best, and that the students should, as they are instructed to do in the classroom, take direction from them?

Clearly, there are some among the faculty at UC Berkeley that have learned nothing from the Wheeler occupation. As stated by the occupants of one of the students in the crowd outside the building that day:

In speaking with more than a dozen of the occupiers, one sentiment above all was expressed regarding the role of many faculty that day: a deep sense of betrayal. As one occupier told me: we asked the faculty to mediate and to negotiate with the administration as a way to get our demands out, but apparently they interpreted this as a call to negotiate with us so that we would leave the building. In fact, many of those mediating--be they faculty, ASUC officials, and leaders of student organizations--were self-appointed and drawn almost unanimously from the ranks of those who had opposed the tactic of occupation to begin with. And this would show: according to many of the occupiers, these mediators, in focusing their attention on calming the crowds outside and encouraging the occupiers to leave, had effectively performed a policing function that protected the administration from the protesters.

Ali Tonak, a UC Berkeley graduate student, summarizes the feeling that many expressed:

They have a warped understanding of how power works. They think that calming people outside was keeping the people inside safe, when it was really the opposite: the only thing that was keeping the folks inside safe was people being rowdy outside. In the end, the negotiators were doing the job of the state.

No doubt, the anxiety of people like Kutz, and George Lakoff, the pioneer of a liberal linguistics that has failed in its expressed intention to transform the American political discourse, have been intensified by the following statement by The College of Debtors in Defiance, evocative of Reclaim the Streets:

Architecture has, like other growing phenomena, to go to school before it can wisely be emancipated. It is a distinctly promising sign of future power, for a young people . . . to forget self for the time being in the quiet, assiduous acquisition of knowledge already established by others. The time for fresh personal expression will come later.

--John Galen Howard, 1913

Accelerate: we are here to help architecture make the leap to emancipation. The architect John Galen Howard, who designed and oversaw the construction of what is now called Durant Hall at the beginning of the last century, was a hesitant man. We say: the time for fresh personal expression is now! There is no question that we are already the product of other people's assiduously accumulated knowledges, so many that they become impossible to catalog exhaustively. The accumulation of knowledge is a library, perhaps, but it is also a struggle, a movement, a tactic. Likewise, the acquisition of knowledge does not have to be quiet -- next to the sound system, self is forgotten and the commune emerges. The dance party: a distinctly promising sign of present power.

Future power too. On March 4, UC Berkeley students, workers, and faculty will march in solidarity with those from other UCs, CSUs, community colleges, and K-12 schools across California and the country as a whole. Like this building, reclaimed from the graveyard of financial speculation, we will reclaim the streets of Oakland in conjunction with an international day of action for public education to be free and democratic.

For the last two years, Durant Hall has been little more than a shell, surrounded by piles of rubble and heavy machinery, themselves surrounded by uneven rows of chain-link fencing. No longer is there any trace of the library it once was -- the East Asian Library, now moved across campus to a new building named after an insurance mogul who founded the notorious AIG. Language has been uprooted, pruned, and replanted as well. The Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures went with the library, and in the process lost half its Japanese, Korean, and Chinese classes as well as the faculty that taught them -- over 1,500 curious students will be turned away this year. Subtracted from the flow of campus life, Durant Hall has existed only as a barrier, an inconvenience, a silent witness to the frustration of the thousands of students, workers, and faculty protesters who surrounded the neighboring Wheeler Hall and clashed with police last November.

But apparent emptiness conceals the movement beneath the surface, behind its fenced-off walls: capital flows through its veins. Capital Projects, the administration of the University of California calls them. As we now know, the UC administration has used not only students' tuition, but also the promise of future tuition increases, to secure the bonds and bond ratings necessary to channel ever increasing resources into construction projects. They will always need more money, and it will always be our money. A general concern that changes the way we see the campus that surrounds us. But if there is one building in particular that exemplifies this process, it is Durant Hall: its renovation was halted in 2008 for lack of funds, and only started up again after the administration sold $1.3 billion in construction bonds last May backed by our fee hike as collateral. Its melancholy fate is to become yet another administration building. Durant Hall will be inhabited by deans and staff of the College of Letters and Science, but it has already been occupied by a bloated administration with private capital on its mind.

Capital, like architecture, is a growing phenomenon, but one that never matures. It pushes outward continuously in all directions, always presupposing an endless, spiraling expansion. New endpoints replace old ones in smooth succession, projecting themselves onto the grid of the future, erasing languages, knowledges, and histories that do not fit easily into the right angles of its blueprints. But we will not let their future bulldoze our present. We have our own bulldozers: dance parties to reclaim dead buildings, marches to reclaim the streets. On March 4, fight back!



The College of Debtors in Defiance.

If liberals like Kutz and Lakoff wanted to play a constructive role in the March 4th protests, they would adopt the following principles of unity with protesters across the political spectrum, as many groups who opposed the the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver did:

ORN Solidarity and Unity Statement

Statement circulated and endorsed in February, 2009
by Olympics Resistance Network

We are aware that there is wide-spread opposition to the 2010 Winter Olympics. This ranges from those who are opposing the negative impacts of the Games to those who seek to boycott the Games; from those who desire to raise public awareness about the Games to those who choose to engage in direct action against the Games and its sponsors; from those who are concerned about single issues surrounding the Games to those who are concerned about the overall impact of the Games.

Despite our differences in analysis and strategies we believe we have a significant opportunity to come together and voice our opposition to the 2010 Olympic Games, and to find ways to support each other in our complementary efforts to expose this two-week circus and the oppression it represents to many communities and sectors.

This is especially true since police and security forces already have and will continue to surveil, target, infiltrate, repress, and attempt to divide our movement. We realize that we may have many differences in analysis and tactics and such disagreements are healthy. However we believe such debates should remain internal and we should refrain from publicly denouncing or marginalizing one another especially to mainstream media and law enforcement. In particular, we should avoid characterizations such as bad or violent protestors. We respectfully request that all those in opposition to the 2010 Olympics maintain our collective and unified commitment to social justice and popular mobilization efforts in the face of massive attempts to divide us.

Therefore we are calling for endorsements on the following basis of unity:

We express our collective critique of and opposition to the negative impacts of the 2010 Olympics.

We do not need to fully agree or stand by each other’s tactics or ideas, although we may have much to learn and understand from one another.

We will refrain from publically denouncing or marginalizing other groups to mainstream media and law enforcement.

Please share this statement with others.

Instead, the UC Berkeley faculty members who follow the lead of Kutz continue to insist, as they did during the Wheeler occupation on November 20th, upon doing the job of the state, and sowing confusion as to whether they will be present during protests on behalf of the participants, the UC Berkeley administration or the police.

Perhaps, even they don't know what they want to accomplish, or, even worse, this is their expressed intention, to dissuade people from engaging in what Kutz pejoratively describes as occupations, actions, and more confrontational kinds of campus protests by deliberating manipulating such uncertainty. Because, don't you know, the worse thing that people can do is engage in confrontational kinds of campus protest, and if the protests get out of hand, well, they just might have to begrudingly pull out their cell phone and call the police to tell them what is happening. Personally, my sense is that protesters should stay as far away from the Casque bleu as possible on Thursday.

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