Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Will Occupation Become A Movement?
With a 150-person sit-in at Berkeley and members of the two UCSC occupations beginning a southern tour of talks at several campuses near Los Angeles this week, the movement appears to be gathering steam. In the next 24 hours, occupiers will explain their strategy for movement building--"demand nothing, occupy everything” --at UCLA, Irvine, and Cal State Fullerton.
The administration appears to be helping to set the stage for escalation by, according to witnesses and victim testimony on the movement blog, macing students without warning and heavy-handed efforts at police infiltration and espionage.
I interviewed a graduate student with knowledge of the events surrounding the second occupation at UC Santa Cruz last Thursday and Friday:
Q. I understand the group occupied a particular administrator’s office. Can you tell me how that decision came about?
The administrator in question is the Dean of Social Sciences, Sheldon Kamieniecki. The social sciences have been particularly threatened by the “necessary” budget cuts and restructurings, with proposed lay-offs that would destroy both the Community Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies programs. Among those who planned this action, the sense was that Dean Kamieniecki did not pursue alternatives, particularly in terms of keeping the jobs of lecturers vital to these programs, and accepted the cuts passed down in spite of massive student discontent. The decisions of the group are both political and tactical, if the two can be separated. As such, the space was chosen both because of Kamieniecki’s office and because its central location and physical layout made it possible to take the building and to bring a large number of students there to participate following an earlier potluck and discussion.
Q. Shortly after the occupation began, there was an incident with the campus police. What happened?
Three students, not involved in the occupation itself, were moving a picnic table in front of the building and were pepper-sprayed at very close range by the police. They were not told to cease and desist, they were not warned that they were about to be sprayed (for doing something that was not in any way physically threatening to an officer or any students in the area), and the one who was arrested was not read his Miranda rights. (He was later told that, “any pain you feel, you deserve.") This violent response to the action is clearly unacceptable.
Q. Have any charges been filed?
Yes, the student who was arrested was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice. We expect that the university will try to pursue “disciplinary measures” of their own. We urge them strongly not to do so and to consider once more the gulf between how they valorize a radical past of protest and dissent and how they respond to students pursuing radical actions in the present. It is all too evident that the elevation of past protests as part of a storied history serves equally to denigrate the real attempts now to fight back as misguided anger and to claim and hold spaces as petty vandalism.
Q. Overall, the police response was different this time--is that correct? They were photographing persons gathered outside in support of the occupiers? Do you think this is a change of tactics by the administration?
Yes, that is correct. They were photographing and taking the information of persons gathered in support, not to mention the earlier brutality of outside supporters. The tactics are not necessarily different, but the severity of the response certainly is. It shows that the administration is worried about such events and about the possibility of a far wider radical movement emerging, one that incorporates greater numbers and a broader range of students, workers, and faculty. For this reason, they appear intent on making an example out of those who participate in these actions and on attempting to divide students by falsely portraying the actions.
Q. What motivated the end to the occupation?
The mistreatment and threat, physical and legal, to supporters outside motivated the end of the occupation. Those involved felt that it was not safe to those there in solidarity in this situation. To be clear, this is not how we wanted this action to go. But we remain committed to not putting students and supporters in harm’s way, a commitment the administration entirely to lack. We know that the situation has escalated, and we can only expect that their future responses will be escalated as well. We are not interested in human barricades and refuse to put bystanders and supporters at risk of violence. We are interested in seeing these spaces not simply as calculations of property that has to be protected at all costs, and we will claim them accordingly. Not small numbers of us who ask for the solidarity of others or who assume that we “represent” other students. Massive numbers of us who wish to express discontent in any way that we find productive and necessary. Occupation is one such way, but far from the only one.
Q. What should we look for next--at UCSC and across the state?
Look for the real and rapid expansion of protest across the state, as networks of committed activists merge with those who have not felt actively involved previously. Look for the broadening and innovation of tactics as we respond to the changing conditions and political climate. We should all look forward to, and prepare ourselves for, a far longer struggle, a struggle for which these actions, regardless of what one thinks of them, do not serve as inspirations but rather as concrete expressions of what is felt by countless others across the system and world.
Has there ever been a more unintentionally apt name than “Demand Nothing, Occupy Everything”? Judging from their website, they occupy every position possible—not just anti-cuts and furloughs, but anti-war, anti-police, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, pro-rebels in Greece, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. So there’s the “occupy everything” part; the “demand nothing” must refer to the lack of any concrete demands of anything from anyone, and the obvious lack of any expectation that their protests will have any effect whatever.
“Demand Nothing, Occupy Everything.” The only good reason to occupy a space is to leverage your demands, but that doesn’t suit the purposes of these dilettantes, who will ride their self-righteousness until they or their cheerleaders get bored with it and move on to something else. I have no idea, Mark, how you’ve been taken in by this absurd posturing.
I think interviewing hardly means he’s been “taken in” as you say.
But, overall, I agree: “Demand Nothing. Occupy Everything” seems anarchic at best and childish at worst. This is similar to the problem with many who protest at G-20 meetings. It worries me personally as this brand of “protest simply makes it easier to caricature and dismiss popular notions of “the left”. It also tarnishes the struggle of those in Oaxaca for example when they cite that on their webpage.
Interviews are fine in themselves, as a means of finding out information. Bousquet has interviewed this group three times (the others are here and here), and in none of those interviews has he asked anything like a critical or challenging question—not even along the lines of, “How would you respond to critics who…” Instead, we’ve seen softballs like the following:
Q. I was really impressed by the support you received from students all over the globe. What do you think you accomplished?
Q. It seems you pulled together a diverse coalition of undergraduates,workers, and graduate students. Were there some differences in vision at points, and how did you handle them?
Q. I can’t imagine this is the last bold action by students and public employees in California. What do you think is next?
Add to that the narrative that Bousquet is bringing to these interviews (see the top of this page: “the movement appears to be gathering steam"), and it becomes very hard for me to read his interviews as anything other than attempts to provide uncritical PR for the group.
I have to agree. If this is what passes activism, it is pretty disappointing—and as noted unintentionally aptly named. I bet the UC university administration is quaking in its boots. After all, the occupation might force them to give in to this group’s demands and give up… eh, nothing.
As much as I sincerely support the demands of the student protesters, “demand nothing, occupy everything” is, hands down, the most breathtakingly silly slogan I’ve ever heard!