Recollections on the March 4th Experience in Santa Cruz

March 4th, 2010 saw the most widespread coordinated resistance to the advance of neo-liberal capitalism in the U.S. in recent memory.  The associated press estimated that millions of students, workers, teachers, and community members took action to fight back for a defense of public education.  These masses were centered in California, which gave the call for a statewide day of action, but solidarity poured out from around the nation and around the globe.  Uncountable more are facing the same conditions of cutbacks, fee hikes, and layoffs: all symptoms of the privatization of public systems in an organized attempt to increase the rate of accumulation for the ruling class in the midst of stagnant production; not just in education but in the entire global public sector.

However, the call for March 4th, made at a conference of over 800 students, workers, teachers, and community members in Berkeley on October 24, 2009, was for a Strike! and Day of Action.  Though the Day of Action was larger than I think many thought imaginable, only one strike, where all labor came to a complete stop at a certain workplace, occurred on March 4,  at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  There are many reasons why this is true, some more debatable than others, but before we look at that, let us first provide a brief overview of what the process of building a strike looked like, so that there is a firm basis to compare ours to other experiences.

the prehistory

To start with, it must be pointed out that UCSC had a relatively high level of mobilization coming out of the fall.  Though we never had the thousands who mobilized in Berkeley on September 24 and November 18-20th, the campus was by no means silent through the fall.  The Sept. 24 rally and picket saw hundreds of students ready to fight back from the very first day of classes.  Later that day there was an occupation of the Graduate Student Commons that brought a lot of excitement (and dancing) to the movement.  Nov. 18-20th saw a protest and march escalate to a shut down of the main entrance to campus for a few hours, to an open occupation of Kresge Town Hall, to a open and then closed occupation of the main administration building on campus, Kerr Hall.  Thus the strike committee was called for at an open General Assembly with over a hundred participants, many of them full of excitement over the recent weeks’ actions.  Though only 8 folks came out for the first meeting of the strike committee, they met in the midst of power, certainly different conditions than might exist on many other campuses.
However, to argue that Santa Cruz is just full of radicals who are down and represents an exceptional case is a clear simplification.  Certainly Santa Cruz has made a name for itself as somewhat of a center for left organizing in recent years, and has attracted many radicals.  But the end of the 2008-09 school year had left the campus extremely demobilized.  A compromise contract between the U.C. and AFSCME 3299 after two years of organizing left the student-worker movement without clear direction, and many with a sour taste in the mouths towards labor organizing early in the year.  The budget cuts fightback at the end of 08-09 was fairly weak and divided; though the popular community studies program was shredded, a clearly political campaign of pink slips for left faculty and lecturers became clear, student of color resource centers budgets were threatened, along with the women’s and queer centers, and student fees rose an unprecedented 10 percent, all in the midst of massive almost-monthly bailouts for the very rich, no successful fightback coalesced.  Tension over demands and tactics, often between predominantly white organizing bodies and student of color organizations, was a roadblock the movement was unable to cross.  A series of protests and rallies took place, and the Student of Color Collective staged a multi-day hunger strike, all of which failed to win significant demands, or maintain a particularly strong united front.
In this context, the actions of fall 2009 were a blessing and a curse.  Though the represented the real anger of students over the situation and their refusal to sit back and do nothing, many of the fall actions were characterized by reaction to the previous year.  Fed up with long, tense and unproductive meetings, many organizers of the fall actions tended to fetishize “direct action” over the political strength that can only come with mass movement building.  Though the actions excited many students, they oftentimes failed to provide open and democratic decision making spaces, with much of the power coming from informal networks of friends, which tended to alienate those unfamiliar with the left.  Furthermore, many criticized the appeared fetishism of illegal actions, and noted that “radical” actions that often attracted police presence could be less accessible to folks with less privilege.  Lastly, the fall actions failed on the whole to involve workers and faculty in anything more than supporting roles, they remained isolated to the student anti-cuts and anti-hikes sentiment.
Thus those eight folks who sat down at that first strike committee meeting had their work cut out for them.  They were opposed on one side by the bulk of the movement’s “radicals” who scoffed at the idea of “only a one-day strike”, and were clearly bored by the idea of talking about March way back in January, when there was so much more interesting things to be doing in the meantime.  On the other hand, the course of fall’s actions had burned some bridges to the rest of the campus community, bridges that would have to be rebuilt in order to create the level of mass participation necessary for an actual strike.
the organizing strengths
Though there was a lot of work to come, those few students had already come further than students on many other campuses would come, because they had an organizing body dedicated to building a strike.  This was an incalculably essential development.  If the organizing effort had stayed in coalition spaces or open general assemblies, the strike would not have become what it was.  The meetings of the strike committee were open and democratic, however we did not waste a whole lot of time with anything that wouldn’t build for the strike on march 4th.  Though the original call for the day had been for a Strike and Day of Action, it was the strike committee’s firm orientation towards building a strike and nothing else that made the Santa Cruz action what it was.  We were constantly presented with opportunities to lose that focus, from faculty telling us that going to Sacramento was the only non-elitist action, to students arguing for ending the strike line to march downtown for a community rally.  The phrase, “That sounds awesome, but this space is for building a strike on march 4th,” came up again and again, illustrating neatly the importance of having that space.  In the Santa Cruz context, it was essential that we eliminate the “and day of action” clause from our organizing space, and focus only on the building of the most powerful strike we could build.
The strike committee made an early commitment to focus in a clear manner (and at times exclusively) on outreach.  We spent hours and hours at different points around campus getting students to sign a “strike pledge”, which served more as a tool to stop students and others and actually have a real conversation than it was an attempt at getting binding commitments to strike.  It also built our email and phone number database.  We covered the campus with fliers.  We coordinated announcements in classrooms and at events.  We maintained a consistent presence at labor meetings, engaging with labor leaders and rank and file workers about the potential for stopping all work on campus without a bureaucracy-sanctioned strike.  We used various tools to attempt to open up lines of communication with student of color organizations, from attendance at events and meetings, to sending out a letter to all the organizations explaining our thoughts and questions, to holding a solidarity forum as an open space for discussion on race and privilege in the budget cuts movement.  This focus on outreach gave a real and material dynamic to the otherwise empty phrase, “open and democratic meeting,” and was crucial to the success of the strike.  Early participation from rank and file workers from bus drivers and custodians to lecturers to faculty to unionized grad student t.a.’s gave the meetings a multi-tendency dynamic, without coalition-style tensions, and made sure the meetings were never crippled by a lack of information as to what one or another group was doing.
The strike committee soon superseded the earlier general assemblies as the central organizing body of the campus.  An important factor in this process was that the strike committee established a clearer and more democratic structure for its meeting.  Majority rules, but after yes and no votes were counted, we asked for “blocks” and a block vote from 10% or more could return an item to debate, making sure no significant dissent was ignored.  The General Assembly was unable to decide on a clear decision making process, and decided to just remain as a, “meeting space for the whole movement.” The fact that the meetings had no power to get things done soon meant that not a lot of “the whole movement” had any reason to come out to the general assemblies, and the strike committee was the more decisive organizing body.
By far the most important innovation of the strike committee was to focus from the beginning more on a “direct action” definition of a strike then on bureaucratic support for the strike.  Instead of trying to get AFSCME 3299 or UAW Local 2865 to officially endorse a strike for March 4th, organizers worked directly with workers to set up a system for non-violently yet forcefully blocking any entrance to work.  Worker’s told us, “All we need is to be able to truthfully tell our bosses that we could not physically get to work, and we’re good.  It has to be true, because they’ll be watching us, but that’s all we need.”  And we organized to make it happen.  The UAW local leadership could never have endorsed a strike in the time we had to build March 4th, regardless of whether they would have if they had the time.  But by building from the ground up, we were able to get to a place where the UAW local leadership called up the Santa Cruz organizer and said, “What can we do for you?  Because in Santa Cruz you guys are really making something powerful happen, and we want to help however we can.”  Not only that, but we were able to build a strike where not only did next to no labor occur on campus, but all the workers got paid for the day regardless of the fact that many of them came out to the picket line after they were told they could go home.
You might say, as a janitor shouted to a crowd of a thousand at the noon rally, “You all, every one of you, are the bosses, not the fuckers up there.” But I think the situation was best represented by a conversation I had with an air conditioning contractor who was pissed at us stopping work for the day in the wee hours of the morning on March 4th.  “How dare you!” he said, “you don’t have the right.”  “You’re right,” I said, “We don’t have the right.  We have the power.”
the weaknesses

Though the strike committee made huge strides forward in bridging an extremely split campus, more work certainly remains on this front.  It is absolutely essential that the entire budget cuts movement remains clear on the fact that those most affected by the cuts are already marginalized working class students and students of color.  For this reason, any successful fight back against the cuts will be led by working class students and students of color.  However, this fact cannot be conflated with a tailist position towards the often liberal and/or reactionary student of color organizations.  Building a successful budget cuts fightback requires reaching out to building the bridges with student of color organizations, but it cannot mean taking leadership from reactionary influences, which can often be affected by close connections between student government, dominant student of color organizations, and the university administration.
The racist attacks on Black students at UCLA and UCSB in the last weeks of February prompted widespread reaction on the parts of black students and allies.  At UCSC, a group of predominantly Black students using the slogan “Real Pain, Real Action” planned a rally in the Quarry Plaza on Wednesday February 24th.  Many organizers of the strike committee came out in solidarity, which was an important step in building the connections between larger budget cuts movement and the specific “state of emergency” of Black students facing white attacks from other students combined with the further segregation of education due to budget cuts.  However, on March 1st, an action called “Assembly followed by MASS ACTION”, which included predominantly white students, focused centrally on the racist attacks and the black state of emergency.  Many of the participants of the March 1st action did not make it out to the Feb. 24th action, and the March 1st action had no planning from the Black Student Association on campus or the ‘Real Pain, Real Action’ group.  Though the action was not a particularly well-devised way of showing solidarity on its own, it was worsened by a rumor spread an administrator that the group had shouted “real pain, real action”.Neither the truth of whether this group did or did not shout real pain real action, nor the exact nature of how the administrator spread the rumor have been verified by the author at the time of writing. The day exacerbated an already tense relationship between many student of color organizers and the larger budget cuts movement.
The example at Berkeley provided by the Third World Assembly seems to be an important one, and one that many students should look to.  What we needed at Santa Cruz was an independent space for organizing centered and lead by students of color, that could have made a link between the larger budget cuts movement and the oft-reactionary student of color organizations.  A space of this sort would have made the strike movement at UCSC even stronger.  Although March 4 was the largest and most multiracial protest event I’ve seen in my four years at UCSC, the work has just begun.
Another weakness of the March 4th came directly from one of our greatest strengths.  It was essential that we focused on outreach in the way we did, but it left the details of the actual day of March 4th a little less well-planned then they should have been.

the day of

“That seems like something that should get decided by the ‘day of’ committee.”  The amount of times that phrase was uttered in the strike committee meetings was incredible.  The ‘day of’ committee was a subgroup of the strike committee that took on planning the enormous details of transportation, food, communication between entrances, picket captains, two rallies, and a general assembly at the main entrance to finish the day.  The massive amount of logistics necessary to make the day of come off as well as it did proves the level of commitment of everyone who came to a ‘day of’ committee.
By 5:00 in the morning on March 4th, both entrances to campus had already been blocked by at least 200 folks (predominantly undergrads and grad students, with a few faculty).  Before daybreak, the nerves of everyone on both lines had been well-tested, with a DPR contractor trying to speed past the picket line behind a fire truck, only to be stopped by brave souls putting their bodies on the line on the main entrance, and a prius driver who drove straight at picketers on the west entrance.  Numerous other small walking paths and dirt roads were also blocked by strikers.  By the time of the first rally (with pancakes!) at 9:00am a much larger crowd had gathered at the main entrance, and the worst of the day’s maniacs had been successfully turned around.  A van full of workers managed to drive up a dirt road almost to their worksite before being stopped Tiananmen square style, by a lone grad student on a speedy scooter who got the word in time, allowing the workers to have the excuse they needed to join us on the picket line.  At one point a manager must have called the police after his van full of workers (who confirmed in spanish that they had no interest in working as long as they’d get paid) were blocked from entering.  The police came by, but they just stood there as the student-strikers let a few managers walk onto campus.
However, the ruling class’s perception of events can never be bounded by reality.  Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Dave Klieger sent out the following email to students in the mid morning.

“Earlier this morning, protest activity at both campus entrances rendered our main campus inaccessible to vehicle traffic. Reports of             protesters carrying clubs and knives, smashing a car windshield with a metal pipe, denying a resident of faculty/student housing the right to exit the campus, and keeping a campus health care worker from getting to work, escalated this morning’s protest into behavior that is disruptive, intimidating and destructive. Behavior that degrades into violence, personal intimidation, and disrespect for the rights of others is reprehensible, and does nothing to aid efforts to restore funding to the university. These actions should cease. University police, Student Affairs staff, and others are doing their best to manage this situation. In the meantime, we commend members of our community for their patience.”

The absolute falsity of this statement can be attested to by faculty and National Lawyer’s Guild observers who watched both picket lines throughout the course of the day.  A very creative mass email response from the strike committee awarded Klieger an award for creative fiction.  Luckily, the administrations lies didn’t stop the growth of the picket line’s strength. At 12:00 a hastily re-arranged rally and speakers came off with barely a hitch, with a crowd of at least a thousand present.  The rally called out Klieger’s lies, which were nothing more than ridiculous when read out to a crowd of college students bereft of clubs and knives, in the midst of a day “In defense of public education”.  It wasn’t until 5:00 that the we reached the limits of the ‘day of’ committees seemingly inexhaustible supply of well-planned execution of a complex mass movement/ direct action.

There was a bit of confusion over who was to facilitate the General Assembly, planned for 5:00 to finish the day off, and provide a space to move forward, hook in new organizers, and plan for the future, leading to new facilitators to take on the task only an hour before 1200 folks sat down in the middle of the intersection at the main entrance and thought about how to move forward.  Not a great situation.  At least not for the goal of mass movement building.  An occupation organizer who had rarely been seen at the strike committee managed to get on the megaphone and declare that, “This assembly is not to plan for the future, it is to decide what we do now!” and other contradictory comments before being asked to sit down.  Without a strong plan for organizing the Assembly, the excitement over the power of the day took sway.  A confused decision making process led to folks marching down into town and then starting a dance party in the main intersection downtown, with the majority of folks drifting away in the process without getting hooked in to building for the future.  Though the change from the plan was fairly harmless, it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been, and should show us that a little more attention to the details of the day’s plan might have been called for.
the lessons
  • Though a Day of Action can happen on the same day as a strike, building for a strike requires focusing solely on a strike.
  • There are many creative ways we can think about the strike weapon, beyond the legalized one day unfair labor practice strikes we’ve seen on UC campuses.
  • Though support from bureaucracy and movement leaders can be extremely helpful to the movement (they’ve got the $), they shouldn’t be seen as the arbiters of struggle.  If we’d asked UAW to go on strike at UCSC after our first meeting, they’d have said no.
  • The way to avoid police repression is in real mass numbers.
  • The U.C. administration, far from being the allies they should be, can often be our greatest enemies.
  • Centering an analysis of race and privilege in the anti-cuts movement will prove invaluable to our strength and unity.
  • Student-worker solidarity is absolutely essential, but it only becomes meaningful when there are direct lines of community with rank and file workers.
I put these thoughts down in hope that people will use them to think about their own strategies for how to move forward in their own struggle in their own communities.  This is by no means a definitive, or even collective account, but I hope it will prompt a larger and more collective discussion and debate over the lessons and experience of the march 4 example in Santa Cruz.

Neo-liberal Capital and Non-Profit Labor


People talk about neo-liberalism a lot these days. Most folks who use that word don’t seem to like neo-liberalism too much, but despite the word’s constant use, it often goes undefined. So let’s start with a definition. Neo-liberalism, or the new liberalism, is a term coined by Milton Friedman in his book, Freedom and Capitalism. Friedman calls neo-liberalism a return to the classical economists of capitalism — David Ricardo, Adam Smith, etc. Basically, the idea is that capitalism is the best possible economic model for human society, and it works best when left totally unregulated. But the important aspects for us are the policy prescriptions that Friedman championed: privatization of public resources, deregulation of the private sector, and cuts to social services.
As David Harvey often points out, these policy prescriptions, taken together, and analyzed from their emergence within a specific point in the development of capitalism, represent a concerted attack on the power of working class and poor people, and the consolidation of class power in the hands of the wealthy. In the 1920s, Ricardo’s and Smith’s ideas were being pretty well heeded: the owners of capitalism were allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted. In the 50 years between the stock market crash that ended the dominance of classical economic liberalism and Reagan’s defeat of the Air Traffic Controller’s strike that signaled the beginning of economic neo-liberalism, workers made great strides in gaining access to high quality education, creating strong social security nets, and ensuring public oversight of the doings of very wealthy. Since 1981, many of those steps have been undone.

The Non-Profit
Non-profits, or not-for-profit organizations, have played an interesting role in many of these stages of capitalism. In the late 1800’s, as industrial capitalism became dominant, wealthy industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller needed ways to avoid paying taxes on the vast sums of money they were making.
So they invented foundations. When Andrew Carnegie had finished firing Gatling guns into crowds of workers on strike from his iron plants so they would stop complaining about their kids starving, he would show his gratitude for their submission by having his foundation build the town a library or a new school. And he would write it off his taxes. As foundations became popular among the very rich, groups began springing up to take advantage of this organization of excess wealth. The non-profit was born.  During the sixties, as workers around the world fought for power, the non-profit became an even more important tool. In America, as groups like the Black Panthers and Malcolm X’s Organization of African-American Unity developed new analyses of class power, the non-profit was relied upon heavily to divert revolutionary struggle over the control wealth, and the means of producing it, into more reformist struggle. The Ford Foundation in particular threw huge sums of money to the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), with the explicit aim of turning the civil rights movement away from revolution.

In our own time, foundations continue to provide tax shelters for the very wealthy, very large non-profits continue to shift the focus of social struggles, but in the context of neo-liberalism, we have a new kind of non-profit — the NGO. NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are called such because they do work often considered to be the responsibility of government.  As Milton Friedman’s calls to deregulate, privatize, and cut social spending are answered with a heavier and heavier hand, NGOs are springing up to fill the gaps left when the state leaves. As L.A. cuts it’s funding to public schools, Green Dot, a huge non-profit funded by the Eli Broad Foundation (it’s easy to see why Eli had some extra cash, he’s on the board at AIG, the folks who got an $80 billion bailout with your tax dollars), is opening 12 privately controlled, tax-payer funded charter schools. As governments around the world are forced to shut down breakfast and lunch programs due to IMF mandated neo-liberal reforms, OXFAM International is expanding its food program to never-before seen levels. As U.S. Presidents one after another destroy the institutions designed to regulate things like the derivatives trade, many finance corporations are starting side-project non-profits to do “public education”, or provide “insider’s advice” and “an objective eye.” Charles Schwab has one, as does Lexington Finance Capital.

Labor Ideology

Now whether these shifts are good or bad is up to you to decide. However, the thing I’m most interested in is the shifting ideologies of the workers conducting the labor that is now being transferred to the Non-Profit and NGO sector. If you’re like a lot of college folks, you probably know somebody who works for a non-profit. And you may or may not know somebody who works for the government in some capacity. The odds are really good that the public worker is in a union and the non-profit worker is not. Public workers have one of the highest levels of union density of any sector in the U.S. Economy. Non-profit workers have one of the lowest. Who ever heard of a non-profit worker in a union?! Non-profits are the ones “doing the most good”. (You’ve seen the Salvation Army trucks, right?) They don’t need unions! Unions are for stopping big corporations!

It’s been interesting to watch my friends graduate and move on to jobs around the country. Many have gone on to jobs in the non-profit sector. Not one has gotten a job in the public sector. For many of them the ideology that organizes their relationship to their jobs goes something like this: “My job could be better, but at least I get paid to do something I mostly believe in, so it could be worse.” This seems to me to be the dominant ideology of non-profit labor, and a central organizing ideology of labor generally in neo-liberal capital. This is very different from the ideology of many workers in the public sector. For many teachers, postal service workers, clerks and technicians, and service workers, the recognition that the government won’t help people unless it’s forced to is a basic part of their experience on the job. That’s why they have unions: so that they can collectivize their power and make sure they have some say over what happens at work.
This drastic shift points to some interesting conclusions. This shift of the labor of unionized public servants to non-union non-profit labor is consistent with the general attack on workers and workers’ power that is an underlying feature of neo-liberalism generally. Furthermore, this transformation of labor means that workers as a class have less say over the institutions they depend on. This shift in ideology has far-reaching consequences. The elevation and expansion of non-profit workers into what was once the “public sector” is also about setting an example. Why should any worker deserve a union to get help for their problems? Shouldn’t they just seek out help from the non-profit?
There are lots of non-profits that do really important work around the world; I in no way want to undermine that fact. But you know what would make their work better, more responsive to the needs of communities, stronger in the face of cutbacks? You guessed it! THE UNION MAKES US STRONG!

Reflections on After the Fall

As I read through After the Fall, a publication dated February 2010 reflecting on the wave of occupations in Autumn 2009 on California campuses, I was struck by the rampant sexualization of occupations.

I understand that the publication was not a unified theoretical piece, but rather a collection of texts from disparate and discrete groups writing from various campuses and describing different local experiences.  However, I do think there is a certain fairly coherent ideological and theoretical argument that threads the texts together.  This is broadly defined by a defense of demandlessness, a negation of a split between means and ends, and occupation as both a tactic and a strategy.  I see these threads most clearly articulated by the first three articles in the text.  I will try to locate my critiques primarily in the introduction and conclusion articles, which I understand were written by the collective, or group of friends, that put together the publication, and which should represent, to some extent, the ideas that motivated the compilation.
After the Fall‘s sexualization of occupations begins on the very first page of the text.  “They occupy buildings to find one another, to be together in the same place, to have a base from which to carry out raids, to drink and fuck, to talk philosophy.”  There it is, one unbroken all-inclusive event: meet, touch, foreplay, climax, pillowtalk.  Not only is the occupation represented as an exciting rendez-vous, the act of occupying is itself highly sexualized. “An occupation is a vortex, not a protest.”  Both the Necrosocial and Communique from an Absent Future make clear their understanding of the dichotomy of Agamben’s political concepts of life and death.  There is the whole of student life, (death) which is broken only by, “a riot, a wild protest, unforgettable fucking, the overwhelming joy of love, life shattering heartbreak,” (life).  Occupation is basically the act of life, incarnate.
As I read through After the Fall, I began playing the game one often plays with fortune cookies, where you add the words in bed to the end of every sentence.  The practice forced me to try to think through what role the sexualization played in the theoretical formulations presented by the writers.  I’ll pay token tribute to the feminist thinkers that enabled this criticism, and say yes, thinking about gender in After the Fall revealed all of the patriarchal, colonial, and imperialist implications of the verb to occupy and complicated the negation of any critical examination of privilege presented by the pieces.  However, I think there are others who could present those arguments with more force and passion then I would, and I’d like to focus on what I think is a bit more of an immanent critique.  I might distinguish myself by pointing out that I don’t see this sexualization as being a priori a patriarchal practice.
Their are a number of aspects of this sexualization I would like to examine, but I think the most important is that sex is one of the only actions I can think of that is self-evidently good.  It is this nature that I think is the most important thing for the occupationist ideology to appropriate.  In order to maintain that correct politics should have no separation between means and ends, their is no room for pedagogy, for theory as such, which might seek to explain and communicate rather than depict. After the Fall is in fact more pornographic than exegetical.  This primarily voyereustic mode is made clear in the introductory note of the “group of friends” who published After the Fall.  “We thought it worthwhile to… provide some critical contextualization for those who were not fortunate enough to be there.”  This seems like a very odd assertion.  I find it hard to believe that there will be many who read After the Fall who did not participate in the actions it depicts to some extent.  But regardless of the statement’s factual nature, it plays an important role in illustrating some of the dynamics of the theoretical formulations of After the Fall.  Within the ideology presented by the We are the Crisis article, there is a monolothic “we” made up of “those who were there”, as opposed to those who weren’t there.  The publication presents itself as the communication of the we to the other who was not there.  This dichotomy invisibilizes anyone who “was there” but who had a different view then what was presented in the publication.  This invisibilization is necessary for the maintenance of the idea that occupations are not merely a means but also the end.  A means might need explanation to someone who was there, but if it is the means and the end, then there shouldn’t have been anyone who was there that didn’t want to occupy, it should only require illustration for the folks who couldn’t be there.

I’m going to try and posit a theory of consciousness through space and time, and my apologies if it’s not up to par to my readers.  One’s consciousness is framed by the accumulation of experiences we’ve had through our lives.  In common parlance, I’d argue that knowledge often refers to the spatial element of our experience.  The quantity of knowledge we have is the product of the variety of different places and spaces we’ve been in.  Wisdom often refers to the temporal aspect.  What chances have we had to observe the behavior of phenomena through time, analyze and understand the ways the same things shift and change and the patterns in that.    To tell someone about one’s weekend reflects a difference in space- I was there, you weren’t there, let me tell you about it.  To explain our weekend reflects a difference in time- I have spent some time either in the past or since our weekend happened thinking through and examining the events of our weekend, let me try to fill you in on the product of that time spent. I know this appears thoroughly simplistic, but bear with me. Voyeurism is about a relationship through space, exegesis is about a relationship through time.

I’d argue that one of the main theoretical postulations put forward by Communique from and Absent Future, one that serves as a thread through much of After the Fall is the collapse of time between now and then, “the is and the ought are one.”  Temporal collapse is also required for a negation of means and ends.  Ends and means are relationships through time, to speak of ends and means is to think about the effect of one action on a later situation.  Communique argues that ends and means are useless because the future is already here, all that remains is to make it visible, which one can do in certain spaces.  Now it’s probably clear why I did my cute little wisdom/knowledge distinction.

There is a very coherent relationship between the form of After the Fall (voyeuristic rather than exegetical) and the content it presents, (the negation of time).

I think to fetishize space and negate time is characteristic of the ideology presented by After the Fall, an ideology which I’ll call in the specific form occupationism, but might more generally be called communizationism.  This dynamic presents an interesting lens to examine occupations with.  After the Fall argues that,  “They saw the point of occupation as the creation of a momentary opening in capitalist time and space, a rearrangement that sketched the contours of a new society.”  I’d argue that this is patently untrue.  I think occupations represented a very important break in the space of capitalism, but really almost no break in the time of capitalism.  Occupations have forced clear rearrangements in where capitalists perform their work, what spaces are under control by the proletariat and the capitalist, and other spatial arrangements.  But occupations rarely force temporal shifts.  To change capitalist time is to change the temporal relationship of capital and production.  Occupations have often opened up the space of unused factories to proletarian control, but rarely have occupations in recent years closed off used factories from the hegemony of capitalist time.  Here on the university, occupations forced administrators and students and workers to go about their business in some other space than usual, but the rearrangement of the time required for the production the University does was, at the macro-level, negligible.

So we come full circle.  I too want to, “find one another, to be together in the same place, to have a base from which to carry out raids, to drink and fuck, to talk philosophy.” But I don’t want to do it for two hours, or two days, or two weeks, or even just two years.  I don’t want to occupy everything, (all spaces) I just want all of my time to be occupied by the really good things in life.  To do that, we’re going to need to have some analysis of time, of what we want and how to get it, and the fact that we don’t have the power to just take it now.  But we can build that power, and I hate to break it to you, it might take something more than dancing.

I’d like to briefly reiterate my disclaimer at the beginning about the nature of this publication, and to say that even though I have presented a monolithic version of After the Fall, I am really only talking about a very specific ideology that I see emanating from communizationism.  I think that the Reflections from Kerr Hall piece represents a definite exception to many of the dynamics above detailed.  It is not particularly voyeuristic, it is up front about the problems and the hard times and the disagreements, and it seeks to explain the writer’s(‘?) perspective on what happened rather than merely one view of what happened.  We could use more like that.

P.S.  You’ll have to excuse one last bit of immaturity.  In the context of my opening metaphor, Cinthia definitely seems like a major cockblock.

October 24th Mobilizing Conference: Analysis & Next Steps

I. The State of the Movement
II. The Potential of the Conference
III. Political Meaning of the Conference
IV. Democratic Processes at the Conference
V. Next Steps for the Movement

I. The State of the Movement

Faced with cuts, tuition hikes, and layoffs on an unprecedented scale, student action erupted across the state, in some places on the first day of classes. Sept. 24th saw a rally and protest of 5000 students and workers at UC Berkeley; to the south, a week-long occupation began at UC Santa Cruz; and hundreds protested at UC’s and CSU’s across the state. The day of action had participation from UCSA, AAUP, CUE, UPTE, AFSCME, and AFT, to name a few. In Berkeley, a 500 person General Assembly following the rally made the call for a Statewide Mobilizing Conference on Oct. 24. It became immediately clear what the challenge of the conference would be. After the call for the conference was made, there was an adventurist attempt to undemocratically force the General Assembly into an occupation of the building, effectively ending the Assembly. It was this split between isolated radical actions on the one hand, and mass liberal protests on the other, which thus far characterizes the budget cuts movement and defines the challenge of militant revolutionaries in our era.

How do we build mass radical action? The cuts are taking different forms in each sector and at each workplace, but they are all effects of the current organizing processes of capital. The ruling class is seeking to resolve its crisis by reversing the gains of the working class built over the last 80 years. Thus it will require mass organization of the working class to defend itself against these attacks. Furthermore, this organization will have to build the independent power of the working class; if it remains subordinated to the established student governments and union bureaucrats’ liberal politics, we can only hope to mitigate the worst of the attacks, but never stop them.

Our critique of the ultra-left adventurists must be equally strong. Isolated radical actions look sexy, and at their best they can provide a space for further organizing and an example that gets a few people involved, but they also often alienate people from the struggle. Much of the occupation organizing has been dominated by bourgeois individualist ideology, lacks a pedagogical approach capable of advancing struggle, and fails to provide the type of democratic, inclusive spaces that can build a mass movement capable of challenging capital. It seems built largely out of university classroom settings; reflected in abstracted ideas about action, an alienated, Left-Hegelian existential orientation, and a lack of clear understanding with regards to working class life and struggle.

We have to look at the movement’s current failures dialectically. The failures of adventurism are the strengths of liberalism, and vice versa. What does a dialectical synthesis of this situation look like? The masses of workers are able to see that privatization is occurring, and can relate to an anti-privatization movement, but these liberal movements lack the correct analysis to move towards the actual confrontation of capital through independent working class power. The ultra-left occupationists understand the importance of radical action, but fail to articulate this understanding in a way that is accessible to the most workers, let alone organize a meeting that is open to masses of working people. Thus the synthetic demand is for an open democratic movement, a movement whose language and rhetoric is accessible and clear to the masses of working people, yet a movement with a clear understanding of the nature of the budget cuts, a movement that recognizes from the outset the necessity of independent working class organization and power to confront directly the power and organization of capital. Thus revolutionary militants, and anyone else who wants to fight against the budget cuts and win, are building a movement for a general strike against the cuts.

II. The Potential of the Conference

The Oct. 24th Conference represented a real potential for a clean break from the ongoing failure to build a radical movement. Many conference organizers expressed that the goal of the conference was to unite the movement around a general strike to shut down public education this spring. We, like many others, were pressing for the conference to call for the building of a general strike movement to shut down all public education, with the goal of expanding into all public sectors. Though this was a conference on public education, the inclusion of the private sector is critical. The budget cuts can only be stopped by unity in militant action widespread across the working class, and to pit education against other public sector workers is to fold to the ruling class’s strategy of divide and conquer.

Organizing for a general strike is not about getting people to not work, instead it is organizing people to work- to organize more people who will organize, etc. A strike can only increase its power by getting as many people in as many sectors as possible to strike. It is this orientation, where our focus is centered constantly on expanding the power of the working class to consciously confront capital, that is the only orientation capable of stopping the attacks of the budget cuts. We have to start now to promote this strategy. If we’re not working to expand the movement for a general strike, then we’re merely stalling, tailing to the liberal wing of the movement. Simultaneously, we have to recognize that if we called a general strike for tomorrow, it would be next to useless, we need to organize first. This then, was the potential of the conference- to orient organizers from across the state around this necessity, to build as broad a consensus as possible on the need for a general strike.

We should be careful not to overestimate the potential of the conference. Clearly it was an impressive organizing feat for a month’s time, and speaks to the amount of energy of the masses for action. However, it was still nothing more than a step. There was fairly minimal participation from K-12 and Community Colleges, and not a whole lot more from CSU’s. The conference was dominated by students, with service workers being almost absent. The conference had endorsement from many of the unions, but most of the union participation was through the organizers and a few active members. Let’s be real- the conference was largely a meeting of Bay Area leftists, with a few exceptions. We know that union bureaucrats and student governments will be meeting on their own statewide levels to decide on their strategy. This reality is important in our evaluation of the conference. Since the conference did not really have mass participation, it was all the more critical that we use the time we had to orient ourselves, as the left wing of the movement, around the necessity of a general strike.

III. Political Meaning of the Conference

Unfortunately, this failed to occur. Instead of a call for a strike a “compromise proposal” was passed. This proposal calls for a “United Day of Action/ Strike- including but not limited to strikes, rallies, walk-outs, informational pickets, or a March on Sacramento, for March 4.” This statement leaves us oriented around no political goal. The phrase “Day of Action/ Strike” is merely a form devoid of political content. It might as well be phrased, “Strike! Or Don’t Strike! On May 4th! All out for whichever you like!”

The power of a strike lies in its Manichaen nature- you are either on strike, or a scab. In the context of building a movement that can actually stop the cuts, the goal of calling for a strike is to give material, class-conscious political meaning to what is otherwise a liberal, ideological action. By calling for a strike, we create a conflict between action that fails to incorporate anti-capitalist analysis and action that directly confronts the current processes of capital by building independent working class power. The actions of Sept. 24th (except the occupation) received support from the very people implementing the cuts. Administrators and legislators told us, “We’re so glad you want to get involved! We’d love to get your input. Why don’t you start writing letters and lobbying, or come to the Regents meeting and express your discontent.” It’s easy for a bourgeois administrator to just say “I’m in solidarity with the day of action,” and thus relieve his conscience, but if you’re in solidarity with a strike it means something- you don’t work. The powerful, liberal organizations, like UCSA and other student governments, or the union bureaucracies, or the CalPIRG and non-profit groups are all going to do their best to fit any and all resentment to the budget cuts into respectable channels that won’t build independent working class power. If the cuts are to be stopped it’s imperative that we, the left-wing of the movement, make an intervention against the dominant liberal strategy, providing a clear alternative as soon as possible, at the outset of the movement.

Proponents of the compromise proposal relied on a few political arguments against the strike. One argument focused on “the freedom of the schools to decide,” others on the “pretentious” nature of calling for a strike, still more encouraged us to “be realistic” about our organizational capacity.

If one thing is pretentious and unrealistic it’s the idea that this conference had the power to impinge on anyone’s freedom. As if there was some sort of Stalinist bureaucracy that would be visiting different schools, executing dissidents for failing to organize a strike properly. No, the only conceivable power of the conference lay in giving a statewide legitimacy to what would have otherwise been an isolated and radical proposal. The UC Student Association could have called for a day of action. No one had the intention or capacity to impede on any school’s freedom to do whatever they wanted. What we had and lost was the potential to orient organizers towards the political goals that actually have the capacity to challenge capital.

Solidarity does not happen spontaneously. It’s quite true that some workers may find it pretentious of a body that was largely students to call for a strike. However, it’s thoroughly reactionary to respond to that by not calling a strike in order to not be seen as pretentious by anyone. The only way to build solidarity is by doing the work. That means proving in the course of struggle that we are committed to our ideas, engaging in open and honest conversation about what we think needs to happen, how we can make it happen, and participating in a collective manner when it does happen. Organizers who are dedicated to a strike will not be returning to schools and refusing to work with anyone who’s not down, but we will be working to point the movement in that direction. Let me pose a question: which renders student organizers more pretentious- returning to campus oriented around a radical strategy that has the potential to actually stop the cuts, or returning to campus with a strategy that fails to confront the roots of the crisis (capital), organizing workers into the same actions that have failed so far to build independent working class power?

It’s absolutely true that we don’t have the organizational capacity to launch a general strike tomorrow, as was suggested by one conference attendee. However, the only way to build that organizational capacity is to orient ourselves from the beginning around the need for militant action that explicitly confronts the current organization of capital. If we realistically want to stop the budget cuts, it starts with correct strategy and analysis.

IV. Democratic Processes at the Conference

So what happened? How did such weak arguments prevail? They certainly were not the consensus of the conference participants. The democratic will of the conference was sidestepped by the conference organizers. This process occurred in more ways then one, and surely some of them were unconscious or uncontrollable, but some of them were clearly rooted in incorrect political orientation on the part of the organizers. The constant two minute cap on speaking stopped anyone from presenting a clear and analytically complex proposal. Every speaker we did hear was then translated based on the whims of the typist, who was able to reduce much contextualization of action into, “Capitalism Sucks.” There was no mechanism to stop the same proposals being repeated again and again, wasting valuable time that could have been spent on actual discussion. It’s tough to organize discussion between 500 folks, but that’s why we had the break-outs, right? Unfortunately it was there that democracy really started to break down.

In the UC break-out group the facilitator repeatedly made important political decisions about where time was best spent masked as facilitation decisions. The majority of the time was spent discussing UC specific action, limiting the time for the crucial point of how the UC should relate to the larger movement. The facilitator made a personal decision that we should spend time organizing an action at the UC regents meeting, when there are already statewide discussions on that point, wasting the valuable moments we had to talk about how we related to the organizers from other sectors. No time at all was given to actually discussing different courses of action, which might have forged real unity through shared analysis. Instead time was spent laundry-listing tactics abstracted from struggle, so that anyone could work with anyone else on things they already agreed were good ideas. Here, as at other points, the conference organizers failed to create a space that was conducive to actually advancing the struggle, because they were too focused on building a false unity of, “respect for whatever anyone else is doing”, regardless of whether it hurts or helps the movement.

The CSU break-out group, on the other hand, had a decisive vote for a state wide proposal. It called, by 66 votes to 20, for a general strike of the public service sector, (as opposed to a March on Sacramento, the only other proposal presented) with the slogan “No Cuts/ No War”– connecting the imperialist invasions abroad to the privatization at home through their shared roots in the accumulation of capital by the ruling class. In the K-12 break-out, a clear majority voted for a one day strike. The Community College breakout group did not come to a consensus on a proposal. Yet it was the UC break-out, the sector most divorced from the working class, where there was no actual discussion of the political meaning of any tactics, which played the largest role in producing the final “compromise proposal”. UC proposals for state action were nothing more than the random ideas of things that might be cool. Yet when we returned from the break-out groups to the main hall, there was no report-back from break-outs, so no one was aware that half the conference participants had already made a clear call for specific militant actions. Instead we were given a “compromise” proposal, which compromised the UC’s brainstorming session with the other two groups’ militant proposals.

This type of compromise was characteristic of the entire conference. At many points, the priority was on making space for as many different viewpoints as possible to be represented, instead of on the political content of any proposal. It reeks of the same ideology as liberal multi-culturalism, where the political meaning of racism and white-supremacy is sidestepped by having many different ethnicities in the same room. This was especially true of the final compromise proposal. It was here that a non-transparent, non-democratic, even authoritarian mis-representation of the political content of the conference thus far was pushed onto the participants by the organizers.

In the most important decision of the day, conference organizers framed the decision in a clearly biased manner that attempted to staunch real political debate. We were forced to chose between a compromise ( Who doesn’t want compromise?), or the apparently arduous, pointless process of, “counterposing every single proposal against one another.” This attempt to silence discussion was made almost ridiculous by the fact that at first we couldn’t even see the different proposals we were supposed to be counterposing. No matter who you are, you have to admit this was something new. When you lay out proposals in a meeting, you expect to be allowed to vote on them later. Instead the conference organizers made the participants vote on whether they wanted to vote on the proposals. And they attempted to do it without even having debate on the issue at all! It’s true that there were serious time constraints by the time it came to voting, (due to the waste of time earlier in the day) but it wouldn’t have taken much time at all to vote on the proposals, since most of them (such as jogging in Sacramento) had very little support. This is just basic parliamentary procedure.

The point of a general assembly is to provide a forum where different political stances can be aired and openly debated. We are supposed to hear the various perspectives, and the folks with the most coherent arguments, who are able to defend their position the best, will receive the most support. This completely failed on the 24th, instead conference organizers substituted an enforced liberal bourgeois politic that blocked revolutionary democracy, not to mention open debate.

However, the criticism needs to be spread around a little. Not once was this critique, in fact any coherent criticism of the decision making process or the control of time by organizers, aired from the floor. In fact, the ultra-lefts, the occupationists, made only a few lone calls for action towards the end of the conference. For the most part, the ultra-lefts failed to participate in the conference, preferring to complain about and look down upon it instead. Furthermore, they neither built nor advocated for any independent organizational framework but instead kept faith in the possibility of spontaneous coalescence. This approach conveniently requires no efforts at organizing but cannot produce the kind of solidarity and experience required to launch mass attacks against capital and the state. In that vacuum, those with the most aggressive organization set the agenda while the ultra-lefts were left to obsolescence. What was needed was a clear criticism of the process and an alternative revolutionary proposal. The left as a whole found itself sorely lacking.

V. Next Steps for the Movement

Again we must ask ourselves the question- what is to be done? Clearly we keep organizing. Those of us who came together to with the idea of mobilizing towards more militant action should bear in mind that the true democratic vision of the conference was with us. The same action is necessary regardless of the false compromise foisted upon us. But as we look toward the coming year, and the next conference in LA, we have some new things to think about.

To start with, for the February conference, we must look at some of the failed procedures of this recent debacle. These lessons are especially crucial, since we now face the problem of deciding on demands among a hopefully even larger movement. First- as many proposals as possible need to be prepared and sent to organizers ahead of time, so that we can spend less time presenting proposals and more time debating them. Second, we need at least some time where people have more than two minutes to speak if we’re ever going to hear a real discussion. Most importantly, break-out groups are an important tactic for dealing with big groups, but only if the decisions and ideas we come up with in small groups are presented to the whole group for honest debate.

What would have happened if, in the brief moments that were forced open for discussion before the final vote, this analysis had been presented? The course of the final hour of the conference might have been very different. Instead the few two minute slots were filled by little more than expressions of justifiable anger at the course of events. When we needed a clear refutation of the arguments and tactics of “compromise”, all we had was outrage. It’s understandable- how could we have known we needed to check in on the status of every break-out group during lunch in order to be prepared for the vote? But now we must learn from this lesson. Militants who want to advance the struggle towards actually stopping the attacks against the entire working class need to organize independently to be ready for the next conference. If we get our act together, we can stand up when the clock is ticking and make a real difference.
Armed with this analysis- the next steps are clear-
Join the coordinating committee for the February conference- we need some new leadership.
Set up independent networks so that those of us devoted to working class power can collectively decide on analysis and interventions.
Organize your schools and communities for strikes. In the course of your organizing, all our decisions must be formed by the question, “What is the best strategy for building independent working class power?”

Lastly, militant class-conscious organizers need to be critical as ever of the ways in which the attempts to dilute the struggle can easily come masked in false unity, false democracy, and false realism.

Solidarity Forever!