In lower Manhattan, students demonstrate in solidarity with protesters at UC Santa Cruz.
The Occupy California group peacefully ended their weeklong occupation of a UCSC facility last Thursday, but announced that they left “in order to escalate” their confrontation with the state and campus authorities.
During the event, messages of solidarity poured in from Britain, South Africa and Croatia, from campus bus drivers and the SDS, from San Francisco State, from Irvine, from Brandeis, Columbia, and the City University of New York.
California’s statewide Defend our Education coalition of K-12 educators, staff and faculty from the UC and Cal State system passed a formal unanimous resolution of support, as did numerous student groups across the U.S.
The largest solidarity demo took place in lower Manhattan, home to TakeBackNYU and the New School Reoccupied, where arrests, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions in response to widely-reported building occupations last year have left simmering resentment. A day after news of the occupation hit indymedia news sources, protesters from both lower-Manhattan campuses marched through Union Square behind posters and bedsheets spraypainted with their own take on the UCSC manifesto: “From Santa Cruz to NYC, We Want Fucking Everything!”
Over the weekend, I completed an interview with a spokesperson for the group:
Q. How did you come to the decision to end the occupation?
We decided to end the occupation because we felt that it was the right time. Our interest in occupying the space was both to put radical actions such as occupation back on the map and to raise awareness. These are emergency times for California and for public education as a whole. We wanted to help generate a sense of urgency, the necessity to act, and solidarity extending far beyond the occupations. We feel we’ve achieved this and move on to plan new actions and create the kind of wide support needed to truly deal with this situation
Q. I was really impressed by the support you received from students all over the globe. What do you think you accomplished?
It’s hard to tell what we’ve accomplished at this point: it is too close. But judging from the truly global solidarity we’ve received, we’re hoping that our occupation is recognized for what it was: a call to mass struggle, an insistence on the severity of the situation, and an inspiration to all those who have become fed up with what resistance to the destruction of public education has looked like. We want to show that occupations can and must be done, that you can reclaim spaces, that you can plan new modes of struggle and manifest the real discontent that seethes in the state now.
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?
We’re proud of the diversity of this group: it does not represent a single interest or faction. Rather, it developed a momentum and shape of its own, the result of long, heated conversations and careful planning. (Not to mention sharing a space for a week.) Indeed, there are certainly differences in vision, and the range of documents, states, flyers, and speeches has made that apparent. We have tried to walk a very narrow line between the expression of a general line of thinking and the diffusion of our different perspectives and goals. As for the success of that, it is too early to judge, but with every action and meeting, new perspectives and ways of articulating what is common to us all emerge.
Q. What was the role of sociability in the occupation?
This is quite important to us. As mentioned, sharing the space produced a close-knit group, drawing together many of those who otherwise would not meet. We have been accused of making the space “exclusive” because of not letting its normal business go on. To the contrary: the space became a remarkable open zone of mutual aid and intellectual discussion. While the stress of this occupation has rightly been on the university crisis, we are also committed to modes of living and working together that exceed the logic of division between workers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and the unemployed. In addition, we threw dance parties in the quarry plaza, open to anyone, to insist that the escalation of struggle is also a struggle to live better. Giving students an opportunity to dance in a zone of the university normally used only for commerce was important to us.
Q. Are you concerned about repercussions for participants?
With actions such as this, potential repercussions are always weighed carefully. All those participating were aware that such actions are illegal and could result in trouble from police or the university. However, the decision was made that this occupation was of tremendous importance. We stand at a time in which, we argue, normal modes of negotiating with the university for better wages and decent access to education have ceased to be effective without additional escalation to bring a sense of crisis to them. For this reason, these were risks we were willing to take.
Q. I can’t imagine this is the last bold action by students and public employees in California. What do you think is next?
What is next is the broadening of struggle and involvement in actions far beyond our group. This is a year that will not and cannot go back to normal: we cannot feel that “we did our best” and then sit back and watch as public education is dismantled. We urge all students, workers, and faculty members to get involved and to escalate resistance across the state. Another way of running the university is possible, and we have everything to lose if we do not act.
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