Occupations Spread Across California
Behind Every Fee Increase is a Line of Cops
Fully armed, a line of 10 swat team police marched up to the picket line. Half-stunned by their presence, the crowd of supporters hesitatingly jeered the cops. In unison and on command the pigs charged forward and shoved the picketers to the ground. Throughout the day there were various refusals to accept these attacks; they ranged from hurling verbal abuse at the cops with chants like “Fuck the Police,” to acts of physical resistance such as refusing to sit down at the urging of cops and fellow protesters, to minor incidents of exchanging blows with the pigs.
Some of these bold acts of resistance were deplorable to those protestors whose go-to chants were “Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!” as the pigs violently attacked students. One chant was even directed to the cops themselves: “We are fighting for your kids! We are fighting for your kids!” This brings into sharp relief the widespread confusion about the role of the state in the anti-budget cut movement.
Let’s be clear that the state, with its armed police and military forces, carries out its brute force when peoples’ consciousness begins to transcend capitalism’s ideological chokehold. What has been clearly demonstrated this past week is that resistance to the budget cuts is a class struggle that immediately brings us into confrontation with the force of the state.
The image of a protester violently resisting police brutality has certain activists blaming the victims of the brutality, pleading with militant protesters: “Why are you antagonizing them? You’re only making it worse!” It is an image that represents a political fact that we have been too slow to acknowledge – that education sector budget cuts are a particular point of a struggle involving the whole working class; a struggle against a crisis that presents itself to us as an increase in the overall disciplining of the working class; discipline which seeks to keep workers in line generating profits – especially when we refuse to go on as normal as everything around us falls apart. The escalation in the capitalist state’s corrective violence manifested on the UCB picket line is behind other seemingly disconnected government actions: the murder of Oscar Grant, ICE raids, and the wars in the Middle East. Behind every policy is an army of police.
The occupation of Wheeler Hall at UCB last Friday was a testament to the value of confrontational tactics. The common fear that a bold, confrontational action will look ridiculous and isolate the movement is proven to be out of date. Thousands of students played a spontaneously active role fighting the fee hikes and budget cuts. This action was incredibly democratic, inspiring, and educational because it materially mobilized the power of the people present at general assemblies held the day before. The occupation and the struggle to support it acted as a teachable moment by highlighting the farce that is the capitalist, liberal-democratic state.
The liberal-democratic state is a tool of the capitalist class, a means of bourgeois rule that by definition we, the working class, are shut out of. The question is: how do we resist government policies from our position completely outside the official, “democratic” framework of the state? In the campus movement, the two primary answers to this question have been popular organizing (general assemblies) and militant resistance (occupations). What happened last week at university campuses across California was a step toward a synthesis of these two approaches. UCB’s occupation was approved at a general assembly. This is a good development, but as this synthesis is reached a new contradiction presents itself: what is the role of the education sector (especially university students) in generalizing this wave of campus resistance towards including the rest of the working class? What active steps can students take to introduce the practice of militant struggle independent of ruling class structures?
For three days throughout California universities engaged in militant struggle. UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UCLA, SF State, and Fresno State all had mass protests, strikes, and building occupations. On Wednesday November 18, over 100 SF State students protested and then occupied their administration’s building for hours.
On the same day UC Berkeley students rallied with close to a thousand students, and marched downtown attempting to draw out Berkeley High students and Berkeley City College students; they had little success, largely due to a lack of preparatory organizing. The march returned to UC Berkeley and hundreds of students surrounded the administration building.
Hours later students occupied the architecture and engineering building, with a supportive crowd defending the occupation. The occupiers agreed to show their IDs to police and were released without arrest.
The next day, UCLA erupted in struggle as the UC regents voted to approve a 32% tuition increase. Protests took place throughout the day, including multiple confrontations with police and arrests. As the UC regents tried to leave the meeting, their vehicle was surrounded and stopped by angry student protesters.
The regents had to be escorted out of the campus in ambulances. Campbell hall was also occupied and renamed the Carter-Huggins building after two slain LA Black Panthers.
Friday, the day after, on November 20, UC Berkeley erupted in mass struggle. Over 40 individuals occupied Wheeler Hall the night before demanding among other things the rehire of the 32 laid-off UC Berkeley workers and political amnesty for the occupiers. Up to 1,500 students, workers and community folk surrounded the building’s six major entrances to make sure the police, who controlled the space immediately in front of and around Wheeler Hall, could not arrest the occupiers and send them to jail. The students held down militant picket-lines, blocking the police each time they tried to break the line.
This demonstrates that a militant occupation can only be successful with a powerful critical mass supporting it from the outside; otherwise its isolation will lead to failure and repression. The opposite can also be said: having a quantitatively large protest doesn’t automatically correlate to challenging the property relations of the system.
The crowd didn’t dissipate in the rain or leave despite long hours of duration. Later that evening, the occupiers were finally released with misdemeanor citations. The original demands were not met, but hundreds of students and community folk experienced and coordinated a day of struggle against the police and the UC administration. When the occupiers left the building they told the mass crowd that they were the real heroes because without them nothing would have happened. This embryonic awareness that confrontational action only works as part of a mass struggle is the beginning of a deep change in political consciousness of the anti-budget cut movement.
These protests represent a political eruption in a time when militant struggle is bubbling up to the surface. It’s becoming progressively clearer that proposing such militancy is not premature, as some Trotskyist groups argued prior to the UCB occupation, but also prove that it isn’t wise to push heroic yet isolated occupation attempts as some anarchists do. We have witnessed the first convergence of occupation with mass protest and observed the fiery radical effect the synthesis has had on its participants. The only way to challenge society’s problems is to first understand that the rich and powerful will stop at nothing. Capital brings only impoverishment for our class while their class accumulates incredible amounts of wealth. Our struggle has to win by beating back and altering the relationship of class forces, which will not be easy. But this recent wave of occupations and militant protests throughout California represent a new cycle of struggle that gives hope and insight to such a possibility in the near future. The question now is will the public sector working class, school workers, janitors, K-12 teachers, bus drivers, BART workers, and city employees join this struggle? If radical isolated students throughout the UCs continue to fight, without public sector workers taking these struggles into their own hands, the student struggle will reach a limit and eventually decline in energy and momentum.
Spread the Rebellion
The wave of occupations that spread on November 18th-20th and the massive student support of them shows a quantitative growth in the struggle by sheer numbers of participants, but more importantly it demonstrates a qualitative growth in the anti-budget cut struggle due to the deepening of student militancy. So far, however, this militant consciousness has failed to transcend the education sector. Why haven’t the Republic Windows and Doors occupation and the 2006 May 1st general strike for immigrant rights become a generalized trend across the working-class as a whole? The US working-class has gone so long without mass struggle that they lack the fruits that struggle produces: theory, organization, and confidence.
Students can play a catalytic role by approaching the working-class with traditional forms of political propaganda (direct agitation) and the propaganda of the deed, as recently demonstrated at UCB. Students who become radicalized should study the history of working-class struggle but don’t need to be experts before they can start talking to workers about the need for struggle on a larger scale. This should be an easy thing to do because most public higher education students come from working class backgrounds, go to community colleges and CSU’s and have jobs. Their agitation can start at the spaces they already find themselves in such as their own work places and school campuses, but should extend into other work places and communities.
Agitation should center on building class-consciousness generally, and building for a mass strike on March 4th specifically. It is clear that the conditions exist for every school and perhaps every public institution to form political committees composed of workers, students and teachers that attempt to organize their workplaces and schools for militant struggle in general and a strike on March 4thin particular. Unions will pass watered down resolutions for March 4th, which is a positive development, but rank-and-file militants are the key link in motivating the majority of their coworkers to take political responsibility for the strike building process to reach its radical, creative potential. Unions cannot do this for the workers. It is commonly perceived by most left groups that the problem with unions lies with a flawed union leadership, ignoring how the political structure of unions have been vertically integrated into the state apparatus since the 1947 passing of the Taft-Hartley act. The development of these committees will be interlinked with the development of such rank-file militant workers who can think and act beyond legalistic unionism. With that said, budget cut “organizing” can mean many things, but the politics of such organizing should have a clear vision, avoiding both centrism and adventurism, in order to advance the struggle.
The budget cuts facing public education are the same crisis that faces ghettos and barrios even in the best of times. Young people who California’s public higher education system rejects due to budget cuts will find their reflection in the swelling ranks of the unemployed, high-school dropouts, and highly oppressed section of the working class. Class-consciousness transcends immediate self-interest; solidarity is not sympathy – it is unity in a common struggle. Students have a responsibility to spread news of their own rebellion, to encourage workers to rebel, and to help build the proletarian struggle wherever it erupts.