This is the second installment of Reclamations’ compilation post, which brings together writings from Fall 2011. Links to the other installments can be found below:
Michelle Ty, “The Day Before the Day of Action” (Nov 1)
Following a sequence of sharp confrontations with OPD in late October, the Occupy Oakland general assembly called for a city-wide general strike, to be held on November 2. Students and workers at a number of east bay schools and universities responded to this call by organizing solidarity marches, walkouts, and contingents to join the strike. Ty’s essay emerged in this context, and circulated through UC Berkeley graduate student lists on the days before the strike. Through an engagement with Benjamin and Luxemburg’s writings on mass and general strikes, the essay presents the general strike as an action that exceeds means-ends calculation and opens onto unexpected sequences of collective struggle. Ty also details, with striking vividness, the subjective qualities of late-October confrontations with state forces.
Ben Webster, “The General Strike: An Incomplete Bibliography for Ambivalent Occupiers” (Nov 1)
Another post on the eve of the Oakland general strike. Webster attends to Luxemburg’s distinction between the mass and the general strike (the former a bit more temporally variegated than the latter), while also discussing early twentieth century mass strikes in the US, particularly those enabled by IWW organizing. The essay shows how the relative geographic mobility of the early twentieth century immigrant workforce in the US enabled rolling, spatially dispersed strike actions — a reflection that opens onto a series of provocative questions about how contemporary dynamics of class composition might shape in unexpected ways the form of upcoming mass strikes.
Emily Brisette, “For The Fracture of Good Order” (Nov 4)
An intervention in debates around property destruction and violence that reemerged in the aftermath of Occupy Oakland’s general strike, at which a series of bank windows were broken. Brisette introduces the essay with a discussion of draft resistance in 1960s US, which periodically involved the burning of draft files by avowed pacifists, in order to insist upon the conceptual delineation of violence and property destruction. The essay goes on to argue that visceral responses to property destruction are structured by capitalist social relations, and that working through and overcoming these responses is part of the work of being politically engaged at this moment.
Anonymous, “Why Occupy Cal?,” Occupied Cal Journal 1 (Nov 7)
Published a few days before the establishment of the Occupy Cal encampment, this anonymous essay shows how the tactics and concerns of the occupy movement easily translate to the university context, where unelected finance capitalists rule over indebted students and precarious workers, and where local administrators can call upon a university police force to repress encampments and building occupations. This essay highlights the investment practices of those UC Regents most committed to university privatization, and suggests that students radicalized by the Oakland general strike should initiate a university strike in order to reverse the relations of power structuring campus life.
The Public Education Coalition at UCB, “Occupy Cal Solidarity Statement” (Nov 8 )
Written in the days leading up to the establishment of Occupy Cal, this statement offered a defense of encampment, a critique of educational privatization, and a preemptive indictment of the administration for repressing occupiers with police force. While the letter was ignored by established faculty organizing bodies, by the end of the week, most UC unions had signed the solidarity statement.
Daniel Marcus, “Open Letter to the Administration of the University of California Berkeley” (Nov 10)
A scathing call for administrative resignations in the wake of severe police aggression on November 9, and of subsequent administrative attempts to justify such violence. Marcus systematically turns administrative discourse against its aims, insisting that the ideals cynically invoked by administrators are upheld, if at all, by student occupiers and their supporters, and that — in an era of austerity — protest cannot not be part of the everyday life of university students and workers.
Rei Terada, “Not Non-Violent Civil Disobedience” (Nov 11)
Another response to UCB Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s mass email, in which he attempted to justify police force by arguing that, in linking arms, protesters had acted in a “not non-violent” manner, and thus had failed to act in the “tradition of peaceful civil disobedience.” Terada shows how the distinction Birgeneau tries to draw between peaceful civil rights activists and unruly ‘not non-violent’ students rests upon an occlusion of certain forms of resistance employed during the 1960s civil rights movement.
Joshua Clover, “Seize the Ponies: Occupy Cal and the fight over public education in California” (Nov 13)
Written in the immediate aftermath of UC Berkeley students’ fight to establish an encampment on November 9, this essay attempts to read emergent university occupations in relation both to recent social and economic transformations, and to the forms anti-capitalist struggle taking shape at the moment across different regions of the world. Clover presents the militancy of university movements as unsurprising, given that they’ve emerged in a moment of inexorable austerty and have been met with severe police repression.
Celeste Langan, “Why I Got Arrested with Occupy Cal — and How,” Occupied Cal Journal 2 (Nov 15)
A narrative from November 9. The essay outlines the commitments that led the author, a professor at UC Berkeley, to join arms with assembled students, and also details the extremity and insensiblility of the police violence endured by Langan and others that day. While her arrest was rushed and aggressive — she raised her hand to be detained but was pulled to the ground by her hair — the period after her arrest was characterized by interminable waiting. Langan presents this divided arrest episode as a metaphor for the maldistribution — rather than inevitable scarcity — of time in an era of austerity and privatization.
Occupy Cal General Assembly, “Open Letter to the State Government, UC Regents, CSU Trustees, & All Education Administrators” (Nov 15)
A framework for upcoming education-related organizing, adopted at the November 15 Occupy Cal general assembly — the largest GA of the 2011 Occupy movement. The open letter calls for strike actions, beginning on February 1st (since revised to March 1st), in the event that concrete steps to deprivatize schools and universities in California are not taken this winter.
Nathan Brown, “Five Theses on Privatization and the UC Struggle” (Nov 15)
The text of a speech delivered at the system-wide strike rally held at UC Davis on November 15. In the first three theses, Brown articulates a succinct analysis of educational privatization and of the dynamics structuring recent university struggles — an analysis that draws upon the accumulated experience and theoretical work of such struggles. The final two theses turn toward the conditions of the present, offering an account of the material effects university struggles have already set in motion.