Issue 1 (December 2009)

 

Editors' Introduction

Chris Chen, George Ciccariello-Maher, and Zhivka Valiavicharska

 

 

We have assembled the inaugural issue of R e c l a m a t i o n s in the midst of numerous demonstrations and occupations, police raids and violence, judicial hearings and hospital visits, amidst the molecular speeding-up that the heat of struggle is known to produce. The articles here share an underlying fury at the arrogance of power which, couched in the language of civility, safety, and “enforcing peace and order,” continues to generate radical asymmetries, lay claim to our futures, and inflict violence on our bodies.

The cascading speed of events across campuses and its “tiers” has been constantly reconfiguring geographies, political meanings, and precarious bonds of support and solidarity, while rendering every political position or alliance fundamentally unstable and revocable. R e c l a m a t i o n s therefore cannot claim to provide an exhaustive record of recent events. We are also conscious of the obvious incongruity between what we believe is a decentered struggle with disparate nodes of mobilization and the UC Berkeley-centered focus of the collection. And yet we feel that the following selection of articles are timely and powerful interventions: some of our contributions address lingering questions about the political meaning of occupying buildings, of emancipating and deprivatizing spaces; others offer a persuasive critique of prevailing political scripts which attempt to assign an “inside” or “outside” to communities, mobilizing groups, and strategies; and most crucially, our final section opens a much-needed space for decolonial perspectives on the struggle.

A recent letter to The Daily Cal, a student-run newspaper serving the UC Berkeley community, poses the following question: “Will November 20 mark the end of the efforts of UC Berkeley students, faculty and workers to collectively mobilize around the cause of public education and social justice in California?”(1) In other words, do the events of November 20 constitute the death of a preexisting political movement? This, we believe, is the wrong question entirely, and we hope the articles included in this first issue of R e c l a m a t i o n s will pose another: What of the “necrosocial” death of the university as a site of increasing exploitation of students and workers alike? Of present and future wages fed to massive construction projects for future corporate research, entrenched bureaucratic inertia and corruption, unmanageable debt and financialized futures? In other words, what of the reign of dead labor divorced from those living beings who work and learn in the buildings and spaces? What of the death of buildings themselves, of books, of pencils, of blackboards, when these are divorced from those living beings that grant them meaning and whose work they enable? This is the death that concerns us—or as “The Necrosocial” argues, “the university’s ghosts, the ghosts of all those it has excluded” —generated by the logic of public sacrifice for the sake of private profit, and by the contradictions laid bare by decades of neoliberal expropriations of public goods, including but not limited to public education. And this is precisely where, as Joshua Clover explains in his contribution, one should draw the lines between an “Us” and a “Them,” an “inside” and an “outside”—lines of demarcation which don’t end at the university’s borders but connect the future of public education with the society in which it remains embedded.

Yet, for Zachary Levenson and Alexander Zevin lines between an “us” and a “them,” an “inside” and an “outside,” are wrought with ambiguities. Exploring the internal tensions within the movement’s complex field of forces in Gramscian terms, Levenson asks if existing organizations, lacking mobilization, engage in a vain, interminable “war of position” utterly disconnected from a “war of maneuver.” If something did indeed die that day, it may have been the repeatedly questioned legitimacy of the administration and what Levenson calls “the self-appointed student leaders” who have made every effort to protect the university’s current practices and redirect student rage either towards Sacramento or into endless assemblies.

If, as some have argued—and as most recent events have confirmed—a momentary “war of maneuver” can accomplish more in terms of galvanizing energies, solidarities, or divisions than a decade of slow, plodding “war of position,”  the political meanings and consequences of radical interventions remain unforeseeable. Blanket criticisms of “adventurism” and “ultra-Leftism” miss this point entirely, assuming that participants can predict the effects of their political actions. One only needs to recall the relief expressed by the occupiers as they emerged relatively unscathed from Wheeler Hall on the evening of November 20: there was no certainty that their action would prove successful, that it would necessarily galvanize the thousands of students gathered outside to receive them, but rather what was demonstrated on that day was the faith in the contingent possibility that it could. We are therefore less interested in what constitutes a singular, “correct” line of action, but how to navigate a field of political openings, how to operate within conditions that open or foreclose a range of politically effective and meaningful interventions at any particular moment.

Addressing concerns that lock-down occupations “territorialize” the struggle, closing it off and alienating it from a larger movement,(2) Amanda Armstrong and Paul Nadal argue that occupations are not merely hermetic enclosures enforcing political unanimity. Rather, “inside” and “outside” are mutually constitutive and enabling—to an extent that any understanding of these categories as mutually exclusive misses the fact that political tensions harbor potentials for unpredictable forms of togetherness, potentials that enable the movement to seize upon and reorder the “here” and the “now.” Their work, in addition to two accounts of building occupations at Davis, points to our limitless possibilities to reinvent bonds which are at turns fluid, contentious, and constantly threatened with imminent collapse. Similarly, the “outside” of these occupations, far from “a space controlled by a riot police,”(3) has consistently exposed the desperate violence of the administration and police while highlighting the material effects of solidarity in shaping the outcome of future actions.

Perhaps most crucially, our first issue concludes with an article by Xamuel Bañales on the persistence of racism within current organizing efforts, followed by a response by George Ciccariello-Maher. R e c l a m a t i o n s will feature a permanent space for decolonial perspectives, for reflections on the periodic reemergence of the Third World Liberation Front struggles since the late 1960s, and for alternative critical approaches to evolving forms of neoliberal racism confronting students and workers of color in the twenty-first century. Far from being a simple aggregate of ethnic census data, the overarching category “people of color” names an ongoing political project which continues to address the relationship between education and immigration, economic hyperexploitation, the prison-industrial complex, and the limits of liberal multiculturalism.

 

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1. Ananya Roy and Nelson Maldonado-Torres, “The November 20 Protest: What Happens Next?” The Daily Californian, 29 November 2009. http://www.dailycal.org/article/107685/the_november_20_protest_what_happens_next

2. T.J. Clark, “Further Thoughts on the Wheeler Occupation,” Chris’s Blog Archives. http://toodumbtolivearchive.blogspot.com/2009/11/tim-clark-further-thoughts-on-wheeler.html

3. Ananya Roy and Nelson Maldonado-Torres, “The November 20 Protest: What Happens Next?”