So why didn’t they occupy the president’s office?

28 09 2009

So a building on the campus of a major American university has been occupied for four days and I have to read Marc Bousquet to hear about it? Bad media. Here’s Marc:

During last week’s massive 10-campus walkout, several dozen students and workers occupied…the Graduate Student Commons at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), issuing statements frankly acknowledging their intention to escalate the conflict, and to initiate some actual thought about the role of higher education in the economy.

Like Marc, I find parts of their online manifesto, “Communiqué from an Absent Future,” very compelling, especially since it’s so obviously influenced by the Port Huron Statement. This, to me, is the best statement I’ve seen on a problem that bugs me no end:

We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow. And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation. Meanwhile, what we acquire isn’t education; it’s debt. We work to make money we have already spent, and our future labor has already been sold on the worst market around. Average student loan debt rose 20 percent in the first five years of the twenty-first century—80-100 percent for students of color. Student loan volume—a figure inversely proportional to state funding for education—rose by nearly 800 percent from 1977 to 2003. What our borrowed tuition buys is the privilege of making monthly payments for the rest of our lives. What we learn is the choreography of credit: you can’t walk to class without being offered another piece of plastic charging 20 percent interest. Yesterday’s finance majors buy their summer homes with the bleak futures of today’s humanities majors.

But then the authors have to go and taint a critique that could start a world-changing debate that they might actually win with a call for action that will get their whole movement red-baited out of existence so fast it will make their head swim:

We must begin by preventing the university from functioning. We must interrupt the normal flow of bodies and things and bring work and class to a halt. We will blockade, occupy, and take what’s ours. Rather than viewing such disruptions as obstacles to dialogue and mutual understanding, we see them as what we have to say, as how we are to be understood. This is the only meaningful position to take when crises lay bare the opposing interests at the foundation of society. Calls for unity are fundamentally empty. There is no common ground between those who uphold the status quo and those who seek to destroy it.

No social movement will succeed in the longterm unless it has a critical mass of support, and shutting down the University of California – Santa Cruz or any other university will instantly prevent that from happening. If the occupiers of the Graduate Student Commons really believed in “preventing the university from functioning,” they would have taken over the president’s office, not the Graduate Commons. They’re obviously doing this for publicity (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but if they’re going to do something for publicity there’s no reason for them to issue a manifesto that’s more radical than they are.


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