January 2010

Note: this blog didn’t actually exist in January 2010, but I’m cross-posting an article I wrote then in the interest of having pieces I’ve written about the California student movement in one place.

In California today, we are facing an onslaught of austerity capitalism in the form of privatization / private accumulation, funding cuts, and neoliberal prioritization that effects public goods including education, health care, and transportation as well as prisons – hardly a public “good” but certainly a public function.

Are we all in the same boat? If so, some people have been in the bottom of the boat for a while. Now that the boat has sprung more leaks, their heads are barely, inconsistently above water. The question is one of breathing / drowning. Other people have been doing okay on the decks for a while. We’re getting wet; we have something to complain about, and we’re worried that the boat might sink. Some of us think the captain really ought to listen us; some of us are beginning to think we could pilot the damn boat ourselves. (Some of us would like to head for the life rafts, now, and forget the boat.)

Okay, this metaphor is obviously simplistic. It is addressed to a kind of leveling rhetoric that has emerged in sections of the California student movement in the aftermath of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed constitutional amendment tying higher education funding to school funding, supposedly guaranteeing better funding for higher education and decreasing prison funding without decreasing incarceration.

The Schwarzenegger proposal has forced us to think these institutions and social positions together. Are the social positions commensurate, or incommensurate? Are the institutional positions structurally similar, structurally contradictory, or both? A friend asked me to reflect on this, and here’s an edited version of my response.

Read the rest on the Solidarity Webzine.


Last post of old content I’m cross-posting here (I think).

As the student / defense of public higher education movement regroups post-winter-break and looks towards a major action on March 4, a couple of significant, explicit efforts to take the wind out of our sails have emerged. First was Schwarzenegger’s proposal for a constitutional amendment tying higher education funding to prison funding. Now, UC President Mark Yudof has emerged with a statement backing a big March 4 action and lobbying day in Sacramento. Bob Samuels has a good analysis of why this is a cyncial ploy. But I would argue that this cynical ploy is not only political, but tactical, and it takes advantage of a weakness in how the movement is presently organized.

So Yudof and some of the regents are backing … what? Our … March 4 action … in Sacramento … which involves lobbying? Well, to my knowledge this isn’t the plan, at all. At our October 24 conference, a march on Sacramento was proposed, and some people said they wanted to organize this, but the main plan was for local and campus-based actions and strikes on March 4, possibly converging on Sacramento either earlier or later. Also, any big movement-wide event in Sacramento would probably be a march / rally / action, not a lobby day. Some in the movement would probably want to do direct actions there; some in the movement would want to do our own lobbying; very, very few in the movement if any would want to lobby alongside the people who have been mismanaging our universities, i.e. Yudof and the Regents. Even if Sacramento gives UC more money, the danger of it being misallocated to growth in the size and compensation of administration and new construction projects which tend to serve a corporatizing agenda is great.

So, this is not a very serious proposal for joint lobbying, but it is a clever move that is not only disorienting on the level of public relations but also on the level of tactics. The Chronicle story above is a good example. It quotes Yudof, Victor Sanchez, Jesse Cheng, and “UC Berkeley student activist Callie Maidhof.” I don’t know Maidhof; her sound byte is perfectly fine. However, she is presented as kind of an afterthought, an exemplar of these idealistic but unreasonable kids, while the two male student leaders are quoted at greater length with an aura of responsibility and thoughtfulness.

We need to be able to present more united responses to these kinds of things at the levels of media, strategy, and tactics. I’ve been reluctant to call for a steering committee or anything of that sort up until now; anytime socialists are working in a politically broad formation, if we prematurely start calling for leadership bodies, we can easily come off as wanting centralism for its own sake, wanting to dominate, wanting to stamp out anti-authoritarian practices, etc. I think it’s important to foster and promote the political and constituency diversity of the movement, and therefore to be wary of premature centralization. And, I have some criticisms of the de facto centralization that exists around statewide coordinating bodies currently. There’s no way to do this that isn’t messy.

Nevertheless, I think we need to consider having a couple of statewide bodies with some level of weight if not authority; if not a steering committee, perhaps a strategy committee and a media committee. We need to be able to articulate some kind of unified vision for what March 4 is actually about – even if campuses and local coalitions are each doing their own thing, there needs to be some kind of very basic rubric we can attach to it and repeat publicly. Also, we need to be able to designate as a movement some kind of spokespeople for the media, so that it’s just a little harder for papers to cite Yudof, the UCSA President, and the Student Regent as responsible leaders counterposed with person-presented-as-random-activist.