New article up at Reclamations. Originally published in Against the Current, already it feels a bit dated.

1) A major new contribution to the analysis of the movement, by Advance the Struggle, has developed the conversation around the state of the student movement in California in some important new directions. While I don’t agree with all of their analysis, I do think that it raises some issues that we in the “mass-movement-building” wing of things need to take up. Some parallel questions are being raised in response to the Hunter College March 4 conflagration. Frankly, my political sympathies are almost entirely with the folks being criticized in this last piece, the so-called “movement builders.”

In the aftermath of the Hunter College affair, I had some very interesting conversations with anarchists; it is fascinating to me how little the socialist / anarchist split matters in terms of political methodology in the student movement today. On the “mass-movement-building” side of things one will find anarchists, socialists, some liberals and progressives, and a fair number of people who don’t claim one of those political camps; on the “adventurist / insurrectionist / occupationist” side of things one will find self-identified anarchists and communists and a fair number of people who don’t claim an overarching camp. I don’t think that we “mass-movementists” have successfully thought ourselves, and the piece above along with the ATS-initiated conversation in California offers us perhaps a dialectical opening to do so.

2) A statewide conference took place this past weekend in Los Angeles. Most of the reports I’ve heard suggested that it was poorly attended (certainly compared to the October 24 conference at Berkeley) and somewhat poorly organized / somewhat overly dominated by fixed political tendencies which were unable to respond dynamically to the situation before them. I was unable to attend in person. But this does cast the questions of my “What’s Next?” piece in a somewhat different light. The question is not really one of generating higher levels of organization for their own sake, but one of generating precisely the levels of organization necessary and proper to the state of the movement itself.

In some sense I think what I was calling for in this piece was pretty close to what the organizers of the Los Angeles conference wanted, though there is a continuing focus on logistical details and further conferences rather than the focus I call for on politics and strategy. (On this note, there is an interesting way that discussions of demands tend to stand in for political discussions. I think the political discussions this movement needs are much broader; they probably need to start from analyses of the state of world capitalism, the national-popular political conjuncture, the political forces at play in California, etc. If we’ve had those kinds of discussions, discussions about demands would follow relatively easily. Without them, discussions about demands tend to be schizophrenic and arbitrary. Of course, a big one-day statewide conference may not be the place to have these more involved political conversations. But they need to happen, and they need to happen in ways that can be generalized so as to cross bounds of tendencies, localities, etc.) The real mistake of the LA conference (and here again, I’m working from second-hand reports) seems to be that its leaders asserted as an abstract necessity something which might have made sense to fight for a couple of months ago but which has now passed out of the realm of immediate political possibility. Insisting on unified demands and leading bodies to “lead a movement” which isn’t demanding that cohesion is actually a recipe for more disunity, not more cohesion.

3) Related to both 1) and 2) above, the sense that the movement is in a spring “lull” is now obvious to everyone involved; the positive thing is that even though energies are low, people are still committed and there’s still a sense of “presence” of some ongoing project. This means that when a slightly new conjuncture presents itself, or when we figure out some of our strategic and political problems, this lull could end quickly and we could easily find the situation renewed. It seems somewhat unlikely that the situation which has produced this lull will change before the fall, so the medium-term question becomes: what can we do productively during this time period to work on those political and strategic problems and set the stage for our emergence?

I would still assert that the basic strategic thrust of my “What’s Next?” piece, while not the whole picture, suggests an important part of it. But today, instead of calling for some kind of statewide organizing / strategy / campaign-building body of a representative sort, I would call instead for an ad-hoc statewide campaign committee to work on this idea of a corporate campaign targeting politicians, UC Regents, and top UC administrators. Basically I think such a body would need to research key targets, develop a strategy and a campaign, and find local groups willing to host targeted actions (with a fairly wide level of local tactical innovation being possible). The greater level of unity we need across the state cannot be asserted but must be built in practice. It cannot be built today in any “top-down” way; it can only be assembled with humility, “organically,” from the bottom.

If you’re still interested in reading this piece which I’ve dissed as being slightly out-of-date, it follows. I actually think it is a worthwhile piece in that it sums up some of my own thinking and conversations from the January-March time period; it tries to place some of these strategic questions in a conjunctural context as well. The extent to which it achieves any of that is rudimentary, and my thinking around the conjunctural questions has developed as well; nevertheless, it remains an important moment in my attempt to think these questions together.

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On March Fourth, we marched forth. Now what?

This is the question being asked across the state in activist meetings of all sorts and configurations. The situation is contradictory, in that March 4 was by almost all measures an impressive success, yet the answer to the question “now what?” is a lot murkier now than it was in February. March 4 represented a remarkable broadening, in quantity and quality, of the movement in defense of public education, particularly in California though also to some extent nationally and worldwide. Though it’s now part of a larger national process, the situation in California still has a certain density and specificity. Hundreds of rallies and other events in defense of public education took place on March 4 across the state. Large marches took place across the state: 20,000 in San Francisco, 6000 in Northridge, 4000 in downtown Los Angeles, 2000 in Berkeley, 2000 in San Diego, 2000 in Sacramento, 1000 in Santa Barbara, and 1000 in Riverside.(1)

On my campus at UC Santa Cruz, a student strike successfully shut down campus, stopping business as usual for an entire day. In Oakland and Davis, protesters took to the freeways. Police blocked Davis protesters from marching onto I-80, but in Oakland, 150-200 people successfully blocked traffic on the I-980/I-880; most of them were arrested. Brief sit-ins or occupations took place at UCLA, UC Irvine, and CSU Fresno.

This brief roundup covers many of the larger events and the more significant direct actions, but fails to convey the breadth of the events of March 4 in California. Walkouts and smaller rallies took place across the state, particularly at a wide range of community colleges and California State (CSU) campuses not represented during the Fall 2009 protests. Public school teachers participated in short walkouts and taught about the education crisis during the day in many districts around the state, and a number gathered for local rallies in the afternoon. March 4 in the Bay Area was probably the biggest and broadest day of action since the antiwar marches of 2003. In Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, it seemed as though nearly every school was “in motion” in some respect. School districts in Oakland and San Francisco had “disaster drills” which allowed teachers to demonstrate, even if only around their own schools. Marches connected UC Berkeley with a rally in downtown Oakland; many Oakland marchers also attended a very big regional rally in San Francisco.

While these actions were certainly more widespread in coastal and urban California than in the rural and inland parts of the state, March 4 did permeate well past the traditional left-liberal bastions of California protest politics. A colleague of mine, for example, was part of a discussion of the defense of public education in a group sponsored by her relatively conservative church in Silicon Valley. A school-based event took place in Brentwood, in eastern Contra Costa County. In Fall 2009, one could argue with some justification that the defense of public education movement was centered among relatively privileged students in California’s elite public university system, the UC. In addition to the quantitative broadening I have described above, March 4 also involved a qualitative broadening. Struggling public school teachers, parents and students, resource-starved community college students and traditionally underprivileged students, particularly students of color and immigrants, fighting to maintain access to higher education became a substantial part of the mix, and this has already transformed the character of the movement to some extent.

Read the rest of the article on the Reclamations website.

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