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San Francisco | Education & Student Activism

On the Actions of December 10th and in Defense of the SFSU Occupation-Response to the ISO
by Members of La Ventana
Saturday Dec 12th, 2009 4:45 AM
The ISO posted a response to the occupation of the Business building at SFSU on their website at socialistworker.org. Here is a response to their criticism, which was drafted by the La Ventana Collective.
The International Socialist Organization writes:

One important criticism of the occupation has come from faculty and students involved in the campus movement--the action was organized in secret by a small group of activists, and intentionally excluding other leading campus activists. The result was that the number of occupiers was small, and outside support had to be put together hastily. This only made it easier for the police to break up the occupation.

Secondly, the occupation was organized on the same day as a planned SFSU General Assembly--and actually caused its cancellation. Dozens of students, faculty and staff had been planning for the general assembly as the next step in building a democratic, united movement on campus.

Building the General Assembly is still an urgent task--the next one will take place on Wednesday, December 16 (postponed from the previous week). A united, democratic effort is the best hope of building for mobilizing students, faculty and staff to strike and shut down SFSU's campus on March 4--and of moving beyond to get the budget cuts taken back.


Here is the response of La Ventana Collective who participated in the events of December 10th:

On the Actions of December 10th and in Defense of the Occupation
La Ventana Collective

The actions of December 10th reflected an evolution on the campus of San Francisco State University.

While the ISO argues that the occupation was “undemocratic” it is important to note that in this particular case it was strategically valuable to have clandestine organization. This militant action will act as a spark for more expanded and informal organizing in the spring. Security is a huge issue on campus as the struggle to defend public education escalates in resistance. Additionally, the ISO’s organizing model is in many ways undemocratic in nature with centralized committees espousing orders that rank-and-file militants within their organization must follow, including the "party-line" and "platform" with which the ISO members must adhere.

Furthermore, to assume that outside support must be organized by a vanguard is to assume students on campus are incapable of acting on their own initiative to support an occupation that is an important step in mobilizing for power amongst students, employed members of the university, and the supporters of the community. They used the word "hastily" but the fact that a large number of students (the largest turn-out we have seen all semester) on their own volition decided to support this action the week before finals proves the potential of spontaneous self-organization. The students on this campus are willing to support actions that are outside the traditional framework of “activism” as defined on this campus (e.g. walks outs, marches, rallies, teach-ins). The thousands of students who showed up to support the occupation was what kept it alive for 24 hours. The "haste" of preparation for the occupation had nothing to do with the riot cops ability to break it up - they forced their way into the building by breaking windows at 3.30 in the morning, when many students were tired and on the verge of sleep.

The ISO criticizes the cancellation of the “General Assembly” despite the fact that a general assembly still took place, albeit in separate breakout discussion groups at each entrance to the occupied building. The decentralized structure allowed for intimate conversations, and provided an empowering space for those who would not normally have spoken up or attended. In light of these conditions, we ask the ISO two things:

(1) What is their definition of a "general assembly"?
(2) What is the best way to mobilize students to participate in the struggle to defend public education?

These questions are important and perhaps represent where we ideologically disagree with the ISO. Their version of a general assembly is one where procedurally they can control the facilitation. They bring members of their organization to vote in blocks to favor their pre-meditated proposals, which in the first General Assembly included a 10-person steering committee. This is a textbook tactic of vanguards—particularly of the rotting Leninist variety—to control a democratic assembly of people. Obviously, as demonstrated by the vote, this was one of the least supported proposals put forth during the first general assembly. Coincidentally, the ISO showed up to the General Assembly that occurred at the occupation with proposals that included approaches to organizing and requested that students support these proposals with a "straw-poll" at the western entrance. The organizing approach reflected how to build for March 4th by specifying the exact amount of hours students were to outreach and “flier” each week. However, we identify autonomy within the struggle as being a primary strength that was manifested within the occupation. The occupation inspired complementary actions and participation that counteract an authoritarian approach to expanding the organization of this fight.

It was strategic on the part of the ISO to send a representative to each mini-general assembly to try and co-opt the discussion and push to adopt their proposals as laid out.

Secondly, if we know anything about the ISO and their involvement in the General Assemblies, it is the fact that none of them advocated the proposal for a general strike, which was voted on as one of the most popular proposals to bring forth to the Berkeley Organizing conference on October 24th.

In the 2006 Oaxacan uprising and rebellion, the APPO (the Popular People's Assembly of Oaxaca) organized large general assemblies held in the midst of the occupation of the zocalo of the capital city of the state of Oaxaca. The "planton"—or occupation—was a space where meetings took up to 3 days in many cases due to the horizontal nature and directly democratic principles of the APPO, which functioned as guidelines and principles of the movement. For the ISO to argue that an occupation is undemocratic reflects their fears in not being able to control the situation and context of organizing on campus at SFSU. A general assembly, is for us, a large gathering of people willing to talk about the issues through discussion in order to formulate plans for moving forward. This is different than the symbolic and flawed "General Assemblies" we have seen at State, which pretend to have representation of the campus body but fail to do so. Students were bound to resolutions that were never popularly supported because the only people that came to the frustrating meetings were students involved within the “typical activist milieu.” If we are serious about March 4th then we have to be willing to step outside of the traditional organizing framework and create spaces for autonomous action and allow people to decide for themselves how they want to support the proposals and organize amongst themselves. Rather than centralizing the General Assemblies to consolidate power so that the ISO or other similar organizations can take over, we should promote a "diversity of tactics" that complement each other in a horizontal manifestation of our collective strength.

Throughout this occupation we have gained evidence that large numbers of people turn out and are willing to engage in dialogue about the course and direction of the movement. This is not unlike the Oaxacan model of organizing as demonstrated by the coalition known as APPO. Due to the large representation and diversity of the students that turned out, this action transcended the "leftist" facade on our campus and brought real people with representation on behalf of real issues. The ISO is not the only “leading campus activist organization” and their flawed theories on organizing exclude people from wanting to participate in building for larger actions on campus, which the ISO cannot contain. The “Socialist Worker” article also failed to mention perhaps the most important part of the occupation and that is the relationships that were formed and the lived realization that a self-organized student-worker university is possible.

It is as our friends in Tiqqun stated: "It is not the occupation that is important, but rather, the relationships that are formed during an occupation."

This is the most important part of an occupation—the communization of the struggle. The social interactions broke down old ideals and created new realities that, we as participants, wish to achieve not after we win the struggle but rather during the struggle. This is a philosophy that was stressed during the 2001 horizontalist movement in Argentina after the collapse of the economy. Once again, during the actions that followed the collapse of the government, the people self organized in their own neighborhoods. Rather than centralize the general assemblies, they decentralized them in order to coordinate from the particulars to the general as opposed to the general and on down to the particulars. This perhaps, was driven by the needs-based desires, to coordinate basic functions and activities in the neighborhoods in order to survive an economic collapse. In that tradition we must view our struggle as a process in which we are implementing our ideals not in a linear trajectory towards some abstract that is irrelevant to those most affected by the issues of inaccessibility to affordable and quality education for all.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by MC
Saturday Dec 12th, 2009 2:22 PM
i know how counter productive and divisive the ISO can be. I also know how frustrating and difficult it can be to do anything at SFSU. all the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through to get permission for any sort of official event..

so i just wanted to say that it warms my heart to see la ventana doing what ya'll are doing. great job and keep it up!