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“Occupy and Escalate”: Inside the Barricades at UC Santa Cruz
by How The University Works
Monday Sep 28th, 2009 11:25 PM
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: “Occupation is a tactic for escalating struggles,” they note at their website, “We must face the fact that the time for pointless negotiations is over.”

Their supporters aim to initiate some actual thought about the role of higher education in the economy. “A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors,” observes the author of the compelling Communique From an Absent Future:

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. …Even leisure is a form of job training. The idiot crew of the frat houses drink themselves into a stupor with all the dedication of lawyers working late at the office. Kids who smoked weed and cut class in high school now pop Adderall and get to work. We power the diploma factory on the treadmills in the gym.

Noting that public employees, the homeless and the unemployed have been demonstrating across the state, supporters argue that “all of our futures are linked” and the struggle over higher education is “one among many, [so] our movement will have to join with these others, breeching the walls of the university compounds and spilling into the streets.”

I completed an interview with their spokesperson this morning, on the fourth day of the occupation.

Q. Sounds pretty raucous in there. How long have you been at it?

We’ve occupied this space for almost four days now! This is one of the longest student occupations in many, many years.

Q. How many of you are there, and who do you represent?

There are several dozen or so occupiers, plus countless numbers of supporters on the outside. It’s been very impressive. For example, one first-year student, after being on campus for just one week, almost immediately organized food drives with students in the dormitories for us.

We honestly do not seek to represent anyone or any particular groups. Rather, we’re emphasizing our message: we want students, faculty, and staff at UC to occupy and escalate to stop the destruction of public education in California, and we call on the people of California who are similarly and unfairly affected by our state’s fiscal crisis to escalate in their own communities. The time for piecemeal negotiations with those who have fiscal authority over us to protect our own particular programs, jobs, or bottom-lines is over because our demands are only turned against those who face similar cuts, thus making foes of people who should be building a broad coalition to stop and reverse the damaging cuts.

Q. What inspired you to occupy UCSC, as opposed to other tactics, such as demonstrating, etc?

9/24 was the first day of classes at UCSC. As you probably know, there was a system-wide Walkout across all of the UC campuses on 9/24. We did demonstrate that day; we walked the picket line with the UPTE and CUE unions; we responded to the UC faculty call for a Walkout; some of us walked in uninvited on the large undergraduate lectures of those professors who failed to honor the picket line to make an emergency announcement about the Walkout.

Let us provide some additional context: The Santa Cruz campus of UC was already hit hard last year by steep budget cuts. The Community Studies program was gutted; minority student programs were cutback; faculty searches for departments desperate for replacements, such as the History of Consciousness, were cancelled; health care costs for graduate students were forced up; family student housing rents were jacked up-just to name a few of the attempts to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to afford it and the most vulnerable in the system. Undergraduates, graduate students, and some unions organized to stop those initial rounds of damaging cuts through petitions, demonstrations, and other tactics, to no avail.

A dire situation only worsened over the summer, which prompted the faculty to get more involved at the system level. So many of us at Santa Cruz already realized by the end of last year that the nature and severity of these budget cuts required an escalation beyond tactics of resistance that were attempted yet failed last year. As our press release ( says, “occupation is a way of escalating struggles.” This is what we decided to do to jumpstart a year of endless confrontation with the administration over their destructive logic that subordinates everything and everyone to the budget. This is only the beginning.

Q. What are your demands specifically?

Our primary message is directed at those who should be our allies within the UC, the public education system generally, and indeed throughout the state of California, as opposed to those who have power over us. We would like to see a broad social movement against cuts to education and all other state social programs and services. Thus we appeal to these groups to organize, occupy, and escalate at their schools and colleges and universities, as well as in their local communities. To sum, demonstrations address specific issues; our actions aim at a much broader struggle. Workers are losing their jobs. Students are unable to enroll in school. We have no choice but to occupy and escalate. We call on the people of California to do the same.

Q. This is a movement that you hope will spread to other campuses, isn’t it? Any developments we should watch for?

Not only the other UC campuses, but actually throughout the entire state of California and even beyond. We’ve already been on the radio shows of several UC campuses to talk to those UC communities about the need to organize and escalate and occupy, so, yes, you should watch for developments there! The one-day Walkout and our occupation are only first-steps, the genesis of a year-long or multi-year effort to take back the UC, to re-write its priorities in the interest of public education and not privatization. The same thing needs to happen to protect K-12 education in California; did you know that one school district closed all 28 of its school libraries due to budget cuts? Whose vision of a quality K-12 education would not include access to libraries? Our purpose is not to blame local school administrators but to show how the cuts affecting the UC are also impacting everyone else in the public sector of the state. The process which has led to this point is simply unacceptable.

Q. I take it you’ve followed the recent occupations at NYU and the New School, and perhaps earlier ones at Urbana-Champaign. Any lessons you’ve taken from those experiences?

We’ve received statements of solidarity from student groups across the country, including several schools along the east coast, which can be read at We want to express our thanks for the support across the nation. Why stop at the borders of California? Let’s take this effort to escalate to the nation as well! Public universities are being run like corporations all across the U.S. This must be brought to an end.

Q. Are you in touch with supporters outside?

Absolutely. The occupation on the inside is only one aspect of the escalation. This requires a lot of outside support, including many students who’ve been sleeping outside the doors to the occupation zone, volunteers to pick up trash and keep the space clean, students going around campus to spread the word about the occupation, and more. Then there are those who are working on logistics and press coverage.

Q. What will it take for the state government and administration to
move in a different direction?

This is a big question! Unfortunately, it may not be enough simply to focus on amending the state of California constitution, which makes it notoriously difficult to construct a reasonable budget, or simply to focus on the next round of state elections in order to put into power friendlier decisionmakers. These things might certainly help or be steps along the way.

On the one hand, our occupation is informed by a deep critique of the political economy of the system that underscores the unacceptable way in which things are accorded value by nothing more than the bottom-line, by nothing more than the potential to make profit (and this is what is driving the budget cuts and re-structuring at the UC); on the other hand, we don’t suppose to have the answer in detail to this question, though we are convinced that attempts to negotiate to protect our own singular interests or programs or jobs–which is tantamount to arguing for their value against, and not in conjunction with or in a complementary relationship to other programs–are only making matters even worse for everyone. Deleveraging in order to rectify problems in one’s balance sheet–whether at the state, university, or local level–does not cleanly map onto a process of social devaluation, and yet this congruence is a demand of the standard operating procedures of how our institutions are currently being run, including our universities. Protests are a manifestation of that gap between the two processes of balancing a budget and people feeling their own devaluation by the system.

Anyone who slavishly submits to a social logic that reduces social things to a line item in the budget might find it hard to comprehend how protests are part and parcel to the system, not roadblocks to its smoother operation. Protests on the level of the UC Walkout and now our occupation signify that this imperative to rectify accounts is determined by a grossly unfair set of priorities that must be rejected.

We’re tired of hearing UC President Mark Yudof talk about making the UC more “efficient,” more “competitive,” about “human capital,” not because we are against some notion of what it means to be efficient, to not be wasteful, but because his speech demonstrates he needs a more complex analytic of the dynamics over-taking the UC system in this crisis. A broad-based social movement that has the capacity to articulate an alternative collective vision to the narrow, corporatist special-interests that control our budgets and strategic planning will be necessary. Nobody is sure what this will look like yet.

For now, we believe one of the first steps to building such a movement is to show that escalation and occupation is necessary and possible. We hope that groups of students, faculty, and everyday Californians can begin to see themselves, too, as people who can organize, occupy, and escalate to fight back.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by ken keegan
Tuesday Sep 29th, 2009 1:54 AM
As a bus driver on the UCSC campus, I fully support this action. After watching the despicable "work" of Tom Vanni, Larry Pageler and Alisson Johnson attempt to destroy the campus transportation over the last year and a half, I am convinced that Blumencrawl is in deep with these corporate stooges. The only way to impress upon these cowards to show some integrity and grit is to show them that the majority of students and workers will have their voices heard. Bloomy's voice box, Jim Burns, will tell you it's for the survival of the UC system in an attempt to strike fear in voters minds. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, UC has billions in assets and this is the rainy day it was meant for. The kickbacks/influence peddlers have, for too long, been a parasitic influence on UCSC decisions. The city gets millions in revenue through a badly orchestrated contract with Metro where they double dip on student passenger fees and agreements between the city and the college are blatantly incestuous with UCSC keeping any stores, movie theaters, restaurants off campus in order to get the students into town to spend their money. They force freshman to be on a meal plan that is frequently unavailable. They have forced this situation through their blind ambitious greed and lies. If students hadn't occupied McHenry Library in 1984, Nelson Mandela would still be in jail or dead. We forced UC to divest from South Africa helping to bring down Botha's evil regime. Stand up and be counted. Stand with these students in solidarity. Stand up for the best public university in the world and support your friends, your peers, your courageous fellow students. You can be assured that myself and my fellow drivers here in Slugland are with you. Come on my bus and hand out flyers or just converse and get this conversation going. It is necessary.
by c
Tuesday Sep 29th, 2009 11:43 AM
I don't like to come across as a harsh critic. I'm a postdoc at UC, shortly removed from the graduate student experience.

The occupation of the graduate student commons mainly serves as a big display of our impotence in the situation.

Nobody except graduate students wants to use that room.

There is no alternative site on campus which would provide a greater strategic advantage either. Indeed, banners over the freeway might get more visibility.
Students have a hard time going on strike, because what is happening here is that the state's contribution to tuition is just going down to a small fraction. Students aren't providing a service that they can withhold, except in the larger picture - that 10 years down the road there will be fewer lower-middle class residents with a decent education.

It is important that university worker classes should still insist on union negotiations and decent salary levels, rather than letting them solve the budget with big cutbacks here instead of to the prison and highway budget.
Anyhow, I think the only way to leverage power is to creatively find a way to make it known to the upper-middle class who refuse to force reform of our system of taxation, plus punishing the real estate jackals that have ruined the state, that their children are going to need to be private school students and that they will have live in a society with lots of poverty (creating crime and constant requests for charity).
by .
Tuesday Sep 29th, 2009 11:47 AM
Ken - I totally didn't realize that about restaurants and stores on campus.

It takes 45 minutes to bike downtown. I generally thought that the fact that there are few places to eat on campus just resulted from lack of ambition or initiative. Most colleges have apartments on adjacent streets, and a whole business district supporting them.

That one food truck always has a line of 20 people outside of it, and if they allowed additional places in, they would be swamped. In the Sentinel, they're always acting like the students are such a burden on the roads, but then they force people to go back and forth all the time?
by fresh
Tuesday Sep 29th, 2009 12:24 PM
i've been following/educating/involving myself for years in what's going on up at the UC, especially around autonomous student spaces. i encourage people to know the history of such autonomy, including the doing in of student run spaces Sluggo's and The JunXion. also Tent University of couple years back an interesting situation as well as numerous take overs. also, see how a university as supposedly conservative at UCSD has many many independent/autonomous spaces (Che Cafe, Groundwork Books, Food Co-op, General Store, etc) and UCSC scant few that are not really autonomous. one super important thing here at ucsc is to know that IN FACT, the student center is bought and paid for with ucsc student fees. this fee is known as The Student Life Facilities Fee, 90 bucks per year.

this self-assessed fee pays for the student center and some recreation fees. thus, the Student Center is OWNED BY THE STUDENTS. this is super important as far as who should be occupying said space and if they should be paying rent, etc. The Student Center Governance Board is supposed to be regulating this, though they can be overruled by the vice chancellor of student affairs...this is definitely not an endorsement of said board, just another fact to consider. be very wary of these types of boards aquiescing to administration especially at crucial moments. also, going to such board meetings can be hazardous to your mental/etc. health. love and rage.
by occupy everything
Tuesday Sep 29th, 2009 3:26 PM
COME GET YOUR DANCE ON, support the occupation and the struggle for a free university and free society!

quarry plaza, 9pm

by a
Tuesday Sep 29th, 2009 5:42 PM

you are wrong. the gsc is owned by a bank. grad students are paying a mortgage to a bank. neither is it an autonomous space. its an office, a few study rooms, a tiny kitchen, a fucking video game system... undergrads are not allowed inside except escorted by a grad student. the uc does not allow real student autonomy and the gsa is in a position of integration with the administration.

in many other countries, there are real autonomous student spaces which exist because they have been fought for, like we are fighting now. in any case, it seems like if the cops arent called we'll be out by friday anyway. on to bigger and better things.
by a
Wednesday Sep 30th, 2009 2:11 AM
you are wrong sir.
there are a bunch of anarcho-communists who wanted it so badly for a commune that they took it over...
by autonomous faction
Wednesday Sep 30th, 2009 3:48 AM
Epic dance party at the occupation (baytree bookstore / occupied commons) on Wednesday at 9pm.

You'll never be alone again.
by koal
Wednesday Sep 30th, 2009 12:18 PM
They are also smarter than the tree sit people because it has a better rain shelter and insulation for longer term use.
by Shekinah
Wednesday Sep 30th, 2009 2:30 PM
Flash and flare are well and good, but meanwhile, what is actually getting done? Who is it designed to benefit?
There's such a thing as acting to advance one's own self-image as capable, strong, even heroic--and I will argue that refusing to sleep until 4 am in order to get that 'one last pamphlet done'--hitting the point of utter sleep deprivation-- IS THAT POINT.
We are humans. We deserve to be treated like human beings, for once, and we deserve leaders who recognize and embrace their own humanness as well. We will never be awarded this type of leadership until we ourselves stand up and recognize that part of anarchism means do what you can and what you will, but for god's sakes be aware of what you are doing in relationship to what you claim to be doing, be aware of whether you are acting according to your own principles and the principles of whatever movements or others you claim to be collaborating with, and be aware of a sense of PLACE...there are people here other than yourself, and they matter, just as much as you do. Please, all y'all white men all used to your privilege, be aware of and show at least ONE IOTA of the respect to some of us that your crazy antics and self-"respect" built upon the ongoing exploitation of other peoples and situations that we, especially those of us who may identify strongly as feminine womyn, may oftentimes feel FORCED by circumstance to show you...
by autonomous faction
Wednesday Sep 30th, 2009 4:30 PM
I worry about one of the comments above, purely on questions of fact. First, many of the people inside the occupation are not anarchists. This action has nothing in particular to do with anarchism, except insofar as anarchists have chosen to take part. Second, there are at least as many, if not more women in here than there are men (and we're not all white). And so I'm not really sure where this comment is coming from, whether out of some particular experience at the occupation, or out of some previous experience with actions. Nothing like this has happened in recent memory. We have an open social space. Everyone who supports the action has been welcome. The space is full of love between people of all genders and sexes, all ages, regardless of one's position out there, and we all know how horrible it is out there, which is why we did this. One further point: there are no leaders in here. Much love, the thousandth autonomous faction within the occupation.
by Administrator
Wednesday Sep 30th, 2009 4:36 PM
I am an administrator at UCSC. I just wanted to thank the Occupiers for their great work and to keep up moral and their action. Normally we have to worry that the public will support Labor Unions when we lay off and furlough large swaths of workers, but thanks to the Occupiers, that is not much of an issue. The Occupation provides us with a great side show that allows us to sideline the needs of workers. We have had a large showering of support in our opposition to the Occupation, from grad students, staff, faculty, and members of the community. Many of them have wonderfully forgotten about our layoffs and instead their attention is drawn to your very public occupation. Support for our policies were at an all time low, but you provided us with a PR boost in our most desperate hour. Thank you thank you thank you. I suggest you have more dance parties as they help us to delegitimize the concerns of actual workers. You could try and occupy other student spaces: The bike coop is nearby. The ARC Center houses support services for transfer students, first time college students, and disabled students. Those elitists have it coming to them (I heard people there calling you capitalist pigs. Are you going to take that?). Have we mentioned how mad we would be if you occupied the Kresge coop. My face would be red with anger then. Remember your slogan: Occupy everything!

Hugs and kisses.
The Administration
by ???
Thursday Oct 1st, 2009 3:26 PM
From wikipedia:

A sophism is taken as a specious argument used for deceiving someone. It might be crafted to seem logical while actually being wrong, or it might use difficult words and complicated sentences to intimidate the audience into agreeing, or it might appeal to the audience's prejudices and emotions rather than logic, i.e. raising doubts towards the one asserting, rather than his assertion. The goal of a sophism is often to make the audience believe the writer or speaker to be smarter than he or she actually is, e.g., accusing another of sophistry for using persuasion techniques. An Ad Hominem argument is an example of Sophistry.
by over
Thursday Oct 1st, 2009 4:38 PM
The occupation is over. No word yet on what the occupation accomplished.
by fresh
Friday Oct 2nd, 2009 11:46 AM
not wishing to get into anarchospeak about ownership/banks/etc...merely: where do student fund$ go that are supposedly to purchase student center? Student Facilities fee has been going on for at least 10-15 years. $45 per year of this for Student Center. 10-15000 students per year, you do the math...but, more or at least as importantly: who behaves AS IF they own the space? who behaves AS IF they are the tenants? who is setting the terms? and, who legally owns such buildings?? just asking folx to recognize the convolutedness of students supposedly owning the building, paying rent for it, having terms for such rent established by the U, and rage...X