Notes On March Fourth And The Invisible College
I traveled to Berkeley, California from a strange, anonymous land. I mingled with the desperate and the insane on my journey. People broken by the economy, the police, and society. Strangers amidst strangers, sharing what little they had with me and with each other. I traveled alone, just like all of the others, heading to our various failures, disasters, and dreams.
When I arrived at UC Berkeley, I knew very little about the planning of the events of March 4th. I knew nothing about how the unions, workers, students, and unemployed came together. I knew nothing of the divisions, the drama, or the infighting which had taken place before, nor did I know the context for the infighting which was to happen later.
I mingled with the crowd at Sather Gate, watching as they staged a picket line, forcing students to jump over a creek to get class. I watched students hesitate when they were called scabs. I overheard condemnation and praise of the mass of people blocking the main route to the classrooms. I entered lecture halls with strikers as they yelled at professors. I watched the passive students remain locked in their desk seats, wanting the time in class they paid for, wanting the strikers to go away, wanting nothing more than to get their degrees and move on.
The professor of one besieged class told the occupiers that they could sit down and receive a free education from him. The occupiers began to scream at him, saying that he told his students not to participate in the strike. I sat down next to a 21 year old woman. I asked her if her professor said she couldn’t take part in the strike. She said, “No, he told us we wouldn’t lose credit.” I nodded my head and watched as the professor made the occupiers look foolish. I left the classroom with them and returned to the picket line at Sather Gate, wondering who the occupiers were more angry with: the professor or the students.
I watched students try to get through the picket line when I returned. There were easily more students trying to get to class than not at UC Berkeley. While they could still afford it, these students were determined to get as much credit from a school as prestigious as UC Berkeley. While increased tuition might spell the end of their academic careers, these students could think only of following their path to a degree and a career as long as possible. To the strikers, these students were apathetic scabs. To the career-minded students, these strikers were idiots, dorks, brats, and hippies. Both groups of people are going to be affected by the cuts to education, regardless of what they think of each other. I watched both groups while I sat on a bench, wondering how every student at UC Berkeley will come to realize that they are all fucked, their future is shot, and that their only option is to band together and fight. I put my cheek in my hand and smiled at them all, waiting for the march to begin.
Everyone clogged the intersection of Telegraph and Bancroft, surrounding a truck with a PA in its bed. People listened to speeches and mingled with each other. And then the march kicked off. As we began to move, I took a look around and saw more young people on the street than I have in years. The energy in the crowd did not die as we got farther from the campus. Instead, it grew in intensity as we proceeded down Telegraph Avenue, exacerbated by the applause and cheering of nearly everyone on the sidewalk. I bit my lip and struggled to believe what I was seeing: all of these kids cared, all of the pedestrians on the street cared, and something new was starting, something beyond anyone’s control, something that truly mattered to everyone involved. I glanced around at the familiar faces and saw that all of us were part of something bigger than we could understand. The closer we came to Oakland, the more I began to tremble.
People kept chanting, “Who’s University? Our University!” I felt as if I had just snorted some cocaine. Did they know what they were saying? It wasn’t their university. Not yet. UC Berkeley still belonged to people who followed the rules and paid their tuition. I looked up at the sky and felt as if something was downloading into the brain of every person in the march. They were all finally remembering that they had already enrolled in the Invisible College, the Academy, the school that exists outside of Time. The school which is everywhere simultaneously. It seemed to dawn on everyone for a moment. They had been in the only school worth going to their entire lives. But they had forgotten for too long, having grown stuck in what they thought was real. Diplomas, tuition, graduation, career. And now, with 3000 of their peers clogging Telegraph Avenue, they remembered that they had always been pupils of the Invisible College and always would be.
Just as they all remembered this, myself included, a banner suddenly fell down the side of a billboard. The entire march began to cheer, seeing themselves in the 5 people who hung the banner over Telegraph. The banner read FIGHT BACK and was dropped down to the excited crowd. The crowd kept marching, nearing Downtown Oakland, electrified by the memory of being Invisible. The towers loomed over our heads as we approached the plaza. I quickly stopped trembling. The moment had passed and we were all forgetting where we had just been. But even as we all filed into the plaza, ready to hear speeches and monologues, we couldn’t shake the images of the Invisible College, glowing in all its forbidden splendor.
I listened to some speeches in the plaza, ate some free food, and watched as people plotted and schemed. The riot police were nearby, on the sidewalk, waiting for an excuse to fight us. The scheduled rally went on. People patiently listened to each other. Some of us were tired, not sure if what we had just seen was real. Perhaps it was all an illusion. In reality, the only universities were the ones funded by the state of California. I slumped down on a bench, watching everyone in the plaza fall back into the fake memory of thinking they were wage slaves, students at UC Berkeley, future workers with future careers. The speeches began to wrap up. Young people were warned to not do anything after the rally because the police would undoubtedly beat them. I shook my head and looked up from my feet.
Without warning, the doors of the Invisible College burst open and the errant pupils streamed outside, congregating at the corner of Broadway and 14th Street. A sound system began to spew music into the air. As the rally ended, people began to snap out of their trance and gravitate towards the college that had no fees, the college that danced through the street, the college without regents or chancellors. And then, without warning, everyone was off, moving to their own rhythm, remembering what they had been taught in the interstices of time: freedom is free. The police tried to block the dancing crowd. The crowd turned and went another way, bypassing the autistic guardians of order.
We streamed through the streets of Oakland, picking up dozens of people off the sidewalk. They jumped into the strange medley of people clogging traffic, dancing to garbled music, and screaming at the top of their lungs. The police could not keep up. Our joy was infectious. A polymorphic band of Invisible students, teaching an illogical lesson to each other. Teenagers with skateboards and bikes, workers waiting for the bus, and kids with nothing better to do came with us as we passed the UC offices in Downtown Oakland. That was when I began to hear whispers of taking the freeway.
As we headed towards West Oakland and the Interstate 880 freeway, I looked around to make sure we were all still together. The crowd was thick as we began to run towards the on-ramp. Before I knew it, we were all there, being warned by the police that we would be run over. But then the first flare was ignited and the cars stopped. All four lanes were blocked as we proceeded south along the freeway. When I turned around I saw that the riot police were following us. We all clumped together and proceeded forward.
This was it. The Invisible College, invading the shipping lanes of the East Bay. Our minds were infected by the lesson we had forgotten. We could do whatever we wanted, together, free of fear, plunging into the unknown and the uncertain. I could not help but smile insanely. The 880 was paralyzed as we all ran past the Alameda County Jail. And then I heard a noise. It was the sound of hundreds of people banging on the walls of their jail cells. For a moment, the prisoners saw a sea of free people sprinting joyously down the freeway, waving a middle finger at the jailers who were lagging behind. The jail caught fire for a moment. Everyone stuck inside felt as free was we did, if only for a moment which was as bitter as it was sweet. This is how the Invisible are seen. Momentary and fleeting, the lesson repeating itself throughout time. Freedom is free. It is there, on the freeway, outside the jail window, existing eternally. The cops arrested everyone, but not before the lesson had been taught. There is only one University. And it is Invisible.
On the front page of the newspaper I read about what we had done. I saw it on all of the news stations. I heard it talked about on the streets of Oakland, in the cafes, the bars, the parties. Some people knew I was there, others would never guess. I remembered what it was to be Invisible wandering the streets of Oakland on the 5th of March. A teacher that would never be heard, a student who would never listen, an anonymous stranger overhearing stories of their own deeds and exploits. I smiled as I listened to random people try to figure out what kind of people would think to shut down the freeway.
I still don’t know or understand how all of the events of March 4th came to fruition, nor will I ever. I do not know anything of the months of work that went into such a day as that one. That is all specific to Oakland and Berkeley, to the people who live and work and struggle there. I am just a stranger, waiting for those moments when the doors of the Invisible College burst open for infinite admission. I don’t know if people will realize that the UC schools are not real, that they are only nodes in the grand network of production. I don’t know if people will fight to remain workers and servants, or if they will devote all of their energy to making to doors to the Invisible College wider. I can only hope that the students of the UC schools remember they don’t need to pay anything, that underneath all of their toil and struggle is something which can never be taken away. A glowing core, a restless fire, a desire to exceed all boundaries and learn ravenously in the classroom that is everywhere.
I write these last words on my last day in the East Bay. I leave with longing, longing for another day with all of you where we act without fear, where all the lessons we have to learn are together, where all of the school walls and jail cells are torn down and the classrooms are in every alley, every bar and every grove of trees. I disappear once more into the sea of economic depression, poverty and futurelessness. I tasted something that I know you tasted. I hope you can remember that taste, forever. It will always be there. Glowing in the back of your mind. Telling you these simple words: