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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | East Bay | Education & Student Activism
Collective Statement Regarding the February 13th Day of Action
Nearly one month ago, on February 13th 2014, upwards of two hundred and fifty people congregated at Sproul Plaza to protest Janet Napolitano’s appointment as UC President...
“We have been waiting for Napolitano to come… and finally she is here, but she is hiding, she remains in one building and does not leave…where she says she is doing her “listening and learning tour” behind doors with only a certain number of students, but you know this is bullshit because she is hiding and for what? What does she have to hide from us? We must ask ourselves this because if she is hiding she is not hiding alone… the regents are behind her… they are not innocent either… they continue to violate student rights like Napolitano continues to violate human rights because even if she is not the head of homeland security department anymore what she has done continues to impact our lives today and this is something we will not forget no matter how hard Napolitano and the regents try…” –S. R.
Nearly one month ago, on February 13th 2014, upwards of two hundred and fifty people congregated at Sproul Plaza to protest Janet Napolitano’s appointment as UC President. News of the last campus visit on her “listening and learning” tour brought us together to mobilize weeks in advance. Leading up to the day of her visit, we circulated a letter demanding her immediate resignation and the democratization of the UC President and UC Regents selection processes. A multitude of student and staff organizations endorsed the letter and committed to participate in the day of action.
There is a great deal of speculation and misinformation concerning the day of action organized by the Student of Color Solidarity Coalition. Although this is not the first action we have taken–our first action protesting Janet Napolitano’s appointment took place in the Fall semester, on the day of Chancellor Dirks’ inauguration, at which Napolitano spoke–we feel that it is necessary to bring clarity to the events of this day. We are taking this opportunity to connect to the local and the statewide UC community and beyond, to those who were watching closely, sending us their support from a distance. We are issuing this statement in order to share what happened during the day of action and the takeover of the Blum Center so we can reflect and formulate future strategies.
At the end of this post, we provide a link to personal statements written by participants from the day of action. Since each person experienced the day of action differently, we believe that these narratives are absolutely essential to understanding that day.
The action kicked off with the rally in Sproul Plaza, facilitated by student organizers from the SCSC and was attended by hundreds of students from different communities. On the speakers’ list were Roberto Lovato from Presente.org, the Bay Area historian Gray Brechin, and youth from 67Sueños that performed a song about deportations and violence at the border. Not long after the speakers’ list closed, students began to march to Sutardja Hall. When the march reached Memorial Glade, UAW grad students spoke and led chants outside of Doe Library. Shortly after, the march continued on to the building in which Napolitano was meeting with twenty students behind closed doors. As we reached the area we gathered outside of the Blum center, where students had just successfully executed a building take-over and reclaimed the space outside as our own, making speeches, talking about next steps, and most importantly waiting for those in the meeting to walkout.
Why Students Walked Out
On the last stop on her “listening and learning tour”, Napolitano chose to meet with only twenty undergraduate students in a small conference room on the 6th floor of Sutardja Dai Hall. Fifteen of those students decided to make Napolitano listen to them, organizing a plan to subvert her tour. Napolitano’s office required the list of students that she would meet with weeks in advance. Leading up to the meeting, however, Napolitano changed her schedule multiple times. Moreover, students were lied to about who would be checking ID’s at the door–they didn’t realize it would be so highly policed. It was clear that Napolitano was prepared to meet resistance.
Within the meeting, students spoke from lived experiences, forcing Napolitano to sit, witness, and endure their truths, not giving her an opportunity to justify her actions. Students took turns reading their personal statements to her: student narratives of being undocumented, Muslim, queer, sexual violence survivors, low income, first generation college students. They explicated why her presence on campus is a threat to their communities and an insult to the entire student population. After everyone around the table spoke their piece, they walked out to drive home the message that we are not interested in engaging in conversation with an individual who has caused so much pain to our communities, we were not there to negotiate or work with a human rights violator nor with any of the individuals who impel the privatization and militarization of our campuses. We are fighting to reclaim our university and we want them out.
The Blum Center take-over on February 13th marked the first successful building reclamation on the UC Berkeley campus since the struggles against the fee hikes of 2009 and 2010. Janet Napolitano spent her entire visit at the private labs of Sutardja Dai Hall–so why didn’t we take over that building instead? In order to gain strategic advantage, we felt that attempting to take the massive and highly securitized Sutardja Dai would be futile and thus should be avoided. Instead, we chose to exert social power by reclaiming a more strategic building. We chose the Blum Center because of its symbolic significance: it embodies corporate interests and forces of global imperialism (“The Center for Developing Economies”, seriously?) and it was funded by the UC Regent Richard Blum, one of the main profiteers of the UCs investments on construction projects. Blum was a key player in the selection of Janet Napolitano as candidate for UC President, and in her eventual appointment.
Why We Chose the Blum Center
Opened in April of 2009, the Blum Center For Developing Economies was made possible by the $15 million donation of the San Francisco based financier Richard Blum. No regent, or private businessman has ever before had private offices on UC campuses. His private equity firm, the $7 billion Blum Capital Partners, owns the largest real estate firm in the world, BC Richard Ellis, of which Blum is chairman of the board. He is also a major shareholder of one of the largest for profit education companies, Career Education Corporation. There is very strong evidence indicating that he owns border-town maquiladoras that build weapons components for the US military.
Blum is one of a number of UC Regents who specialize in leveraged buyouts and privatization of publicly traded companies. They have long practiced this same basic business philosophy on the university. The Regents have effectively pledged student fee increases to the capital bond market, thereby creating a financial incentive for the Regents to continue raising fees, in a scheme that raises money for campus construction projects and contributes to the profitability of for-profit education companies. URS Corporation–a company that Blum partially owns and that made $1.5 billion on contracts awarded by Feinstein’s Senate military construction committee–has been the main contractor for the largest university capital projects in recent years: UCLA’s $150 million reconstruction of Santa Monica Hospital, UC Berkeley’s $48 million nanotechnology laboratory, and Berkeley’s $200 million Southeast Campus Integrated Project, which includes a seismic retrofit of Memorial Stadium and an expansion of the Haas School of Business — the building that was originally slated to house the Blum Center for Developing Economies.
It must be emphasized that Richard Blum was the driving force in choosing Janet Napolitano as the new UC president. In fact, Blum and a very small number of Regents, including Monica Lozano, a board member of Bank of America, and Russell Gould, the former vice-chairman of the 2008 crisis connected Wachovia Bank, are those responsible for the central decisions of the University. These associates–or cronies–of Blum have the most to gain from the gradual death of public education, since their banks will continue to lend to the UC and their construction companies will continue to get priority bids for new projects. Who better to facilitate the continuation of this process than someone who spent the last few years heading one of the largest institutions of social control in the country?
Why We Chose to Leave
We held the Blum Center for 25 hours–the longest building take-over in decades. How could we just get up and leave? What would make staying worth it? What would make leaving worth it? We never expected to stay so long. We were prepared to be arrested by the police within a mere few hours.
Still, making the choice to leave was not easy. Throughout the time the Blum 11 spent inside of the building, the ASUC President and the Dean of Students tried convincing us to leave the building. Our choices were not influenced by promises of amnesty, although organizers did demand amnesty for all participants in the direct action. Each decision we made was informed by care for each other and a consciousness of our group’s capacity both inside and outside the building. We knew that what we were doing needed to be seen within a long term strategy, and that at this moment our demands needed to be clear and widely circulated. We also came to recognize the limits of our capacity. After dusk, the police made dispersal orders on a speaker every hour, notifying protesters that they were trespassing. All night, police in riot gear were shining lights into the Blum center from the next building, making their presence seem bigger than it actually was and causing panic among protesters. Those on the outside were forced to stay vigilant due to police activity and to their commitment to put their bodies on the line to protect those of us inside. On top of that, it rained all night long. Enduring 25 hours of uncertainty, of endless panic, was emotionally and physically exhausting to people both on the inside and the outside–especially on the outside, where the care work was carried out.
Although there were disagreements on how much longer we should hold the building, after intense deliberation we decided as a group that the best next step was to exit the building on February 14th at 5:00pm. Coming to a consensus doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same way–it means that everyone listens to each other and compromises according to the group’s needs. So what had we accomplished? Indeed, we sent a powerful message: we are here, we are growing and we are pushing the limits of what resistance on university campuses looks like. We hope that we set an example of what it will take to change the UC. Holding space was necessary to gain visibility for our movement and prolong our resistance, but it was also strategic in that we were able to critically engage with students and community members who previously had no knowledge of Napolitano’s despicable record, nor of the collusion of the UC regents with private interests.
What We Learned From Our Experience
We learned a great deal from our mistakes, as well as from our accomplishments. One rookie journalist attributed the organization of the action to the ASUC, completely erasing the extensive energy and dedication the SCSC put into planning and executing this action as a student of color led coalition not associated with the university. We received criticisms that we were in the wrong building, as if our intent was to chase down Napolitano and engage her. We have stated that we refuse to negotiate with her. It was on our terms, not Napolitano’s, that the UC administration would be forced to hear us. Students from the SCSC infiltrated the meeting with Napolitano and walked out in a swift, symbolic move to show that we were not interested in speaking with her–speaking with Janet Napolitano on her terms would only legitimize her position. It was unnecessary to be in the same building as Napolitano, to make an attempt to resist under such controlled conditions. The real student power and democracy manifested outside, not behind closed doors in an exclusive meeting.
There were certainly moments when unexpected problems arose. Our responses to them brought to us many lessons that made our experience richer. Now we are creating ways to strategically move forward, adjusting our strategies to focus on how best to achieve the structural changes necessary, in ways that will allow student, faculty, staff and community participation in the decision-making processes of the Public University. As our numbers continue to increase, we know that we have to us the potential of student power to build a base and be able to accomplish what it will take to make that happen.
Ultimately, we realize that there was nothing the university could have done to make us fail. We have succeeded. We accomplished more than we expected. We set a new standard for direct action. From here, things will only escalate until our demands are met.
The SCSC continues to organize against Napolitano and unveil this so-called “public” and “progressive” education system’s inner workings. We are now in a period of coalition building in order to sustain the momentum created on the day of action. This requires a great deal of collective self care so that we don’t burn out. The UC Berkeley organizing community is not alone in this fight against Napolitano and the Regents. All across the state, even the nation, people are beginning to see what steps will be necessary to make the university safe and accessible for all communities. We know that the fight will be difficult, but it is not impossible. It’s a matter of holding steadfast to our principles, and continuing to challenge the increasing injustices being done in our educational system.
–The Student of Color Solidarity Coalition, March 11 2014