The Che Cafe Must Stay!
The Che Cafe, a coop space on the La Jolla campus of the University of California, has a legacy that extends back to the 60s. In it's 49 years, evictions have been attempted at least a dozen times. Currently it is being occupied by in yet another eviction struggle. On the 93rd day, occupiers were interviewed by a weekly anarchist radio show. A partial transcript follows below, and the program will be rebroadcast on IndyRadio.
Check http://ch0.us later this week.
William Goodenuff : First of all will you talk about the history of the che cafe?
Che Cafe : The Che café actually started as the Coffee Hut in the late 1960s. The project to build the café cost 15k and was funded by student fees alone. It was the first student center at UCSD that was both student funded and student run. It hosted and continues to host discussions that facilitate brainstorming of marginalized/non-main stream issues (race, social justice, climate change, non-hierarchical forms of student government, etc...)
CC : It had two main roles:
CC : 1) it was the campus social center where student group of all political persuasions and interests hung out and had discussions
CC : 2) the collective is an incubator for cutting edge, non-mainstream thought, and gave birth to innovative ideas and practices
CC : it's also important because it's a safe space where all students were and still are welcome to hang out
CC : especially at a time where oppressed peoples where facing violence. One example was where people in the lgbt+ community were facing violence. The Che held a series of lgbt sponsored non-sexist dances in the 80's, providing a safe place where it didn't exist elsewhere
WG : Gotcha, I wanna talk about safer space in a minute, but just to give some context will you describe the space for listeners who have never been there, is it more like a show space or do people live there too? Is it still a cafe?
CC : Do you want us to describe the space as it is currently or also as it has been historically?
WG : I was thinking more in terms of how it is today, just how it looks and feels to be there for the benefit of folx who haven't seen it.
WG : But also if historical cues make sense I'd be into hearing that!
CC : Before the occupation, it was more of a hardcore punk venue for music. But with the occupation, it has expanded to become so much more
WG : What occupation do you mean?
CC : Well, the UCSD administration is trying to evict and destroy the Che Café. They served the eviction on march 23rd and we've been occupying the Che in resistance since then. 93 days and counting.
WG : Oh shit I didn't know that there was an occupation!
WG : How has it changed since then?
CC : Regarding the events we've had since the occupation
CC : we've expanded our programming tremendously
CC : we've had political meetings. For example, hosting the IWW
CC : We've also had workshops, like zine making workshops, feminist workshops, vegan cooking workshops. And something called Fem Fest, which is a feminist centered festival. Speakers from all over have come to speak at the Che. We've hosted workshops with Synchronized Cycle, a feminist bike collective. We've had circle discussions talking about issues affecting the people. We had music events, such as Che Fest, which was an all day music festival. Bands played inside and outside, upwards of 20 bands played. Hardcore and Indie and Surf Punk.
We've also had movie nights, ranging from light hearted movies to serious documentaries, with discussions after documentaries, student film nights, documentaries made here, queer/feminist film nights
As far as music shows, for awhile, we stopped doing shows because we thought it would help our case with the university. The strategy killed momentum but it made us less of a threat. When we started doing shows again, the university started threatening us again. We had university security watching us.
We've painted the Che, touched up Mario Terero. He painted a lot of the murals. He's a well known Chicano muralist and did some of the murals on the building. Students have also painted murals. One member of the collective wants to do a mural of a lot of Chicana feminist writers that have a lot of influence on the Chicano identities. The Che has always been a place for marginalized peoples, including Chicano people.
We've done record swaps, there aren't many all-ages record swaps in the area. The Che has always been a space for all ages to be included.
There have also been open mic nights and poetry readings. This has been a recent thing that a lot of people have gotten more and more engaged with. We have prominent poets in San Diego and Los Angeles who will be featuring at the Che on July 24th
There's also something that happens called the Co-op prom or Safe Space Prom: Co-op prom happens every year for all the members of all the co-ops on campus. Co-op members are super connected and this is yet another form of social bonding for us that can happen in a safe space with lots of political unity.
We also have Meatless Mondays: They're nice because they get a lot of students to come to the Che. It's really nice to have students out here. We used to sell vegan donuts and coffee. A lot of people who wouldn't normally come would come and ask questions and talk to us about the space.
We've even had a play produced here called Sodom and Gomorrah
WG : Is the Che Cafe on UCSD campus itself? I've never been to San Diego.
CC : Yes, it is located in Revelle College. Revelle was the first college in this campus system, and currently there are 6 colleges in the UCSD system
WG : Gotcha, I think it's really rad that it's been a place for marginalized folks for so long. I've definitely known folks who held that space as really important for a long time.
WG : Is it ok if I go off script for one question?
CC : sure
WG : Without compromising your security/safety, has there been much solidarity with the Che from within the student population? Acts of support etc?
CC : The majority of occupiers have been students and there were also graduate students from UCSD that participated as well as outside help from UCSD alumni.
CC : as far as acts of support there have been minor acts like chalking and banner drops by students in support of the Che, as well as petitions etc
WG : Word.
WG : How often has UCSD issued eviction notices to the Che? And since the Che is not the only cooperative, does it similarly target other collective spaces on campus?
CC : I don't have the exact number of times that the University has tried to get rid of the space but in its 49 years, it has been at least 10-15 times. We can give you a more accurate number if you like...?
WG : Gotcha. No worries on exact figures. I just wanted to get a sense of the extent that the University was trying to evict the space, and it seemed to me that they'd tried fairly often.
CC : Yeah, the Master space agreement for all of the other collectives on campus expire at the end of 2016, which is worrisome.
WG : Really quickly, what is the Master Space Agreement?
CC : the MSA is basically the agreement that (after much effort) allowed for these spaces to have the level of autonomy that they currently hold from the university, and it includes details on rent, etc. Kind of like a lease but a little more involved.
CC : To go back to the question of other evictions or threatened evictions, aside from collective spaces UCSD has in the last decade alone shut down CLICS ( a humanities library which was also occupied), Graffiti Hall, Porter's pub, University Art Gallery, and the Ceramics Center
WG : That's a crazy amount of resources shut down!
WG : What do you think the universities are trying to do? Is it a question of resources or control?
CC : Well, leading to why the university is trying to do, it might help to consider that the Che is physically located on the fringe of campus rather than prime real estate, it's on the borders of a much more developed and built-up campus, but along with the cooperatives it is one of the few remaining establishments on UCSD run entirely by student and community members in the midst of a transformation of the university into a morass of private corporations and centrally-run "student" centers
CC : if you look at the corporate donor list for UCSD, it looks like you lined up a 100 NASCAR drivers
CC : There's been a lot of construction on UCSD campus and two of the companies doing that are corporate donors not to mention that UCSD gets 2.5 billion dollars in funding from the Department of Defense, there's an entire research center dedicated to drones and a bunch of other surveillance research is done here, and a lot of military research in general
WG : Holy shit! I had no idea about all of that.
WG : That definitely puts the eviction attempts in a totally new light, thanks for going into that.
WG : So as per the Master Space Agreement, the Che is a relatively autonomous space from UCSD?
CC : yes
CC : But the attack on collective and social spaces is not isolated to just UCSD. It has been happening elsewhere. We were talking to someone who went to UC Davis and the same stuff that has been happening here has also been happening there It's systematic. And from what we heard, they've been trying to shut down the co-ops at UC Davis repeatedly
WG : That's so brutal.
WG : What will it mean for the students if the Che gets shut down?
CC : If the Che gets shut down, that means the university will likely increase the pressure on all the other co-ops because the Che getting shut down would set a precedent.
CC : And like we said before, the Che has a long history of being an alternative community and social space for alternative and marginalized students and community members in general. It still very much is this for the community, despite pressure from the University. If we lose the Che, marginalized students and community members will lose a space that's important to diversity of thought and expression. Keep in mind that the Che is a very long time part of the UCSD campus, even before it called the Che, back to the 60's and 70's.
CC : In addition, without this space, it will be harder for marginalized students and community members to resist against university policies.
WG : For sure. This is such a brutal example of how expression and politics are being increasingly curtailed by institutions.
CC : Yeah, it's all about control. About shifting the university from a public to private model through any means necessary for the UC system in general.
WG : Agreed! It certainly looks that way to me.
CC : Additionally, an interesting note is that the current head of the UC system, Janet Napolitano, used to be the secretary of homeland security.
WG : Thaaaat just totally blows me away.
WG : You've already outlined the political and cultural place that the Che holds on campus, but could you talk about what it means for students to have a safe space within the context of the university?
CC : Could you clarify that question please?
WG : The question may actually be redundant, now that I come to think of it. I was wanting to get a sense of how large a part the Che played within the student body of holding safer space for folks, but I actually think we've touched on that sufficiently?
CC : Oh yeah, we can touch on that question
CC : The Che as it is today is unfortunately unknown to most of the students because the campus is so spread out.
CC : the Che, before it was even the Che, used to be the center of student life at UCSD during the 60's and 70's, being in the middle of the Revelle College.
CC : But there's been purposeful expansion since then that has made it harder for students to gather in autonomous spaces, but the Che is still one of the main punk and anarchist spaces in San Diego.
WG : Wait, on of the main anarchist spaces in all of San Diego??
CC : Yeah! In my experience, I haven't seen many other anarchist spaces in this town, the Che seems to be the main nexus for anarchists in the city
WG : Gotcha.
CC : Social spaces on campus have really shifted from autonomous student spaces to corporate spaces like the Price Center (*note: this is the largest so called “student” center in the country and hosts many capitalist ventures like fast food restaurants and a movie theater, it has over 30,000 visitors a day).
CC : And we have important safe spaces on campus like the Woman's Center, the LGBT Center, the Black Resource Center, and other important spaces, but none of these spaces are as autonomous as the Che. They're politically progressive where we're more anarchist, and are unfortunately more beholden to the University
WG : Yeah, that makes total sense. It's so important to have spaces for anarchist folk.
CC : yeah, basically
WG : Did you get a chance to read the statement from the Hobo space in Bologna? If so, do you have any words for those folx?
CC : Yeah, we read that statement
CC : And we definitely stand in solidarity with the students and community members resisting in Bologna
CC : We shouldn't just defend and preserve the existing autonomous spaces but expand and open up more of these sort of spaces. The stronger the network of autonomous spaces for anarchists and radicals, the easier we'll be able to resist against Power. We encourage the leftist, radical, and anarchist to defend existing spaces and open up more of these spaces by any means necessary.
WG : Totally agreed. I know they'll take strength from that.
WG : Is there a way for people who aren't in your area to help with the struggle concerning the Che?
CC : Yeah, definitely.
WG : And is there a way for folks to keep apprised of how y'all are doing? A website?
CC : Oh yeah, we have a facebook page, which is facebook.com/che.cafe.collective
CC : And the Che has a webpage which is thechecafe.blogspot.com
CC : and in regards to support
CC : People should get involved more with the struggle for the Che and the co-ops. Join the occupation if you can. Put pressure on the administration in whatever ways you can. Donations also help with legal funds, and we have a paypal account. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We need more support from the media. If you're in the media, contact us. Spread the word that we're still alive and still fighting. Encourage people to come to meetings. Help us occupy. The more people who resist with us, the better. If you have an event you want to do, you're welcome to do it in the space as long as you put it through the collective process. Send resources like vegan food and books and anything else. Volunteers to help clean up are also really appreciated.
CC : Also, Pressure the vice chancellor and the chancellor to stop evicting the Che.
CC : We have a meeting with the Chancellor on July 15th and the more support we have at that meeting, the better.
WG : Let me know how it goes and I can report in on the radio. Also are there contact details for the VC and the chancellor?
CC : Yeah, we definitely will keep you updated, and the web page with all that contact info is chancellor.ucsd.edu/cabinet
WG : Gotcha. That's all the questions I have, do y'all have anything else you wanted to close on?
CC : In regards to that, it's important that we fight for these spaces because it's in these spaces where we're more free: free of the majority of the power dynamics of our society.
CC : and fighting for these spaces ultimately will lead us into fighting against Power itself so we can ultimately abolish authority and power and live a free life where we decide what we want do, no one else deciding for us, no politician or boss, but us living lives of true joy.
WG : Totally agreed! Thanks so much for taking the time to have this interview! Keep us posted, stay safe. Solidarity to yall.
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