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A Statement by The People's Coalition Post-Firing of the Graduate Students
by The People's Coalition
Wednesday Mar 4th, 2020 6:40 PM

We believe it is time that this strike spreads even further, and that it is we undergraduates who spread it.

Cola4all is an autonomous direct-action based movement of student-workers reimagining the UC System.

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Before we begin we would like to acknowledge that we are on Uypi (Yu Pi) territory; on stolen and unceded Land. We begin with this because as students, workers, faculty, staff, and people who have no affiliation to this University other than living on or near campus, we are complicit in the ongoing genocide of the Indigenous Folx of this land. We begin with a land acknowledgment because today we will make it very clear that what must always follow a recognition of war crimes is not only condemnation, but action against the institutions and systems that were built at the expense of pre-existing sustainable modes of living. 

In other words, it is never enough to recognize the theft of the land, we must always work collectively to decolonize this landscape in both a physical and non-physical sense (i.e. the literal creation and re-creation of alternate lifestyles accompanied by the re-framing of learning and teaching models).  We open up with this because there is no People’s Coalition and no People’s University without the most marginalized and brutalized at the center of the movement; there is no Liberation without recognition of our complicates in genocide and white supremacy; there is no Liberation without an intent to dismantle, deconstruct, and decolonize (all acts that involve and entail the Abolition of our current systems and institutions).

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On Friday 14th February, following the conclusion of the first week of UCSC graduate student worker’s open-ended wildcat teaching strike - during which hundreds of graduate students, faculty, and undergraduates successfully disrupted the university’s business-as-usual through picketing and occupying the intersections leading onto campus, in the face of repeated police brutality -  UCSC students and staff received an unsavoury valentine’s gift in the form of two emails that laid bare the panicked incompetence of UC’s administrative class as they fail to counter the resolve of the radical solidarity at the picket. The first came from UC President and Deporter in Chief Janet Napolitano, the second from EVC Lori Kletzer. While these communications mainly consisted of the same vacuous and untenable spiel they have been deploying since the beginning, they also constituted a notable escalation: according to Napolitano, “participation in the wildcat strike will have consequences, up to and including the termination of existing employment at the University.” Lori then elaborated, in an email to faculty (once again unsuccessfully attempting to generate antagonisms between staff and students), that “all students who have continued to withhold fall grades will be informed that they have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, February 21 to submit all missing grades… Those who do not submit full grade information by February 21 will not receive spring quarter appointments or will be dismissed from their spring quarter appointments”. This initial threat was performative, and the university did not fire the graduate students who withheld grades. Instead, they extended the deadline to Thursday, February 27. When the day arrived, the campus fired/barred 54 graduate students. Additionally, up to 80 students are affected in different ways to prevent them from continuing in their studies. Many students with precarious statuses in their legal presence in the United States are now in limbo - especially undocumented students - with these dismissals constituting de facto deportation. We now know how willing the campus is ready to go in depriving humanity from its students.

We, the People’s Coalition at UC Santa Cruz, do not only unequivocally condemn and reject these actions of dismissal from Napolitano and Kletzer - we also recognize that they are ultimately futile and redundant in preventing mass undergraduate mobilization. Last Friday, this recognition was affirmed when ‘doomsday’ (the grad’s term for the day of dismissal) came and Napolitano backed down, extending the deadline and in the eventual firing, failed to squash momentum. We acknowledge that this futility and redundancy is exemplary of the fact that Napolitano, Kletzer and the UC’s administrative class do nothing for the UC community, and have no place in a system of public education that by definition should be run by and for the people it was built to serve. We recognize that the administrators of the UC system exists for no other reason than the following: to profit off injustice by shackling students to an inescapable cycle of debt; to oversee and authorize the UC’s praxis of turning the student into the oppressor; and to perpetuate the disenfranchisement of Black, Indigenous, PoC, trans/queer, differently-abled, undocumented, houseless, Muslim, and poor students, through a white supremacist ideology. We will NOT take it any longer. As such the People’s Coalition finds the continued employment of Janet Napolitano, Cynthia Larive, and indeed the continued existence of the University of California and its administration in its current form as an affront to our shared values as marginalized and allied students. We stand united with the Undocu Collective in the demand for Janet Napolitano’s resignation, effective immediately. Furthermore, we recognize Janet’s effort to use citizenship as a weapon to make the university itself a borderland, a weaponization that is part of the increasing militarization of the UC under Napolitano. To this end we join the Undocu Collective in rejecting citizenship and the militarization of our university (a rejection that encompasses the demand that all police presence to be removed from campus).

But this is also more than a statement of solidarity with graduate students. It is an affirmation of a radical vision for collective liberation from the structures and operations of white supremacy, centred around the concept of re-imagining; deconstructing and restructuring; transforming; decolonizing and indigenizing the space of the university, and an account of the direct actions that have so far worked to materialize this vision. We are invested in direct action as that which reifies and materialize the terms of our re-imaginings and (re)envisionings, but realize that participation in direct action can have the side-effect of producing a complacent, limited radicalness--therefore, underpinning this is a deeper investment in establishing, maintaining, and expanding systems of sustainability, care, and unity. Through this we not only begin to create and re-create alternate ways of living, but we also work to discredit and delegitimize the University, and declare the ways of living it (re)produces and legitimizes as non-viable.

This statement also aims to clarify and elevate the under-recognized yet pivotal work of PoC students and workers - the students and workers of this Coalition - that mobilized and transformed the space of the picket; work that has been homogenized and obscured by the racial dynamics of insufficiently critical activist spaces dominated by white folx, and work that has history and scope beyond that of a COLA. This homogenization consumes  and overpowers multifaceted spaces rapidly and is hard to reverse, and it occurs on both a micro and macro level. A recent instance of this on the macro level is the institutional appropriation of the demand for a COLA4ALL (the demand of the UCSC COLA affiliate group of the same name that was founded and is led by graduate students of color) by the statewide Union UAW Local 2865, an appropriation unsurprisingly devoid of consent or acknowledgement - the same union that pushed through the very contract that the COLA wildcats are fighting against, a contract which 80% UCSC graduate students rejected and which only passed state-wide by a slight majority. We recognize the infiltration of white supremacist structures in activist spaces and are committed not to aggravating antagonisms but to fighting them in through collective efforts of recognition, reflection and unlearning, while recognizing and working with certain incommensurabilities. 

In the last few weeks, the power we have to fight the UC’s white supremacist system of debt and exploitation has been made irrefutable. What is emerging alongside and beyond the wildcat strike is a fight for collective liberation led by undergraduate students of color. In the space of over three weeks (Febraury 5th to today, March 2nd) we (we understood as an amorphous and fluid collective - you are all in coalition with us) - held a 'Fuck The UC' rally, to which hundreds of undergraduates showed up, where we marched in unity through campus before reclaiming the grounds of the (empty) Chancellor's mansion on campus. We, in the face of hyper-militarized police presence ( from all over the bay area, including the same Alameda County police that brutalized the mothers of moms4housing - costing $300,000 a day) that did not hesitate in brutalizing us from the outset, showed up day-in-day-out and put our bodies on the line in order to shut down the business-as-usual of the university. On February 14th, the same day Napolitano and Kletzer had promised to finally destroy the livelihoods of striking UCSC grad students, we held our first general undergraduate assembly. Here, we built community, expressed and enacted radical solidarity with and for each other, and collectively formulated our demands as undergraduates. These demands were then physically taken, with graduate students (including comrades from UC Davis) and faculty in solidarity, to an (empty) Kerr Hall that had been evacuated in a state of lockdown, and plastered across the exterior of the building.

Acknowledging COLA4All’s homages to the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast Program, we worked against food injustice and the university's profit-driven agenda by liberating a dining hall, allowing all to come together and eat for ‘free’ (while recognizing this is food that our tuition already pays for). We also seek to recognize the timeless history of food as the center to societies. Because the current locality of the People’s Coalition resistance finds itself in Santa Cruz, California, United States of America, it's important to link the founding of an empire who’s economic and political systems were built in the enslavement of Africans and their children to the perpetuation of this same agricultural reality to the millions of undocumented farmworkers in the fields of the United States and especially in California and Santa Cruz County. Rather than deny the truth of contemporary agricultural slavery, the People’s Coalition seeks to abolish it. Corporate food systems are at the root cause of food insecurity of marginalized students. They are also at the root cause of all kinds of modern day health issues that fuel the exploitative nature of private health industry that students cannot afford. It also fuels the dispossession of lands from indigenous peoples and destabilizes ecosystems across the globe, furthering the death of the planet. If marginalized UC students have historically suffered from food insecurity, then the issue is to not provide more welfare programs, but to re-imagine agriculture in its most fundamental state and inject the interconnectedness of land to the pedagogy of the university.

On Friday, February 21st, we shut down the west side of campus and held another undergraduate general assembly, wrote letters of support of those TA’s whose livelihood has been jeopardised by the UC, and danced and loved. We are now in a position where mobilization towards further strike action and disruption is spreading rapidly through the UC system. In conjunction with our actions at UCSC on this Friday, other UC campuses - such UCLA, UCI, UCB and UCSB - organized their own actions, again both in solidarity with the COLA campaign and with view to their own fight for a COLA and structural change within the UC system. We are connecting and building community with undergraduates across numerous UC campuses, who see that we have what it takes to topple the stranglehold of white supremacy in the UC system and are already organizing to take up the fight themselves. It is important to highlight that the foundational violence of the institution we are up against (that of U.S. settler-colonialism and white supremacy) manifests itself and is reproduced constantly, as we saw when a black woman at UCI was tackled and arrested by campus police for being present in the space of the university, in mere proximity to a peaceful demonstration. She was picking up transcripts.

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What has been described above has all happened in the space of three weeks. While it must be recognized that this has only been made possible by months, years, lifetimes and centuries of organizing; organizing by our comrades and our ancestors; by those Black Radicals who were and our the vanguards of the fight against white supremacy - Kuwasi Balagoon, Claudia Jones, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, MOVE, the Black Liberation Army,  without whom we would not be in conversation - in acknowledging the pace of our actions and escalations we become aware of the momentum we have and the power it gives us. In historicizing our contemporary work, we come to realize ourselves today as immersed in the eye of the storm, the center of the whirlwind, where new languages and utterances emerge to describe not just our current struggle(s), but a world of Liberated peoples. We are both working diligently, attentively and carefully to (re)cultivate sustainable decolonized and indigenized ways of thinking, being, and acting, and investing ourselves in the radical possibilities of change that will come in ways we have not yet seen and cannot yet know. 

And so we find ourselves at this cusp empowered by our ancestors, predecessors, and comrades, and ready to advance. Inter-campus mobilization is happening at every level. We are more powerful than ever. We know that we - like the hummingbird - have what we need to reimagine and restructure the imperialist university as one by and for the public it was built to serve - as a People’s University. Now that the UC has definitively dismissed (but not irreversibly) the remaining wildcat strikers - in other words, decided to ruin the careers and place in absolute precarity the lives of workers and students fighting to escape poverty wages and exploitation - we believe it is imperative that we respond with a demonstration of our collective power. However, this demonstration cannot be performative - what we need to do is that which will fundamentally undermine the university’s ability to conduct this business-as-usual, of which the firing-en-masse is an extension. We believe it is time that this strike spreads even further, and that it is we undergraduates who spread it. In order to proceed with organizing this extended undergraduate attendance strike, we will be issuing a straw poll later this week designed for us to collectively facilitate what that strike might look like, how it will work, and when it can happen. If enough of us strike so that we shut down a significant amount of classes, this will put us in a powerful position that we can leverage in the fight for our demands to be met. 

After we delivered our demands to Kerr Hall during the 1st General Assembly (Feb. 14), it only took a few hours for admin to remove them entirely. Yet, it has been months since the demand for a COLA was formalized and admin have failed to work towards a resolution. Going beyond a COLA, years of idleness from the administration has also seen the demands of UCSC’S BSU and the Undocu Collective unmet. For years students and workers have been exploited, oppressed, and seduced from one form of poverty into another - that of lifelong and intergenerational indebtedness - by this university. In taking the spaces surrounding the Chancellor’s House and Kerr Hall, we have reclaimed exteriors counterposed to interiors of literal and metaphoric emptiness. The physical absence of an administrative presence in their purpose-built residencies articulates their abstract position on campus - one of nothing more than the pure lack of any purpose, understanding, functionality, belonging, usefulness. It is crucial for us to recognize now that the administration and the operations they sustain are the dead weight we need to give up in order to liberate ourselves and reimagine this university and the UC system. Collectively we have exposed them as obsolete. Now we must get rid of them. 

In the face of the administration’s misdirections and bluff threats the People’s Coalition will continue to stand in solidarity with the fired grad students, and will see to it that the UC administration will not get away with punishing workers and students who fight against their exploitation. And to UCOP and UCSC admin sending these emails from within the dark hole of their multi-million dollar offices, attempting to turn us against one another - we see right through you. Come shut it down with us in coalition and show admin it is they who will have to go. 

Look out for the undergraduate strike poll!

We Ready

We Comin

-the People’s Coalition

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