The University of California Santa Cruz is probably better known for its extra-curricular activities than academics. Students observe the annual “naked run” in celebration of the first rainfall of the school year. The April 20th or 4/20 smokeout takes over the Porter meadow, where last year a student was shamefully arrested for toking on a joint rolled with over two pounds of Kush. On a clear 4/20 afternoon you can spot a thin cloud of weed smoke rising from the meadow for literally miles around. But the small Santa Cruz campus, which rabid conservative David Horowitz once called “the most dangerous school in America” has a political edge as well, sharpened by a few radical academic programs, and left intellectuals including no less a figure than Angela Davis. Since the onset of the economic crisis and the implementation of UC-system-wide austerity measures, UCSC has been a hotbed of resistance (Berkeley and Davis have been as well), and last week, early Wednesday morning the 2nd of April, twenty student workers and protesters, representatives and supporters of UAW local 2865, were arrested by riot cops for attempting to establish a picket at the west entrance. Two more were arrested the next day.
Union members were out on the lines after leaders had called a strike to protest unfair labor practices and intimidation of graduate student teaching assistants. Joining the TAs as muscle were various left, largely undergraduate student groups, some gathered under the nom de guerre “Autonomous Students,” a loose collective which initially formed to protest the UC system’s hiring of Janet Napolitano. (Napolitano, former Arizona governor and Homeland Security hatchet-woman for the Deporter-in-Chief Obama, was appointed President of the UC system in 2012. The appointment of a blatant human rights abuser with no experience in education administration should be a disgrace anywhere, but in a system with what by national standards is a huge number of Chicano, Latino, and other diverse immigrant and second generation students, the appointment of such a specimen is obviously a slap in the face of a special kind.) Bus drivers and construction trade workers joined the UAW TAs in staying off campus; and the picket lines were up and going all day Wednesday and Thursday at UCSC, Berkeley, Davis, San Diego, and Irvine.
But only at UCSC were picketers and protesters arrested. California Highway Patrol along with UC Berkeley and UCSC campus cops—donning full riot gear—aggressively carried out the arguably illegal arrests. The takedown of UAW leader Josh Brahinsky, tackled and handcuffed by cops for stepping into an intersection with a picket sign, has been widely circulated (see link). Before being cuffed, Brahinsky can be heard addressing “Executive Vice Chancellor” Allison Galloway, former UCSC Anthropology professor turned admin-shill and union buster, who was roadside to give the green light to the early morning police operation. After he declared he was a union member and about to begin a legal picket, the cops took Brahinsky to the ground as Galloway looked on. The UCSC 20, as they have been dubbed, were then swiftly escorted to campus busses that were waiting in the wings and taken to the county jail. Most of them were charged with misdemeanors ranging from remaining at the scene of a riot to resisting arrest (sic). In addition, one woman was arrested for battery on an officer, a classic cowardly police tactic in protest situations. According to onlookers, the woman stepped away from a riot cop, pushed the cop’s hand away from her, and shouted, “don’t touch me!”
A small group of faculty has expressed its shock at the admin and the cops in a polite letter, but the reason for the university administration’s decision was as unsurprising as it was simple. The geography of the UCSC campus is unique: isolated out of town, carved into the foothills and redwood forests of the coastal range, there are only two entrances to the city on the hill. Because of this limited access, protests at UCSC can be extremely disruptive. Despite the UC-system-wide crackdown on the anti-austerity movement of 2009-2010 and the Occupy protests of 2011, the campus at Santa Cruz, unlike the other UCs, has remained relatively easy to shut down. Strikes routinely close campus operations: nearly a half-dozen times in less than five years alone. The openly sanctioned show of force was a clear signal from the administration that they don’t have to tolerate this anymore, a clear sign that they think the balance of power has shifted in their favor.
This bet rests on their cynical understanding of the difficulty of sustaining popular protest movements in the face of the huge financial, police, and bureaucratic apparatuses that the UC can quickly mobilize to put dissenters in check. Meanwhile, these administrators continue to oversee massive funding cuts disproportionately affecting low and middle income earning families, the very people out on the lines. The students and workers can only punch above their weight for so long in this mismatch. The only factor that can change this balance of power is the faculty. Only tenured faculty members have the stature, security, and financial resources to stand up to the austerity cuts and unfair labor practices that are top on the corporatized UC admin’s agenda. If the response of the faculty in the struggle for the future of the California public university system is to be decisive, they will have to be prepared to organize, withhold their own labor, help shut down the campuses and defy the admin to pin bogus charges on them- not just their students. Within the present configuration of things, only the pressure of the tenured faculty has even the chance to force the UC to change its regressive course.
For many Americans, the Left Coast’s UC system perhaps still represents a bastion of liberal politics and semi-dangerous ideas. Surely in this milieu it would be easy for the profs to mobilize, to refuse, en masse, to sit by as the disaster capitalists neoliberalize the UC. So far, however, there has been little to no movement on this front. Not even amongst the humanities and social science faculty, many of who fondly recall the roles they played in the Civil Rights and labor movement, the protests against the war in Vietnam and US imperialism, the gay and lesbian liberation struggles, and the campaigns for disinvestment and disarmament. But without dismissing their experiences of the glory days of the ‘60s and ‘70s, we must recall that for many- of course not all- of even the most radical baby-boomer academics, the past half century since then has been spent in a deeply apolitical, post-modern malaise. The economic crisis has opened up a fissure in the supposedly post-political, post-historical world of global capital. But no crisis, however big, can in itself alter the political relations upon which the economic edifice rests. This can only be accomplished through political means, through struggle. Within the present configuration of things, only the pressure of the tenured faculty has even the slightest chance of forcing the UC to change its regressive course.
Patrick Madden is a graduate student at UCSC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org