Occupy Back on Campus

Rain after a long drought, mobilization after a lull in the struggle. On November 19th the University of California Regents passed the first in a proposed series of fee hikes that will raise tuition by 28% over the next five years. Inside the bunker of UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, UC President and Janet Napolitano squared off with Governor Jerry Brown and former State Assembly speaker John Perez. Obama administration deportation czar Napolitano’s plan will implement a sequence of crushing fee hikes by 2019. Brown and Perez posed as defenders of public education. Over the governor’s objections, her neo-liberal scheme passed in committee 7-2. Napolitano’s plan will add thousands to the UC tuition bill that has already risen by 300% over the last fifteen years. Outside, direct actions by UC students and workers blocked traffic from entering the squat and ominous parking structure, where a campus cop drew his weapon on student demonstrators in 2010. In addition to the fee hikes, the Regents approved administrative pay increases of up to 20%. Not ones to leave behind the already fortunate, the Regents passed Chancellor bonuses in other committee hearings. The LA Times is reporting that the UC is spending nearly 10K per month on a housing lease for Napolitano’s residence.

Such massive, disaster style transfers of wealth to the administrative henchmen, the veritable 1% of the UC system, in the midst of austerity measures and budget cuts have reached Onion-esque levels of absurdity. Since the 90s top administrative strata has grown 251%, adding a new billion in costs, but between the financial crisis and Occupy alone (2008 -2011), the number of individuals receiving more than $200,000 in base pay grew by 44 percent. According to UAW local 2865 analysis, while top earners are only 2.6 percent of the total UC workforce, they now account for 13.8 percent of 10+ billion in payroll payments. Alas, there is no fear of self-satire in the UC, where centers for the study of economics are now named for a Regent billionaire—with Mr. DiFi’s eponymous Richard C. Blum Center open at Berkeley. When the center needed building, Blum’s own DRS construction firm won the “contract” for the job.

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The student fee and tuition increases touched off a series of UC-system campus demonstrations, including building occupations and event takeovers. Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall is occupied this weekend and students also held down Davis’s Mrak Hall. At UCLA demonstrators camped out one night and then took over a football rally and bonfire for the upcoming UCLA-USC football game. Riverside was in the mix too. So it was no shock Friday when a midday rally at UC Santa Cruz metamorphosed into a snake march, led by student activists and a skateboard driven PA-system. Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” blasting from the PA brought students out of lecture halls as the march progressed towards the Humanities and Social Sciences building. Looking forlorn and confused, administrative employees from the office of the dean of Social Sciences exited the building in the rain as the students set up their barricades.

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The appearance of Dr. Cornel West electrified the UC Santa Cruz occupation Thursday evening. Brother West came immediately to the takeover after finishing a previously scheduled campus lecture. His fiery speech lambasted the state and corporate power elites for pushing their “warped” social agenda, featuring cuts to social spending and education alongside the absolute prioritization of police, prisons, and neo-imperialist power. Circling back from the injustices of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson and the ongoing wars in the mid-East, he intoned “I got a deep respect for each and every person in this room,” his voice rising into ministerial verve, “And there is a direct connection between what you’re doing here and what’s going on in Ferguson… They want to increase tuition for folks who ought to have free access.” Outside the occupied building in the quad of the Humanities complex, electro-communists and students carrying on the tradition of the “naked run,” a celebration of the school year’s first big rain, danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. As Professor West strolled out onto the quad the students roared in approval, and the now-familiar chant “Fuck the Regents” reverberated from the building walls.

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Students held the building on Thursday night. Friday they generated a series of productive organizing meetings, workshops, and new writings and communiqués, culminating in an evening general assembly. GAs have their own strange differences and repetitions: democratic impulses sometimes produce facilitators who can be both cloying and self-selecting, and dull-minded attempts to be inclusive will wind up excluding marginalized groups, reproducing the hierarchical power-structures of race, class, and gender that are so entrenched in our society; they cannot but flow into even occupied, communized spaces. These are the murky waters of campus left politics. On Friday night, 400 students showed up for a dance party, which brought back the spirit of the 2009 student movement. As was the case in these previous struggles, the movement lives where motley is born.

The top down alternative plan to the Regents fee/tuition hike is emerging from Governor Brown and his Lieutenant Gavin Newsome. Severe neo-liberal style curtailments of access and austerity figure instead of the Napolitano tuition increases, and under the rubric of dealing with the ballooning total structure of the university, cost-cutting measures would reduce degrees to three year terms. Faculty-free or online classes are now openly discussed as the solution to education costs “problems.” Some TAs have already been asked to lead two sections for the same pay as one. State support to the system is down, but previous tuition increases more than make up the billion-dollar difference, according to UAW analysis. And UC refuses to submit to a full audit of expenditures and endowments. “The University of California Office of the President has a budget that is almost equal to that of our whole campus,” said UCSC student Ben Mabie. “If they care about students, they need to make different choices about how best to support them.”

Political consciousness implants itself firmly in such an environment. Bonds of rebellion and solidarity with Ferguson, with the disappeared of Ayotzinapa, are part of the spirit of the time. So too is the specter of deluded white people running the show from Washington to the UC Office of the President. As of the end of the weekend admin has no plans to evict the occupiers. Police presence was minimal on Friday night at another exuberant electro-communist-hyphy affair. The Thanksgiving break is coming into view around the bend. And the Humanities quad is the planned site of the response to the Ferguson decision.

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David Lau is a poet, essayist, and co-editor of Lana Turner: a Journal of Poetry and Opinion. He teaches Global Issues at UC Santa Cruz.

 

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