Monday, March 7, 2011

On the Limits of Protest

From thosewhouseit:
We have just learned that Tuesday’s issue of the Daily Cal will feature an explanation and analysis of last Thursday’s occupation by its protagonists, including a first stab at next steps. Once again we commend our comrades for their excellent work and look forward to seeing what they have in store for us. We are confident that these students are conscious of the limits of their achievements, but by the same token we scoff at accusations of reformism. To those who would reject this action on the grounds that negotiations with administrators is a source of legitimation; that we must immediately transform social relations and not ask for partial concessions; that Thursday’s victory is no more substantial than liberal calls to “defend public education,” we wish you good luck in revolutionizing the relations of production by yourselves, purity tests and all.
We are under no illusion that the content of the administration’s concessions is in itself meaningful. The latest Wheeler occupation was a step forward for two primary reasons. First and most apparently, we haven’t had anything representable as a concrete victory for direct action at Berkeley since the October 2009 occupation of the anthropology library. Some might argue that the original Wheeler occupation led Schwarzenegger to restore previously cut funding to the UC, but there’s no definitive evidence to suggest this is the case, save for a lone quote from his chief of staff that appeared in the New York Times. In any case, with a moribund student-worker movement on March 2 revitalized by the following day’s victory, there’s something to be said for the necessity of re-moralization if we are to get anywhere in our fight against austerity.
Second, as we’ve suggested before, militant confrontation with the cops should never be considered as an end in itself, but it is certainly desirable as a means of radicalizing students and workers whose consciousness remains to be developed in the process of struggle. The violent confrontation with the state’s first line of defense allows the dispossessed to experience firsthand just how far the administrative-managerial class is willing to go to protect its interests. As one student told the Daily Cal,
“The police hit us with the batons in the stomach with the tip of their stick. Absolutely full, full force,” said Khademi, a professional violinist who said he now suffers injuries to his left arm, making it difficult to play.
The number of students who were, or at least witnessed, their friends and comrades-in-struggle being pepper-sprayed and beaten with nightsticks is pretty alarming given that this was a nonviolent protest in the center of an elite establishment if there ever was one. No longer can these students deny how far the UCB administration is willing to go to suppress criticism of its austerity measures, nor will many of them likely remain dormant as before. When we build for the next action (and the one after that), we will have a community-in-struggle waiting in the wings.
We had something similar (though obviously to a much larger extent) after the first Wheeler occupation; we all remember how militant the student movement was that December. We’re not quite there yet, but we will hopefully be soon. Let’s use this recent victory -- and it must be represented as a victory -- to build a mass militant student movement. We’re not talking about some hypothetical notion of “mass” in which we have to wait around for a consecrated criterion that will never actually materialize, nor do we fetishize “militancy” as identical to spontaneous acts of violence. As we move forward, let’s be sure to remain conscious of the limitations of Thursday’s action without slipping into the morass of maximalist pessimism. It was unconditionally a victory, even if merely a means of building for the next more substantial action.
And P.S.: Fuck the Daily Cal for the most reactionary editorial we’ve seen it publish in years. This cryptic horseshit about the necessity of finding a “true leader” is laughable, especially given that one of their possible candidates was ASUC President Noah Stern. The most indicative sentence in the entire column was the following:
Protests should have a more cohesive message and be directed at legislators and other state officials who are actually making the cuts to public education.
And there we have it: typical Democratic politics masquerading as objective analysis. What a joke. We hereby challenge the Daily Cal to identify a single instance of American civil disobedience in which the targeting of legislators yielded success. If you still haven’t gotten the memo, the anti-austerity movement is not interested in asking Jerry Brown to change his mind, nor any of these technocrats. They have nothing to give us. Do you really think that a mass march with a couple dozen nonviolent arrests will convince these administrators to change their minds? We can’t ask for what’s already owed to us; we have to take it.

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