Friday, March 30, 2012

Criminal Charges To Be Filed Against UC Davis Bank Protesters

A little over than a week ago, the UC Davis Faculty Association circulated a petition in opposition to the decision of the UC Davis administration to forward information about its students involved in the highly successful US Bank protest to the District Attorney. The petition quotes from an official statement regarding the bank closure:
As of today (March 16), UC Davis police had forwarded six cases to the Yolo County district attorney’s office, recommending prosecution for violating Penal Code sections that make it a misdemeanor to ‘willfully and maliciously’ obstruct the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk or other public place, or to intentionally interfere with any lawful business.

Mike Cabral, assistant chief deputy district attorney, said March 15 that the district attorney’s office had not yet completed its review of the case files—and that a decision on whether to prosecute is likely to come Monday or Tuesday (March 19 or 20). If the decision is made to go forward, the district attorney’s office will notify the suspects by mail, ordering them to appear in court.
Today, we find that not six but 12 protesters will likely face criminal charges [Update: more from the Davis Vanguard here]:
Misdemeanor charges will likely be filed against 12 people connected to the on-campus U.S. Bank protests, according to an email circulated among UC Davis administration Thursday evening. The protests were part of an effort to get US Bank off campus, which is eventually what happened.

We have a call out to the Yolo County District Attorney's Office and will update when we have more information. Here's the email:

Yolo Co. D.A's office public information rep has confirmed that misdemeanor charges have been filed against 12 individuals in connection with the U.S. Bank protests. Letters are in the mail.

The Yolo County District Attorney's office has notified UC Davis that the D.A.'s office today mailed letters to 12 individuals, ordering them to appear for booking at the Yolo County Jail and then to appear at a later date for arraignment in Yolo County Superior Court on misdemeanor charges related to their alleged activities earlier this year at the U.S. Bank branch at UC Davis.

Starting in January of this year, these individuals frequently obstructed access to the bank branch, located in the Memorial Union at UC Davis. The bank chose to close during many of these events, and, in a recent letter to account holders, announced the campus branch to be "officially closed" as of Feb. 28.

As we've seen recently at UC Berkeley, with the filing of criminal charges as well as stay-away orders against a number of prominent student protesters, UC administrators willingly collaborate with the offices of their respective DAs. In order to do this, the administration sends UCPD to actively search out information ("evidence") against student protesters, which is then forwarded to the DA. At times, this evidence has come from the medical records of students who had sought treatment at University Health Services after being assaulted by the police themselves.

What this means, it appears, is that the Office of Student Conduct (OSC), which from 2009-2011 was charged with the quasi-legal repression of student protesters, is being superseded, its work passed off to the criminal (justice) system proper. This move, of course, is part of a broader trend that is becoming apparent at universities across the country: the militarization of campus space and of university life at large.

(Above video from yesterday's protest at the UC Regents' meeting at UCSF Mission Bay. Police arrested three protesters.)

UC Davis Faculty Petition in Opposition to Retroactive Legal Measures Against Student Demonstrators

Reposted from the Davis Faculty Association:

UC Davis Faculty who support the following petition concerning retroactive legal measures taken against student protesters should forward their name and title to

March 21, 2012

Dear Chancellor Katehi and Provost Hexter,

On March 16, The UC Davis Dateline newsletter for faculty and staff announced the closure of the UC Davis branch office of the US Bank and the cancellation by the bank of its contract with the University. The closure of the branch and cancellation of the contract were due to a blockade of the branch office carried out by student and faculty protesters from January through March. It is important to understand the political content of this blockade: the demonstrators continually stated their opposition to the substitution of private contracts for public funding of the UC system, and they continually pointed out conflicts of interest related to University contracts with corporations profiting from student loan interest as the UC administration continues to increase tuition, thus forcing many students to take out increased loans.

We reiterate our support for the principled and determined actions of UC students and faculty to defend the public character of the UC system against privatization, a goal with which the blockade of the US Bank branch was consistent.

The announcement of the bank’s closure in Dateline also included the following two paragraphs:

“As of today (March 16), UC Davis police had forwarded six cases to the Yolo County district attorney’s office, recommending prosecution for violating Penal Code sections that make it a misdemeanor to ‘willfully and maliciously’ obstruct the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk or other public place, or to intentionally interfere with any lawful business.

“Mike Cabral, assistant chief deputy district attorney, said March 15 that the district attorney’s office had not yet completed its review of the case files—and that a decision on whether to prosecute is likely to come Monday or Tuesday (March 19 or 20). If the decision is made to go forward, the district attorney’s office will notify the suspects by mail, ordering them to appear in court.”

We write in opposition to the UC Davis administration’s decision to have these cases forwarded to the DA by the police, and we ask that the administration recognize the *political* content of the US Bank blockade rather than treating it as a criminal matter.

Opposition to the use of force against demonstrating students in November 2011 was not only directed against police brutality, but also against the UC Davis administration’s repression of political activism on our campus. We view the use of retroactive legal actions against demonstrating students as an effort to carry out such repression of political activity while attempting to evade the public scrutiny to which the administration’s repressive measures have been subjected. Moreover, in this case these retroactive legal actions clearly target a small sub–‐group of the demonstrators involved in blockading the bank, suggesting that specific demonstrators are being targeted for selective prosecution so as to single out and intimidate the most active student protesters.

For these reasons, we ask that the administration urge the district attorney’s office, in writing, to exercise its option not to prosecute those cases that have been forwarded in relation to the US Bank blockade, or to reverse the decision to prosecute if it has already been made. Further, we request an end to the use of retroactive legal action as a punitive measure against political protesters on our campus.

Don Abbott — Professor of English
Josephine Andrews — Associate Professor, Political Science
Raul Aranovich — Associate Professor of Linguistics
Carlee Arnett — Associate Professor German and Russian
Chris Benner — Associate Professor of Community and Regional Development; Chair, Geography Graduate Group
Gina Bloom — Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, English, Co-Director of the Mellon Research Initiative in Early Modern Studies
Larry Bogad — Associate Professor, Theatre and Dance
John Bowman — Professor, Department of Plant Biology
Anne Britt — Professor, Department of Plant Biology
Kenneth Britten — Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior
Nathan Brown — Assistant Professor of English
Marisol de la Cadena — Professor of Anthropology
Steve Carlip — Professor of Physics
Patrick E. Carroll — Associate Professor of Sociology
Seeta Chaganti — Associate Professor of English
Daniel Cox — Professor of Physics
Katayoon (Katie) Dehesh — Professor, Plant Biology; Chair of Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology
Natalia Deeb-Sossa — Assistant Professor, Chicana/o Studies
Fran Dolan — Professor of English
JoAnne Engebrecht — Professor, Molecular and Cellular Biology
Rida Farouki — Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
Daniel Ferenc — Professor of Physics
Margaret Ferguson — Distinguished Professor of English
Jaimey Fisher — Assoc. Prof., German and Cinema & Technocultural Studies, Director, Cinema & Technocultural Studies
Jeff Fort — Assistant Professor, French
Laura Grindstaff — Professor of Sociology, Director, Consortium for Women and Research
Noah Guynn — Associate Professor of French
Robin Hill — Professor, Department of Art
Hsuan Hsu — Associate Professor of English
Suad Joseph — Professor, Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
Caren Kaplan — Professor, American Studies
George Kaysen — Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine
Ian Kennedy — Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Richard S. Kim — Associate Professor, Asian American Studies
Joe Kiskis — Professor of Physics
Neil Larsen — Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
Lyn H Lofland — Research Professor of Sociology
Marjorie Longo — Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
William Lucas — Professor of Plant Biology
Markus A. Luty — Professor of Physics
Sunaina Maira — Professor, Asian American Studies
James Marcin, MD, MPH — Professor – Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Director, Pediatric Telemedicine
Darrin Martin — Associate Professor of Art Studio
William Mason — Professor Emeritus, Psycology
Bill McCarthy — Professor of Sociology
Sally McKee — Professor of History
Elizabeth Carolyn Miller — Associate Professor of English
Flagg Miller — Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Graduate Group in Religion and Director of the Middle East / South Asia Program
E. O. Milton — Professor Emeritus, Department of Mathematics
Susette Min — Associate Professor, Asian American Studies
Stephanie Lee Mudge — Assistant Professor of Sociology
Monique Borgerhoff Mulder — Professor of Anthropology
Almerindo Ojeda — Professor of Linguistics
Marijane Osborn — Professor Emeritus, English
Noha Radwan — Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature
Simon Sadler — Professor of Design
Valeria La Saponara — Associate Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Richard Scalettar — Professor of Physics
Seth L. Schein — Professor of Comparative Literature
Omnia El Shakry — Associate Professor of History
Scott Shershow — Professor of English; Chair of the Davis Faculty
Blake Stimson — Professor, Cinema and Technocultural Studies Association
David Simpson — Distinguished Professor of English, G.B. Needham Chair
Bradford Smith — Professor Emeritus, Veterinary Medicine: Medicine and Epidemiology
Eric Smoodin — Professor, Program in American Studies
Daniel A. Starr — Associate Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Alan J. Stemler — Professor Emeritus — Plant Biology Dept.
Pieter Stroeve — Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Co-Director of the California Solar Energy Collaborative
Dawn Sumner — Professor of Geology
Baki Tezcan — Associate Professor of History, and Religious Studies
Steven M. Theg — Professor of Plant Biology
Eddy U — Associate Professor of Sociology
Archana Venkatesan — Assistant Professor, Department of Comparative Literature & Program in Religious Studies
Evan Watkins — Professor of English
Karen Watson-Gegeo — Professor of Language, Literacy and Culture
Joe Wenderoth — Professor of English
Stephen Wheeler — Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture
Stefan Wuertz — Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Michael Ziser — Associate Professor, English

Thursday, March 29, 2012

UC Regents Meeting, 3/29

Mathew Sandoval of UCLA gets arrested by the police.

From the Daily Cal:
SAN FRANCISCO – Three UCLA students were detained by UCPD Thursday morning during the final day of the UC Board of Regents meeting, following an interruption of the meeting during the public comment section that stalled the meeting for about 40 minutes.

The three students — who have been identified by a UCSF press release as Andrew Harkness-Newton, Cheryl Deutsch and Mathew Sandoval — were arrested by UCPD in the hall outside the meeting conference room. The meeting was briefly interrupted when board chair Sherry Lansing attempted to end the public comment section, which started around 8:35 a.m.

Audience members asked for an extension and for additional speakers to speak who were supposedly signed up on a public comment list. When Lansing said she could not extend the public comment period, audience members began a mic check, which then led to some board members leaving the room.

UCPD then arrived and surrounded the group protesting in the audience, asking them to leave the main conference room.

Police officers followed protesters outside the room, where a confrontation between police and protesters occurred and the students were arrested. Charges are pending against the students, according to the UCSF press release.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Open Letter About Nov 9 Charges

Dear Fellow Education Activists,

I'm writing today with an impassioned and profoundly frustrated heart about what is happening on our campus at UC Berkeley, the so-called "home of the Free Speech Movement," and beyond. It's extremely important to share this story with all of you, should it become a larger precedent for political repression--indeed, recent developments with Occupy Oakland suggest that it already is ( I'm also seeking your support to help pressure District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to drop the unjust charges against political activists.

As many of you know, on November 9th, several hundred students, professors, and community members attempted to erect an Occupy Cal encampment on this campus, an action that was part of a multi-year series of events to raise awareness about the effects of educational privatization and to build a movement that challenges this process. On November 9th, we were twice met with very brutal police force (itself a product of privatization), as the UCPD, working alongside several other area police departments, beat us with batons, dragging individuals by their hair from a line of peaceful protesters who had linked arms in front of our small encampment. Many individuals were very seriously injured as a result of this well-documented scene (, and they sought medical attention for broken ribs, bloody gashes, and nerve damage inflicted by the police. Moreover, email exchanges recently made public show that UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau was not only aware of the situation that day but that he sanctioned it.

In early March, thirteen individuals (one of whom is a professor on this campus and several of whom have been very active in Occupy Education NorCal) received misdemeanor criminal charges in association with the November 9th events, charges which could result in fines of $1000 and up to a year in jail. Crucially, the majority of those being charged were not arrested that day, begging questions about how they were identified and targeted nearly four months later. The charges themselves raise additional red flags, with "malicious blocking of a sidewalk or public thoroughfare" being the most common: never before has that inconveniently located grassy space near the hedges to the north of Sproul Hall constituted a public thoroughfare of any kind, and if anything "malicious" happened on November 9th, I assure you, it was on the part of the police, not those who've been singled out for these charges. Moreover, the ACLU of Northern California has confirmed that the UCPD sought and obtained records from local hospitals and medical centers in an effort to help identify individuals who were later charged--not incidentally, the chargees were among the most seriously injured. Finally, the fact that most of the thirteen members of this cohort have been highly visible activists in the fight for public education over the past several years strongly suggests that these unjust charges represent a targeted attempt to silence political dissent.

Twelve people were arraigned this week, all of whom received "stay away" orders for all UC property. These orders dictate that the charged not individuals set foot on any UC campus unless it is to attend class (and in one case, to fulfill union duties), and these court orders are undoubtedly designed to disrupt the inter-campus network we're working so hard to build and to paralyze our collective public education movement. Judge Peter Seeman casually dismissed concerns raised by one individual's attorney that the stay away orders are in clear violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly.

We cannot stand by while the legal system silences our brothers and sisters, and we cannot let the administrative bodies slow the momentum of our powerful movement. Please join me in standing in solidarity with these and other activists facing unjust charges and political repression by letting District Attorney Nancy O'Malley know what you think:

Mailing address:
Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse / 661 Washington Street, Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: (510) 268-7500
(510) 839-0391

In Solidarity,
Beezer de Martelly
Graduate Student and Public Education Activist
UC Berkeley

P.S. Please visit the following blog for up-to-date information on the November 9th charges:

On Violence and Non-Violence, Once Again: Lessons from Recent Political Developments on the Berkeley Campus (Part 1)

In one of his most widely read essays, Louis Althusser made the famous remark that ideology and its subjects never run around saying “I am ideological!”[1] From the perspective of the interpellated subject, there is no such a thing as an “outside” to ideology—because ideology has already profoundly structured the subject’s sense of self-understanding. We’ll ask the reader to indulge us and allow us to paraphrase Althusser’s statement with respect to recent political development on UC campuses after yet another year of protests, police violence, administrative impunity, and repression of political activism: One of the defining peculiarities of state violence today is that it never runs around proclaiming “I am violent!”

In the context of the ongoing prosecutions of student activists and a faculty member who were brutalized on November 9,[2] let us revisit a recent civil court case, in which a graduate student sued UCPD officer Brendan Tinney for breaking her finger at a large protest in support of the Wheeler Hall occupation on November 20, 2009. While silently watching the trial from the back of the courtroom, we learned a great deal. We witnessed how cops lie under oath with arrogance and impunity: we heard improbable accounts of students trying to snatch guns from cops and pull their batons—improbable because these incidents had never been reported up to that moment, even by the officers themselves. We saw—yet again—that the UC administration will spare no expense to crush its own graduates, teachers, students, scholars, and community members; that it will resort to grossly unethical practices and attack the integrity, dignity, and humanity of its own students, scholars, and workers; that, in blatant disrespect for its own professed “community standards,” it will engage in calculated humiliation and disrespect of those same members whose “outstanding academic achievements” it will then take credit for.

But we want to stay on point here, so we’ll focus on one fine yet significant detail from Officer Brendan Tinney’s and Sergeant Donald Jewell’s public testimonies. Why could these two police officers so easily claim, genuinely blind to the glaring contradictions, that what they did on November 20, 2009—by crushing the hand of a graduate student, by thrusting their batons into the stomachs, spleens, kidneys, and ribs of dozens of bare-bodied students in the vicinity of the incident—did not constitute an act of “violence”? How could they deny that their acts were violent?

One thing we learned from Officer Tinney’s public testimony is that police officers are trained to “separate out the injury from the reasonable force the police [have] to use.” In other words, in the mind of an officer who has undergone “proper training,” the causal relationship between the “force” used and the injury or death it inflicts, between the act of violence and the wounded, maimed, or dead body, is intentionally obscured. Their batons don’t injure bodies, they make “contact” with them. In the cryptic, sanitized language of crowd control policies and police training manuals, serious injury and even death are present simply as the collateral effect of maintaining “peace and order,” “health and safety”[3]; they are disembodied, bureaucratic facts that need to be filed away.

Further, the excess of violence (“force” in the idiom of contemporary policing) is never self-evident from the point of view of the police because ”force” is always the preemptive measure deployed against an imagined stable, ahistorical violent subject, projected onto concrete and diverse situations, humans, and realities. Shortly after November 9, 2011, the UC Berkeley Police Association published an open letter to the outraged public to explain their perspective and offer excuses (prefaced by a denial—“by no means are we interested in making excuses”).[4] Compared to 1964, the era of the Free Speech movement on campus, the letter states, “[o]ur society in 2011 has become an extremely more violent place to live and to protect. […] Disgruntled citizens in this day and age express their frustrations in far more violent ways—with knives, with guns and sometimes by killing innocent bystanders.”[5] Unlike the old days, in other words, the world today is a far more dangerous and unsafe place. This is a bizarre statement—the sense of threat could apply to any place and time; it reveals nothing but prejudice, verging on plain indoctrination. It gives us a genuine picture of the collective subjectivity of a “well-trained” cop, in whose imaginary an outbreak of violence is always imminent. So in response to students pitching tents and linking arms, the article continues, “[i]n the back of every police officer’s mind is this:  How can I control this incident so it does not escalate into a seriously violent, potentially life-threatening event for all involved?”[6]

For those of us who do not come from communities where police brutality is an everyday reality, it is worth repeating that the police are trained to “see” violence before it happens, and if it doesn’t happen—to invent it, to interpret every gesture with a prejudiced eye and imagine the aggressive, threatening, “violent” behavior. And then, to unleash a preemptive attack. Again, there is a long history of how many times police have murdered individuals because they have interpreted the gestures of their victims the wrong way. Such prejudice has long been racialized, exposing communities of color to chronic harassment, incarceration, and death. Currently, the state is engaged in promoting a new ahistorical stereotype of the “violent protester,” structured around a logic of prejudice, stigma, and exclusion—where violence against protestors appears a priori reasonable and justified. That the figure of the “violent protester” has become a trope in the liberal media and a target of condemnation in popular liberal discourse is a direct effect and continuation of the logic of the violent state, masqueraded behind the language of peace, order, and safety. We’ll continue this thought in another post.

In the immediate aftermath of November 9, 2011, Chancellor Birgeneau attempted to justify the brutality of the police by claiming that “linking arms is not non-violent.”[7] But the origin of this infamous claim—which Birgeneau reproduced uncritically—should be properly attributed to UCPD Captain Margo Bennet. According to Bennet, “[t]he individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence […] I understand that many students may not think that, but linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.”[8] This is also how shaking or holding a barricade, chanting “hold the line,” linking arms, refusing to leave, or even simply being trapped and having nowhere to go after being ordered to leave, becomes an act of violence. Bennet’s and Birgeneau’s dangerous leap of logic has now culminated in UCPD’s sinister tactic of using their legal right of access to the medical records of baton-injured students who sought treatment at the Tang Center, to identify them for the purpose of prosecuting them. It is a classic example of how the police have increasingly turned statutes and laws, initially aimed at protecting the victims from its assailants, against the victims themselves (charging Occupy Oakland activists with hate crimes or lynching is another recent example). Such use of the law was rightly called “perverse” by ACLU attorney Linda Lye.[9] It shows that the state is making a causal link between wounded bodies and violent perpetrators, resulting in a tautological configuration that turns the victim of police violence into a violent subject, into an aggressor, while at the same time victimizing the real perpetrator and erasing from the picture the actual agent of violence.

If, then, one asks what remains in the category of “non-violence” according to the rationality of the police, it is the absolute, uncritical obedience to their authority, especially when that authority violates the rights of citizens or grossly abuses the means of violence and the power to incriminate—in short, “non-violence” according to the police means the uncritical compliance with the growing arbitrary power of the sovereign. This takes us to the somewhat self-evident point that the state has successfully instrumentalized and redefined the slippery term “violence” to repress and criminalize various forms of dissent against austerity measures, and to shrink and eliminate established spaces and practices of constitutionally protected forms of political expression. One may argue that, stripped of its legitimating rationality, this is the creeping logic of authoritarian power. And to a certain extent it is. But this is not the same as the classical expansion of the executive authority of the state, such as, for instance, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, passed with a provision that allows for the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects on US land, including citizens, without trial. Much more insidiously, the police operate within the juridical regime of the liberal state, while using interpretive tactics to bend definitions of crime and expand their own power to incriminate dissenting subjects.

If we take into account these drastic shifts in the meaning of “violence,” a much less self-evident point emerges—that violence is a discursive rather than an ontological category. Even some of the most astute political thinkers and philosophers who have written extensively on the question of violence have treacherously presumed, or even argued for, the ontological nature of violence. But if we take violence as a discursive construct, we can see how it has become a crucial terrain upon which the state wages a war against political dissent. Currently, it is being pushed to the limits of the intelligible in order to accommodate the expanding authority of the state to prosecute and eliminate different forms of political resistance against deepening austerity.

On the November 9 Stay-Away Orders: The University and its “Lawful Business”

Crossposted at

-written by three people among the thirteen charged

We are graduate students and teachers at UC Berkeley. Like thousands of other members of people here at Berkeley, we have participated in rallies and demonstrations and marches against the privatization of the University of California. In early March of this year, however, we each received letters from the Alameda County District Attorney informing us that criminal complaints had been filed against us. No details of the complaints were listed, only the date we were to appear at Wiley Manuel Courthouse.

When we called the DA to find out our charges, we learned they stemmed from November 9, 2011, the day riot officers assaulted hundreds of students, faculty members, and workers for setting up tents on the lawn in front of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley. The planned encampment was to be established in solidarity with the growing Occupy movement. It aimed to raise awareness of the budget cuts at the UC. Internet videos of the brutal actions of police that day went viral, foreshadowing the international scandal UC Davis police would cause just a week later when they belligerently pepper-sprayed sitting students. In a now infamous turn of phrase, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau defended the pummeling of the protestors at UC Berkeley by declaring their act of civil disobedience (linking arms) to be “not non-violent.”

That we were suddenly being charged for participating in the events of November 9 struck us as odd. Four months had passed. We had not been arrested on November 9, nor did we suspect that we were under investigation. The UC administration had even granted amnesty from student conduct charges for those who took part in the protest. We soon discovered that several friends (also students) were facing similar charges. Like us, most of them had also not been arrested that day. In total, 13 individuals have been charged, including a professor of English, who, when surrendering herself for arrest on November 9, was pulled to the ground by her hair by police. The various criminal complaints against us include resisting arrest, battery of an officer, obstructing a thoroughfare, and remaining at the scene of a riot.

How the DA decided that we should face charges is not fully clear—although it is evident that they are bringing charges on the basis of recommendations received from UCPD, despite Chancellor Birgeneau’s protestations to the contrary. As UCPD spokesperson Lt. Tejada recently said, “We make our case, and the district attorney reviews the evidence, and if they feel they have enough evidence they will move forward.” Furthermore recent reports suggest that even campus health services had a hand in the selection and identification of protestors. Hundreds of people were on hand the afternoon of November 9. Even more were present on Sproul Plaza when police returned in the evening to again attack students and confiscate their tents, bringing out a crowd of at least 2000. Nearly ten thousand supporters joined in a student strike at UC Berkeley a week later in response to the appalling actions of police. Why are only 13 out of these thousands being charged? Is it a coincidence that some of those targeted are highly visible organizers at UC Berkeley? Is the UC Berkeley administration outsourcing the criminalization of dissent to the Alameda County District Attorney, just as the UC Police Department outsourced the brutal repression of dissent on November 9 to the Alameda County Sheriff?

Of course we are not taken aback by the situation in which we find ourselves. For months now, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office has been vindictively harassing anyone they suspect of taking part in the Occupy movement. Most recently the DA has started slapping stay-away orders on almost any activist brought before the court with ties to Occupy Oakland. This attempt to smother dissent through judicial means is simply a less spectacular (and far less bloody) approach than the hard-fisted tactics employed by their law enforcement brethren.

Since we knew full well how the judicial system is being geared to criminalize and stifle dissent in Alameda County, we should not have been the least bit astonished when our judge—without the slightest hesitation—granted the DA’s request to issue us indefinite stay-away orders from the University of California. Nevertheless, the stay-away orders first issued on March 19 took us all by surprise. Had administrators of the University of California deemed us worthy of banishment from campus, they could have used their own established protocols and procedures to do so—something they have hardly been hesitant to use before.

When asked why the stay away orders were to be applied not just to the UC Berkeley campus, but to all property owned by the University of California, the DA responded that we are known to travel to other campuses to protest meetings of the UC Board of Regents. The light this response sheds on the political motivation of the stay away orders should not be missed. We are now disallowed from stepping foot on any campus in the UC system for the simple reason that we might take part in political activity on UC property. The timing of these stay away orders, it should be noted, is extremely convenient for the UC administration: a major meeting of the UC Regents is scheduled at UC San Francisco next week.

In issuing these stay away orders, the judge granted a narrow exception to all of us who are students, as well as a few other exceptions to particular individuals (i.e. for living in university housing, or for performing official union responsibilities). Those of us with classes and teaching duties (which includes 12 of the 13 being charged) are allowed to visit campus for “lawful business.” We can attend our courses and meet with our students as usual. While a reasonable exception to an unreasonable order, this further reveals how the stay-away orders have been constructed expressly to eliminate our political engagement on campus. The stay-away-order-plus-exception effectively distills our lives as students and workers from all other trivial or superficial aspects. We are reduced to mere academics, without political or social lives, whose sole purpose is to work and study and return home. We cannot attend a lecture on campus. Or meet with a friend for coffee. Or stop to talk with a former student. And we most certainly can’t attend any protest. The court is permitting us to contribute to business as usual at the university so long as we do not do anything outside of the strict delimitation of such business, as long we do not attempt to challenge it in any way. We are made into model students and workers, perfectly obedient, without the encumbrance of feelings and thoughts beyond our academic work on campus.

Potentially complicating this analysis is the additional exception that one of us received for the performance of union responsibilities.  When this individual’s lawyer initially spoke with the District Attorney, letting the DA know that his client was an elected steward in the UC union of academic workers, the DA responded by asking: “Union work is totally unrelated to occupy protests, right?”  If this question betrays a basic unfamiliarity with recent organizing on campus, it also reveals something about how union activity is generally understood at this historical moment.  Union activity is imagined here as a form of labor, performed by elected bureaucrats, who are recognized by management as the legitimate representatives for, and regulators of, a particular workforce.  Such work appears unrelated to, if not in fact antagonistic toward, the forms of non-hierarchical direct action practiced by the occupy movement.  When partitioned in this way from protest, union activity can evidently appear as part of the lawful business of a student instructor, whose life is thus distilled into acts of labor, some instructional and others bureaucratic.  

Whatever the exceptions, we have little reason to trust that the campus police will interpret the stay-away orders in any predictable or consistent way. The actions of numerous John Pikes and Jared Kempers have taught us to never underestimate the lengths the UC police department is willing to go to punish campus protestors. We have little faith that the police will allow us to be on campus without also harassing us. This is, of course, their “lawful business.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Direct Action Gets the Goods, UC Davis Edition

From the Bicycle Barricade:
On March 12, the parasitic US Bank notified its hosts customers that, as of Feb. 28, it had officially closed its UC Davis branch.

The bank’s closure was the result of a quarter-long blockade, in which an autonomous direct action group effectively prevented bank operations.

Despite sustained efforts at intimidation by bank managers, private security guards, UC Davis police and administrators, the bank blockade stood its ground, even when faced with arrest threats, student judicial sanctions, and physical confrontations.

The successful blockade is clear proof of the efficacy of direct action, in which a committed and organized group, willing to place its “bodies on the gears, . . . upon all the apparatus” can achieve victories against the capitalist system that transforms our classrooms into spaces of exploitation and forces us to sell our lives, our futures, to bankers and profiteers.

This action was part of an ongoing campaign to free the university from the grip of capital. Every space we retake from the managers, the bankers, the administrators, and the self-elected résumé polishers of ASUCD represents a step towards the autonomy required to transform this corporate university into the people’s university.

We celebrate this victory by planning our next action and restating our intention to remove the chancellor and police from our campus as a necessary step towards liberation.
Needless to say, the UC Regents aren't happy with this development. Their lawyer recently sent off a letter describing in detail the many efforts they made to get US Bank to stay. They really want the banks on campus. Above all, the Regents were hoping for US Bank to help them deal with the protesters -- as the letter states, "The Regents repeatedly asked for the Bank's assistance and collaboration in addressing the problems created by the protesters, and the Bank has either refused to provide such assistance or has delayed responding in a manner that has caused reasonable suspicion that the Bank was not genuinely interested in maintaining a long-term presence at the Davis campus." The bank, apparently realizing this was a losing battle and recognizing the potentially disastrous PR implications, was "unforthcoming in dealing with the Regents' representatives in Davis."

Pobrecitos, no one to bail you out this time...

[Update 6:01pm 3/18]: For a more detailed analysis of the Regents' letter as legal argument as well as a related statement from US Bank and the original contract, see this pro bono legal advice for the UC Regents.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Court support for November 9th Protesters!

8am to noon.

Wiley Manuel Alameda County Courthouse
661 Washington Street
Oakland, California 94607

Come out to show support for your colleagues and comrades who are facing prosecution by the UCPD and Alameda County DA for exercising their free speech rights in the face of police brutality on November 9th.

The first protesters - including Prof. Celeste Langan - will be arraigned at 9am on Friday.

Meet at Berkeley BART at 8am to travel to the courthouse together OR meet us directly at the courthouse (661 Washington Street in Oakland, on the 1, 1R, and 18 lines as well as near 12th street BART) for the 9am arraignment.

**Wear black or a black armband
**Bring signs for the press conference/rally after the event, but be aware you can't bring them into the building
**This will be a silent, respectful demonstration of support and outrage. Please respect the wishes of those with charges by following all courthouse rules.

Monday, March 12, 2012

UC Berkeley Tang Center Cooperates with UCPD [Updated]'ve all seen the video. On November 9, UCPD and Alameda County Sheriffs used batons to beat up and arrest students and faculty who were protesting on Sproul Plaza as part of Occupy Cal. In what has become one of the more infamous examples of violence, one cop grabbed English professor Celeste Langan by the hair and threw her to the ground, where she was arrested. But Langan's were not the most serious injuries -- as a result of the attacks, demonstrators suffered everything from nerve damage to broken ribs.

After being beaten up by UC Berkeley's police force (and invited guests), some of these students went to the Tang Center, the university's health center, for treatment. And then this happened:
In the immediate aftermath of the November 9th protests, the UCPD solicited -- and received -- the medical records of protesters who sustained injuries at the hands of the police. These records were released by the UC Berkeley Tang Center and local hospitals without the knowledge or consent of the patients; they were then used to identify protesters. The fact that medical records can be turned over to the UCPD in order to incriminate victims of police violence raises serious questions about the ethics of medical care on the UC-Berkeley campus. As the many videos taken on November 9th show, students and faculty were beaten simply because they were there. When evidence of physical harm at the hands of the police is immediately read as culpability, our university has effectively criminalized protest. By funneling confidential records to the UCPD and outside bodies, our medical system corroborated this view. What university policies allowed such breaches of confidentiality to happen?
Talk about the administration's favorite bureaucratic expression: "health and safety." We already knew that UCPD works closely with other campus institutions, such as the Office of Student Conduct, and also collaborates, as we've seen from the recently filed criminal charges against November 9 protesters, with the Alameda County District Attorney. But now we know they have a working relationship with University Health Services. And this is not necessarily the result of university policy. According to the ACLU, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which you would assume would protect the privacy of your medical records, in fact does no such thing:
Q: Can the police get my medical information without a warrant?

A: Yes. The HIPAA rules provide a wide variety of circumstances under which medical information can be disclosed for law enforcement-related purposes without explicitly requiring a warrant. These circumstances include (1) law enforcement requests for information to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, witness, or missing person (2) instances where there has been a crime committed on the premises of the covered entity, and (3) in a medical emergency in connection with a crime.

In other words, law enforcement is entitled to your records simply by asserting that you are a suspect or the victim of a crime.
This is a very important point, something that anyone involved in any kind of demonstration should keep in mind. By seeking out medical attention, we may be putting ourselves at risk. This is not to say that one should never go to a clinic or a hospital. Not by any means. But it's important to understand the possible consequences. At the same time, this knowledge underscores the importance of street medics, of learning how to heal ourselves and our comrades as best we can.

[Update 1, 8:09pm 3/13]: The ACLU of Northern California has denounced the charges against the November 9 protesters, and further confirms the collusion between UCPD and the UCB health services: "We also know that at least 2 of the students sought medical treatment at a University health facility, which then handed information about them to the alleged assailant, UCPD."

[Update 2, 9:10am 3/16]: And now the Chronicle has followed up: "Tang gave police more than a dozen reports of injuries from Nov. 9, police said. It's what happened afterward that compounded the mistrust, students say. Several of the injured . . . were contacted by police and asked to answer questions about what had happened. Two also received letters from the District Attorney's office that they were being charged with 'resisting' and 'obstructing.'" The Daily Cal has an article too that quotes this post.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Against Legal Repression: Picket California Hall Next Week

Update from a comrade on the recent revelation that UCB students and faculty are facing criminal charges for the protests of November 9. Not surprisingly, the police officers who beat these students and faculty with batons and arrested those they could pull to the ground by their hair are not facing charges or repercussions of any kind.

As many of you no doubt know, our colleague Celeste Langan and 10 students have been formally charged by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley in connection with the protests on November 9th. Crucially, those charged are not limited to those who were arrested that day, and there is reason to believe that those singled out within this category were chosen for their prominent roles in the movement to restore public education. This is to me nearly as disturbing as the events of November 9th themselves, and potentially far more chilling of free speech than any specific instance of police brutality. In effect we are being told that:
-- Any protester on campus is at risk of prosecution, regardless of her level of involvement in an event and/or arrest.

-- The UCPD, ostensibly designed to protect and serve campus values, of which free speech must be one, will routinely invoke mutual aid, invite riot cops onto our campus, and then hand over evidence to public bodies with no commitment to campus values whatsoever.

-- Chancellor Birgeneau's declaration of amnesty under the Student Code of Conduct is rendered at once moot and cosmetic because it does not apply to those who were not arrested but face public charges and because it doesn't protect any protester from those charges.

-- Processes like the Police Review Board must be seen in a new light as strategic sites of data collection, since those who have testified there may have their testimony and that of others used against them.
At the very least, it seems to me we should put pressure on Birgeneau to take a public stand on the issue of these charges. Ideally he'd publicly request of O'Malley that the charges be dropped, but at the very least the administration should not be allowed to separate itself from this development merely because it is technically beyond a UCB purview.

To that end, several concerned people (undergrads, grads, and faculty) met informally last night to discuss possible responses. In addition to identifying the need for a swift editorial campaign (I believe the first arraignments, including Celeste's, are scheduled for 3/16), we decided on a picket of California Hall starting Monday at noon. It's not being called for by any particular group, nor should it have to be; it's a spontaneous response to this latest outrage by those in the community who are at risk (namely, all of us) and who stand in solidarity with those charged. I urge you all to come on Monday at 12pm so that our numbers are meaningful and our voices loud enough to reach those inside.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The View from the Other Side of the Barricades [Updated]

From our comrades at Occupy Everything comes this email from UC President Mark Yudof to UCSD Professor Charles Thorpe regarding the police violence at the most recent Regents' meeting at UC Riverside. In the course of the demonstration, police beat protesters with batons and shot them with rubber bullets (for an extended analysis of the day's actions, see this post). Videos like the one above (more here) remind us of what it looks like to face off against a line of riot cops, wildly swinging their batons, cradling and reflexively caressing their firearms, staring out like robots through the foggy visors of their riot helmets. But Yudof's email reminds us of what things look like from the other side of the barricades. Not the cops' view, exactly, though they overlap significantly, but the view of the regents and senior managers themselves. Worth a look.

[Update 3/8, 3:23pm: Read the original letter that Professor Thorpe, along with nearly 50 other faculty members, sent to Yudof and the rest of the UC Regents.]

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day 4 of the 99 Mile March

We started out from Vacaville early this morning. People were in good spirits but were dealing with more serious soreness and blisters on this fourth day of the march. A couple of people decided to take off their shoes and walk only in socks to avoid aggravating their blisters as much as possible. Initially we passed through residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, but soon we were in the countryside.

Generally today we traveled through farmland, zigzagging first east and then north and then east again along Route 80. We made good time throughout the day, though we spent a fair amount of time for lunch resting and talking with a group of people who had driven up from the Bay Area to take part in the final leg of the trip.

The day was marked by scattered heckling. At one point a woman standing in her door shouted, “I'm an American citizen; you all aren't” and waved her hand as if to shoo us away. Later a man standing in a field addressed us on a bullhorn, telling us we should get jobs. He also said we were lazy, which provoked some laughter within the group. At another point, a group of young people told us to get a job. Sometimes people in cars flipped us off as they drove by. Overwhelmingly the people we passed expressed support, but the scattered heckling gave the day a sightly colder edge.

Some of the most meaningful and fun encounters occurred as the sun was setting and we were walking along a road heading east. At one point, we saw a man walking with a child on his shoulders all the way across a field to meet the march. When he got to the road, he joined a woman holding a young child in her arms. Some of the members of our group paused and spoke to them. That encounter was reminiscent of some earlier moments, such as the time when we passed a woman holding a young girl's hand up to wave at us for the whole time the march went by. Later down the road, a marcher passed out pamphlets for the capitol occupation in Sacramento tomorrow, speaking in Spanish with people who had gathered in their driveway.

As we approached Davis, I was thinking some about how meaningful it was that the route of our march linked together two UC campuses whose occupations and assembled students had endured severe police repression last fall, and where significant student strike actions against debt and privatization had been staged.

Thinking back to the gathering on Saturday at Solano Community College, however, I also started reflecting on how this march, which was organized largely by San Francisco State students, was not primarily a UC action. I remembered how, when the group gathered on Saturday to articulate what we were marching for, many supporters and marchers talked about how -- as community college and CSU students – they were unable to complete degrees or credit requirements within a reasonable number of years because of recent severe cuts to course offerings. Some talked about working multiple jobs to pay for tuition or about facing devastated job markets upon graduation. Some also talked about the severe inequities at the K-12 level that have reverberated throughout the entire education system. This multi-day action brought students from different sectors of education together in a way I haven't experienced before. I hope the bonds forged on the march will enable us to continue to build more thoroughly cross-sectoral education movements.

As we entered UC Davis, the energy of the march grew. As we moved through the campus, we started chanting louder than we had all day. Some of the chants included “No cuts, no fees: education will be free,” “We demand (we don't ask) education for the working class,” “This movement's unstoppable; occupy the capitol,” and “We won't stop; we won't rest—education's in distress.”

People from Occupy UC Davis and other friends and supporters of marchers had set up extra tents for us on the UC Davis quad where the local Occupy movement encampment is located, so when we finally arrived, we marched into an area dotted with roughly forty pitched tents. Local Occupy members were playfully hiding in the tents when we arrived, and they emerged from the tents to an exhilarating scene of rejoicing marchers in the quad. Occupy Davis had prepared an abundance of amazing food, including homemade tamales, pasta salad, rice and beans, green salad, pecan pie, and apple pie. After dinner we met briefly to discuss plans to build a mass occupation of the capitol in Sacramento tomorrow, and then most of the group headed to bed.

We encourage anyone within commuting distance of Sacramento to join our protest for public education at the capitol tomorrow! There will be a mass march beginning at Southside Park at 6th and T Streets at 10 a.m., a rally at the capitol at 11 a.m., a general assembly and nonviolent direct action training at 3:30 p.m., and a rally on the north steps in solidarity with the “Occupy the Capitol” action at 5:30 p.m.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day 3 of the 99 Mile March

Saturday -- the third day of the “The 99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” -- was a relatively low-key day. We started late with the walking, which gave us some time in the morning to have our second General Assembly of the trip. At the GA we talked about decision-making and logistical issues concerning the march. We also had an extended discussion about one of the marcher's flags, which was an upside-down American flag. Ultimately the group came to consensus to ask him to tape the slogan “Education in Distress” onto the flag, because the upside-down flag is a code for distress.

We then gathered at Solano Community College and had our conversation with some students who had provided us with lunch. We went around and everyone explained why they were marching and what had inspired them to be involved. Some of the students from Solano Community College talked about how cuts to classes have turned what were four or five year plans for graduation into seven or eight year plans for education. Other people talked about the debt loads they were taking out or paying off. Others talked about marching for their younger siblings or marching for currently undocumented students. It struck me how the ground of the march was being articulated and also stretched insofar as many of the reasons why people were participating pointed toward broader social conditions and political struggles than public education narrowly understood.

For most of the day we marched on freeways or trails that cut between people's back yards or that were adjacent to the highway. Our view was often blocked by fences and sometimes people would wave or call out to us from their rear windows or porches. We ended up walking for a number of hours after dark on access roads or trails. We ultimately arrived into Vacaville, where we were offered food and a place to stay at a local church. We were also joined by a number of Occupy Vacaville activists, one of whom marched with us for the last couple of miles, carrying a set-up tent.

We've had many curious encounters with animals at different points along the way -- particularly on our third day, since we were walking on so many parks and trails. I thought it might be interesting for me to enumerate these encounters.

A Bestiary of the 99 Mile March:

* On the second day we saw a group of four wild turkeys running along the side of the road with what looked like neckties of feathers. At one point one of the turkeys lost its way and had to chase after the group up the road. When they re-converged, everyone cheered.

* After we passed by the oil refinery on the second day, we entered into a small valley where a group of sheep were grazing on an enclosed pasture. The pasture was surrounded by single-story houses and looked barren.

* On the third day, when we were having trouble finding the trail head, a jack rabbit ran out of the forest and along a fence that had a cutaway entrance to the trail head.

* As we were marching on the third day we passed a group of cows that came over to the path and licked one of the marchers on the hand. Everyone called them "Occu-cows."

* Down the greenway a little bit there was an orange cat with scruffy fur sitting on a downed panel of the fence. She ran under the fence when we approached.

* At a couple of spots along the greenway there were massive, lightly colored, quirky bird feeder/birdhouse contraptions that had wacky, iron, painted birds affixed to them.

* At night, as we were walking down an access road, off to the right there were the sounds of frogs croaking while we could hear the sounds of highway traffic to the left.

* So far today we've entered into farmland. Just as we entered we passed by a small farm with more than two dozen peacocks that were running around the farm and jumping on the roofs of farm buildings. They were being chased by a group of cats on the farm.

Right now we're about three miles away from our lunch stop on the fourth day, paused by the side of the road with highway 80 in the distance and fields stretching in all different directions. We will continue on until we reach Davis tonight.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Video from the Occupied Chancellor's Office at UCSD

And from our comrades at Reclaim UCSD, a "Statement of Intention from the Reclaimers of the Chancellor’s Complex to the UCSD Administration":
  • We have initiated a civil, peaceful, and indefinite Reclamation of the UC San Diego Chancellor’s Complex.
  • The UCSD Administration can resolve the Reclamation by fulfilling the six UCSD Institutional Demands issued on March 1st, 2012.
  • If the Administration fails to fully implement these six Demands by March 8th, large-scale community action will be taken against the Administration.
  • If the Administration cannot implement any particular Demand(s) by March 8th, they must provide an acceptable justification and a detailed timeline for rapid implementation.
  • Because our assembly is public and promotes transparency, the Administration is invited and encouraged to continue holding meetings in Conference Room 111A for the duration of the Reclamation.
  • We have the right to actively and civilly participate in any such meetings.
  • Furthermore, we insist that the Administration play an advocacy role on behalf of our statewide and national demands.
A coalition of students, Alumni, faculty, workers, and community members.

UC Force Press Release

Site here.

AHI 401 will present FORCE: The UC Policy, an exhibition that addresses the question of whether the UC campus police and the UC administration are upholding their stated missions to “prevent violence and protect student rights.” The exhibition focuses on three recent campus protests at UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis between 2005-2011. The exhibition will present a combination of photographs, policies, and other documentation that exposes a disconnect between the mission of the UC campus police and the UCPD’s brutal actions as in the pepper-spraying of seated unarmed UCD student protestors on November 18, 2011. The exhibition highlights how the UC Administration and UCPD perceive the sustained student efforts to fight against the privatization of public higher education as hostile and antagonistic rather than expressive of an informed and responsive student population. By underlining the role, responsibilities, and necessity of campus police, FORCE: The UC Policy invites viewers to examine and question the shift in attitudes towards student demonstrations and the use of force to control them.

FORCE: The UC Policy is co-curated by the students of AHI 401: Giana Belardi, Liz Church, Ashleigh Crocker, Maizy Enck, Susan Fanire, Megan Friel, Cindy Gieng, Bianca Hua, Lizzy Joelson, Mitzi Matthews, Monica Mercado, Bryant Pereyra, Kyle Taylor, Jennifer Urrutia, Ariana Young and Kevin Zhou. AHI 401 is a course on curatorial methods taught by Professor Susette Min.

FORCE: The UC Policy is made possible, in part with the support of the Undergraduate Instructional Improvement Program, The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Anne Reynolds Myler, Associate Director of Campus Unions Center for Student Involvement and the UC Davis Art History Program.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Send-Off

Day 2 of the 99 Mile March


We woke up really early in Richmond this morning. There were roosters crowing when the sun came up. People were waiting around for a while after getting ready for the mayor of Richmond to come address us before we left. She's with the Green Party and, based on her short talk, it sounds like she and a couple of other elected representatives are engaged in an attempt (albeit largely restricted or thwarted) to undo the local power of Chevron. She gave a warm address to our group. The food arrived at the same time as she began to speak. It was donated by friends of a local organizer who also participated in a march almost ten years ago that went from Richmond to Sacramento.

After breakfast we marched out through Richmond. Today we were on divided highways with two lanes on each side for most of the time. We were just occupying the right lane, for the most part, so cars were passing us on the left. We traveled through a rail graveyard. At times the road became an elevated highway or went up a hill, revealing views of the bay past the industrial landscape. When we were on lower roads or flat areas, we were generally passing through working-class, primarily Latino communities, where warehouses often bounded residential blocks.

99 Mile March

Throughout the day I thought some about how the march offers a slow-paced sketch of the social geography of the Bay Area. It was possible to perceive histories of social labor and structural deprivation on the buildings we passed, in the landscape, and in the atmosphere.

For most of the morning, the energy within the group was high. As we marched, periodically we tossed glitter on each other. The glitter sparkled in the sun. People were dancing to a mix of music including MIA and Whitney Houston. One of the chants went something like this:

Occupy, Occupy: student debt has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: foreclosures have got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: the prison system has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: homophobia has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: fossil fuels have got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: imperialism has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: capitalism has got to die.

And so forth...

In addition to carrying the “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” banner, today protesters started carrying a second banner: “Abolish Student Debt.”

The weather was beautiful—sunny and clear. As we were entering into Pinole, a train with about fifty cars—most of which were owned by Archers Daniel Midland—passed us on the right. We met a group of about ten UC Berkeley professors in a park in Pinole, in the renovated historic downtown part of the city. We all had a relaxed lunch of chili, salad, and corn cooked by Kelly Iwamoto and served by UC Berkeley professor Wendy Brown. The faculty—some of whom were wearing their robes—marched with us for the next couple of miles. One of the remarkable parts of that stage of the march was that at almost every intersection we went through, we set off a contagious series of honking and people calling out from their cars.

After the professors left, we started to approach a ConocoPhillips-owned oil refinery. As we got to the refinery, my eyes started to burn. Others said they could feel the air pollution in their throats. We also heard at that point that the cops were telling our police liaison that we needed to move really quickly past the refinery because the people who work there were getting off their shift at 4 p.m., and walking in the vicinity would be dangerous at that point. None of us understood why or how it could be dangerous.

The road cut right through the refinery—a massive compound with pipes, boilers, and other types of machinery. It was a sort of open-air factory. The administrative building inside the compound featured a sign that said “Last Lost Time Incident: [a date I neglected to record], 2010,” which made me think some about industrial injuries; the time that the company has in mind, as well as other times; and how our experience of time is reshaped following an injury, both for those who are injured and for those who are caring for the injured. As we marched past the compound, workers from the factory started driving down the road past us. Most of them waved, raised their fists, or honked their horns in solidarity (this was a fairly common response at the various locations we moved through today).

The area past the refinery was very hilly, and the cops started pressuring the police liaisons to make us move quickly over the hills. At this point the cops were escorting the march by driving in front and in back of it in cars. But when we got to the hilly area, they threatened to leave if we didn't move faster. Whenever they made this threat, some people halfheartedly endorsed the idea of slowing down to help that process along. Part of the ambivalence about the escort came because there was a real question of danger on the roads, even though we were being followed by our cargo van. Today the roads were fairly large, and the march caused significant backups of traffic. We blocked intersections for some time as we passed through, all of which happened a little more smoothly because of the police escort. When we entered Vallejo, the police neglected to position the escort car in front of the march as they had been doing before, thereby forcing the marchers to manage traffic in the intersection ourselves. Doing so was initially pretty unsettling.

After the refinery, we crossed the Carquinez Bridge, marching in the pedestrian lane. The view was stunning. The water below was ebbing. There was a streak of sun reflected in the water, and I noticed that underneath us a couple of people were working to unload a boat next to a run-down pier.

We entered Vallejo on the opposite side of the bridge as dusk fell. At this point people were really starting to feel the effects of the distance we had traveled. Our legs were aching. Blisters were starting to be more of a problem. Our feet were sore. A couple of people from Vallejo joined the march—they had heard it was coming through and decided to take part. They talked about how they've been going to Occupy Oakland a fair amount because there hasn't been much of an Occupy movement locally. They helped us with directions because we were starting to get a little bit confused about the navigation.

A woman called out from her porch that she had just seen a news report about us. In response someone came up with a new chant that went something like: “We're real, it's true—you saw us on the news." Here's a news clip from ABC 7 about the march:

Around this point, marchers and people in support roles also started to get testy with each other at times. I think that had a lot to do with the risks that we were facing on the road and how people in different roles saw and responded to those risks in different ways. Some were upset at times as what they saw as other protesters' risky behaviors—behaviors such as being close to the lane lines.

At one point we were unsure about how best to get where we were going, so we stopped at the side of the road and ultimately called everyone together for the first General Assembly of the march. People spoke on stack during the brief deliberation. We made a fairly quick decision to split the group: some who felt ready to be shuttled to the campsite departed, and the rest of the group continued marching the rest of the way. Some of those who were shuttled were transported with help from the local Vallejo couple who had joined the march (and the couple's friends).

The rest of us marched on the right side of the road in a two-by-two march, falling in line behind a giant sculpture of a No. 2 pencil. The sculpture, which was created by Berkeley High School students, has been wheeled all the way from Berkeley on shopping carts as part of the march. We did our best to stay together through the intersections when we had green lights. When we were about half a mile from the camp, the passenger van came by with some of the people who had been shuttled, and they shared boxes of pizza with us on the side of the road. We finally made it back to the camp at around 8 p.m. Tonight we're staying in tents on the lawn of the Rehoboth World Outreach Center.

Tomorrow morning we set off from Vallejo for Fairfield and Vacaville...

Make It Greek (Remarks on Sproul Plaza)

The following statement was given by Professor Joshua Clover during the rally at UC Berkeley campus on March 1. From there, approximately 200-250 people marched down Telegraph to Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland where they converged with students from Laney College for another rally. Later in the day, a small group broke off to begin a 99-mile march to Sacramento.

A defaced Bank of Greece sign is seen during protests against planned reforms by Greece's coalition government in Athens, February 10, 2012.      REUTERS-John Kolesidis

I was asked to speak about banks and education and I will get to it swiftly without any fancy language. We are here in part to begin a march. It is a march on the seat of government, against intolerable austerity programs that are being imposed by force. This has become a familiar, almost a common event of late. The most dramatic such recent episodes that we have seen have been in Greece, in Athens, a place from whence we draw our farthest histories of education. But we must also draw our nearest histories of the political. Our history of the present also comes from Athens.

In Greece right now, intolerable austerity is being imposed by the economic state and its armed wing, immiserating the people so as to pay an unpayable debt to a global array of financial institutions. There is, in short, a collusion between the state and the banks. The people are being increasingly indebted to the banks even as they cannot afford food and shelter, and this is being done through the militarized mediation of the state.

This is precisely what is happening here as well. Rather than the sublimely dispiriting rain of facts and figures, I want to sketch the process, the mechanism, in five easy steps.
  1. The banks have a bunch of money sitting around with no profitable route for investment, because the real economy is in its death throes.
  2. The public university wants to raise its price of admission much faster than any increase in people’s ability to pay. Over the last four decades tuition has increased 650 percentage points more than inflation — this is the so-called “rip-off index” — and it’s only accelerating.
  3. Economic collapse means that young people are effectively compelled into higher education to compete on the job market — even though they don’t have enough money to keep up with the rip-off index.
  4. Did I mention those banks really need new suckers for their loans, especially once the mortgage market blows up?
  5. The university and bank thus enter into an alliance through which the bank makes staggering profits from the university’s huge fee hikes.
So I will make the most obvious point: banks don’t make it easier for people to go to school, they make it harder, by enabling massive fee increases. Banks make school more expensive.

But that’s only part of it, of course — the front end, you might say. They get you coming and going. Not only do banks drive up costs, they now on the back end own a trillion dollars worth of the future lives of students. That’s what debt is — they own your hours, period. And that decides your life for you. They know what you’ll do next summer. And the one after that. And the twenty years after that.

If the university’s purpose is to help people move from necessity to freedom — be it political, intellectual, or economic freedom — their collusion with the banks actually and obviously makes you less free. So: the university and you: more expensive, and less free. This is the outcome of the university’s lying down with capital. It preserves itself by selling your and your families’ lives to the bank — by enabling financial profits. As in Greece, so in California: this is the state now.

But here’s the thing I want to say before I go. This problem I have just described is not a false problem. It is not some free decision made by misguided people who can be convinced to see the light and change direction. It is a consequence of objective conditions of the economy and the political situation. Whether we accept that the money finally isn’t out there and isn’t coming back — or whether we accept that one cannot ascend to the seat of government without being irrevocably beholden and committed to this program of exploitation and profit — either way, I do not believe that the situation I have just described can be in any way changed via demands for redistributing the present budget, by demanding a kinder and gentler capitalism.

And this carries me back, as we so often find ourselves carried back, to Greece, to Athens. I say to you today, those of you burning with anger and love and desperation who will commence the long march to the seat of government and those who will stay here, burning just the same, I say to you, MAKE IT GREEK. MAKE IT GREEK. In Greece they have understood, just a few moments faster than we have, that the money isn’t coming back. That the banks and the state are not going to release the people from beneath the boot-heel of austerity. That debt to the banks will be carved from the hides of students, of those who labor, and of those who cannot find jobs. That there is no rescue within this system, within the shock doctrine of austerity capitalism.

So when they march on the seat of government, they do not do so to issue entreaties for a better deal. They do not march to petition for redress of grievances. They do not march to seek out an idealistic equality that simply is not and cannot be a feature of this disaster that is capitalism. They march to burn it down. They march to burn it down. Along the way they pause at banks — in memory of the fact that every revolution has featured, among its earliest acts, the destruction of debt records, because debt is the financial form of unfreedom. And they burn down the banks.

And I say they are not mistaken. I say that their analysis of the real situation is lucid. Inarguable. Perhaps even obvious. Let us enter this history, let us illuminate it, let us make it present. I say: we are all Athenians: MAKE IT GREEK, BURN IT DOWN.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 1 of the 99 Mile March

Roughly 50 students, teachers, and community members embarked today on a multi-day journey from Oakland to Sacramento as part of the ongoing struggle against the dismantling of public education. Here are some highlights from our first day on the road:

The rain had cleared up by the time we left Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland, where we rallied for public education with a few hundred people this afternoon. We set off carrying a huge yellow banner painted with the words “The 99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice.” One young man has been marching with a boom box, playing hip hop.

Most people on the march are in their twenties, but there is also a contingent of older people, including teachers and parents. There are many SF State students involved, along with students from UC Berkeley and other schools.

While we were marching from Oakland back to Berkeley High, someone remarked that it's really exciting how unexpected, transient alliances continually take shape during the march as people respond positively to our protest as it passes.

Today some people joined the march and started chants from the side. A woman at a bus stop told us to stay safe on our way to Sacramento. Two young people walked with us for five blocks in Berkeley with their basketball. Cars honked their horns the whole time we were walking through Richmond. People often gasped when we told them we were going to “Sacto.” A group of guys in Richmond said they wanted to join the march and came along with us for a number of blocks, talking and walking with us. A group of people in their backyard in Richmond started a chant for us as we went by. A woman joined the march in Richmond and started one of those chants that goes “olé olé olé olé olé.” These unexpected, brief moments of affiliation and connection made the day feel meaningful—we are connecting to new people and talking about what we are doing.

A central experience of the day involved getting a sense of how the fifty or so marchers could move on the road together—how fast, how many lanes we could occupy, how to communicate with each other, and how to manage risks connected to the traffic flows. As we walked, we circled through different conversations with different people and overheard snatches of all different conversations. People were introducing themselves to each other and talking about history and the different social movements that they have learned about or been part of, such as anticolonial movements in the United States. There was talk about different group dynamics at the Occupy encampments—for example, what happens when some people want to kick someone out and others don't.

There is a rolling, fluid quality to this sort of movement, both in terms of the pace of the march and in terms of how people move from one place to another and introduce themselves to one another.

We marched more than twelve miles and arrived in Richmond after 8:00 p.m. at Saint Mark's United Catholic Church. Local community groups made enough burritos to feed our whole group. We are sleeping in classrooms at the church tonight.

A couple of people from Occupy Richmond came to talk with us tonight about the different kinds of work they've done. They've been very involved in support work for Occupy Oakland. Somebody affiliated with Richmond Spokes said one central issue for Occupy Richmond is the pollution that has been introduced by Chevron in this area. The atmosphere and environment in Richmond is significantly more carcinogenic than in other parts of the Bay Area. He said a study on librarians found that 30 percent of librarians in Richmond develop breast cancer, which people think is tied to the pollution introduced by Chevron.

Tomorrow, we set off from Richmond for Vallejo...