Wednesday, November 30, 2011

UC Davis Updates

    So far, this has been another exciting and turbulent week at UC Davis, despite an underwhelming Monday morning.
   As expected, the UC town forum was a sham. The regents, etc. listened to student grievances for about an hour and a half. While the extra half hour of public comment appears as a nice gesture by the administration, it was instead merely a ploy to tire out students at the four teleconference sites (Davis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Merced) -- a plan that worked fairly well. Many students left when the addition time was announced. More sinister, perhaps, was the procedure for collective sharing of speaking time. Each student was given one minute to speak. But when students pooled their time, some miraculous arithmetic occured. Whenever three students pooled their time the administration gave them 2 1/2 minutes to speak. That's right, in the UC universe 1+1+1=2 1/2. And further stressing their clear disregard for our grievances, after students at three campuses (Davis, SF, and LA) repeatedly mic-checked over regent's discussion post-forum, the regents went behind closed doors and approved a series of administrative salary raises, some as high as 21%.
   Now for the truly amazing events. Following the public forum, Occupy UC Davis stormed and occupied Dutton Hall, which houses amongst other services the Cashier's Office. Bodies on the gears of the machine? Check. Demands? Dutton Hall will be occupied for two weeks or until: Katehi resigns, the UCPD is disbanded, and tuition increases are frozen.
  About forty-five students (and one "Rogue Element" -- my fiancee) spent the night at Dutton:

Despite several key tactical mistakes -- no night watch, no plan for action the following morning -- we managed to hold our ground around the Cashier's office. But not without collateral damage. Dutton Hall also houses the Student Academic Success Center (a tutoring service), whose operations we consistently worked to continue (escorting students, complying with all staff requests). The administration, however, preemptively shut the building down for, guess what, "health and safety concerns," forcibly locking SASC up and making it look like we intended to interfere with student academics. Typical divide and conquer tactic, anyone?
   Frustrated, we convened a strategy and logistic meeting last night to discuss the long term goals of a Dutton occupation. Clearly the tactical advantage of holding Dutton is a disruption of the Cashier's office, where the university collects fees and tuition. Clearly, however, students at large were not getting this logic, but instead saw us as a fringe element intent on making everyone else's lives more difficult.
   So now a new strategy: We continue to occupy the hall 24 hours a day, but during business hours we maintain an information table (and tent) in front of the Cashier's office without blocking access (of course the office itself locked its doors, forcing everyone to have to knock for access -- at which time we can chat with visitors. Win for us!).
   More important, however, we have renamed and repurposed the entire building. Dutton Hall is now Paulo Freire Open University, a 24-hour academic center open to all students:

At night it serves primarily as a study space desperately needed by students during finals week. We are also holding teach-ins and workshops throughout the day, as well as various group office hours (the University Writing Program is holding open office hours on Friday, 3-5 – surprisingly with director support), tutoring services, film screenings, various department events (poetry readings, discussion groups), even a dance party.
  By repurposing the building we effectively combat a growing wave of criticism – that we are not concerned with student academics – by providing supplemental academic services. We just happen also to be clogging part of the university's financial operations.
    In all honesty, I believe this is what the coming community will look like, at least in its revolutionary phase: a spatial activity that at once renders the a specific location's dominating mechanisms of life inoperative and establishes a vibrantly active political community. It is everything I have been envisioning (politically) for a few years: inoperativity, profanation, the Messianic community.
   But as is the nature of these measures, what is rendered inoperative tends to become operative again. The police will come, the study spaces will be locked up, and the machine will hum once more. But for at least a moment we will have created the living image of a coming community.


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