Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Not-So-Surprising News: Katehi Sucks at Her Job, Reynoso Task Force Reports

After much delay, the Reynoso Task Force Report on Peppergate has been released!  LINK No real surprises here, at least for those of us at UCD who aren't Katehi's technoscience, privatization foot soldiers (that is, nearly every department other than most humanities programs and physics). This report just provides the official proof of what those without our heads up our academically self-interested asses knew already: Katehi is grossly inept at her job.  Some highlights: "The Chancellor Bears Primary Responsibility for the Decision to Deploy the Police at 3 p.m. Rather than During the Night or Early Morning, Which is a Tactical Decision Properly Reserved for Police Authorities" and "The Chancellor Bears Primary Responsibility for the Failure to Communicate Her Position that the Police Operation Should Avoid Physical Force." It also appears that the administration and the UCPD were merely indulging in a neoliberal paranoid fantasy within which they saw student protests as part of a global socialist agenda. It is nice to know this, but it is also greatly disconcerting: those with the resources and ambiguous legal authority to amass and employ militarized police equipment calculate their behavior according to capitalist dystopian nightmares rather than even half-hearted assessments of the tactical situations at hand.  Hopeful something (i.e. criminal charges, resignations, and substantial reforms) come out of this report. If they can charge 12 peaceful protesters with "obstructing a thoroughfare," maybe the Yolo County DA can press charges for some actual physical assaults? 

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Obstructing Thoroughfares:" A Neoliberal Collusion of the Law, Its Enforcement, and Privatization

“Obstructing a Thoroughfare” laws, such California Penal Code Section 647c, developed largely in response to the civil rights protests of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, criminalize any “willful and malicious obstruct[ion of] the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk, or other public place or on or in any place open to the public” – a criminalization, in effect, of the radical tactics of the occupy movement (which I have elsewhere defined as radical violence). Accordingly laws such as this are retroactively applied to Occupy Oakland protesters and to those UC Davis occupiers who recently shut down a US Bank branch through a prolonged occupation of the space immediately outside the bank.  
While such laws could be construed as violations of free speech, I think it is important to understand the nature and function of the right of free speech under neoliberalism. Free speech is on the one hand narrowly defined (legally) as the more-or-less alphabetic language/expression of persons and, now, corporations. But, as Citizens United has shown, this is not entirely the case. On the other hand, non-alphabetic language has been bifurcated: contributions to Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) and physical protests. Contributions to the political system (a neoliberal governmentality) are now legally defined as “speech;” the occupation of private or public space is defined as criminal, if only because it is a refusal to participate in the desired (or sanctioned) modality of political expression. Of course, any given citizen can hop on a bus, drive to Washington (and if you are a Teabagger, there will be some super PAC to pay for your way), stand in front of the Capital building, wave some signs and scream some slogans – provided you get back on that bus at the end of the day. While it might appear that such protests are similar to those of the occupy movement, there are, at bottom, not. Rather, the space in front of the capital is, like some other spaces, an adjudicated space for sanctioned redress. Such spaces safely segregate political and economic protest both in space and in efficacy. The spatial ordering of political speech – the capital mall, political contributions – serves to contain the force of political dissent, channeling its radical energy away from its target – a neoliberal political, economic, and juridical regime of governmentality.
            But more. Even speech acts themselves are safely defused under neoliberalism, a governmentality whose rise corresponds with the emergence of purportedly “democratizing” social media. As our experiences revolting against the UC administration have proven, the neoliberal governors (university administrators and CEO’s as much as political legislators) operate within a vast field of reconfigured relations of power that has made any efficacious political dissent nearly impossible. We can write blogs, give speeches, occupy quads, but the administration can do anything it wants – there is, simply, no course of direct (or even indirect) reform. What the explosion of social media and other expansions of free speech (Citizens United) has done replicates what Benjamin articulated as European fascism of the 1920’s and ‘30’s modus operandi: “Fascism attempts to organize the newly proletarianized masses while leaving intact the property relations which they strive to abolish. It sees its salvation in granting expression to the masses – but on no account granting them rights.” The result of such a double movement – granting free speech and entrenching capitalist property relations – is an “aestheticization of politics” through the sanctioned proliferation of outlets like blogs.
            The enforcement of laws like California Penal Code Section 647c is the counterstroke to the expansion of free speech, the very mechanism that makes effective political action impossible. For this reason, over turning the laws on the grounds of free speech rights should be viewed with caution. What does it mean to have the right to free speech under neoliberalism? What would we gain if occupying space became sanctioned speech? Could it then remain an effective tool for revolt?
            I answer: no. To be imbricated thoroughly into the political system one attempts to overturn could only result in the pacification of radical intent. After all, the criminalization of occupy tactics performs an adjudicated production of what anthropologists call “dirt” – matter out of place. In being where they shouldn’t, occupiers become apolitical beings, stripped of their rights. But this is simultaneously their greatest strength and what makes occupy tactics so violent. If rights serve to stabilize a certain economy of power relations, the willing refusal to participate in a system of rights does not simply represent a revolt; it is a radical and concrete assault on that very system. And this is precisely why occupy tactics are criminal – they are a refusal to participate in neoliberal economy of power relations.
And of course this is also the great danger of the privatization of governmental dispositifs like the police: a unification of law and enforcement by an extra-political regime whose sole raison d’etre is the production of wealth. It isn’t so much the militarization of the police (think the use of riot gear, semi-automatic paintball guns, military-grade pepper spray) that represents the underlying danger of the neoliberalization of all aspects of life. Rather it is the restructuring of the economic, juridical, and political economy of power relations. Such is the vicious spiral of neoliberalization: defund public governance and its dispositifs to create a vast, new source of wealth production while simultaneously codifying laws that make resistance to this process illegal. The threat imagined in Robocop isn’t Peter Weller’s cybernetic being. It is the collusion of corporations, the law, and the law’s enforcement. Oh, and the valorization of such collusion in the name of economic “efficiency” by the citizenry (the neoliberal savoir – more on this later).
The avenue for redress is not more speech, but direct action. Free speech is merely the mechanism through which a neoliberal governmental regime entrenches itself behind our backs.