Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The November 20 Protest: What Happens Next?

Ananya Roy and Nelson Maldonado-Torres
The Daily Californian
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

November 20 presents a challenge to us all. We now find ourselves asking: Will Nov. 20 mark the end of the efforts of UC Berkeley students, faculty and workers to collectively mobilize around the cause of public education and social justice in California? Will the day prove the fragile nature of the solidarity that was being constructed through painstaking work, dialogue and alliance? And will the presence of militarized police on campus, become a profoundly alienating experience for many? After all, Nov. 20 was a day when the campus community found itself in a space controlled by riot police. Whatever else was happening, whatever else may have been attempted, this established the parameters of action and communication on that day.

We do not know the answers. Nor can we simply ask: "can we all get along?" That would make a mockery of the undeniably serious crisis of public education, as well as of the very real divides and divisions that exist within and across the movements and constituencies that seek to address this crisis.

Here are some of the challenges that lie ahead:

There are many faces to the student movement. The occupation of Wheeler Hall was one such face. A multi-centered student movement with a range of discourses and tactics is a strength. So are moments when multiple forces unite. A common chant on the police barricades of Nov. 20 was "students, not criminals." Yet the aftermath of Nov. 20 seems to have devolved into an exercise in the designation of legitimacy and illegitimacy, into an argument about who are the "genuine" political agents of a student movement, into a claiming of the mantle of "real" change by some on behalf of all. If so, we need to better understand the alliances, ruptures and above all privilege that mark this political agency. What is the relationship between this face of the student movement and other forms of student organizing, both old and new? How will these political agents foster intellectual and tactical solidarity with others also interested in the cause of the public university and social justice? What is their vision of "our" university?

There has to be a reconsideration of the much-recited administrative response: state defunding is the problem; agitate at Sacramento and not here. It is not enough to say this and walk away from students and parents demanding answers, from faculty worried about the future of public education, and from workers losing jobs. Students and faculty understand the issue of state defunding but they also understand that the dispersed and fragmented lobbying of individual students and faculty will most likely be ineffective in making change in Sacramento. The collective mobilizations of this past semester, starting with the Sept. 24 walkout, were efforts to make visible the cause of public education and social justice. Will our administrators relinquish their own lock-down and lead such collective efforts? How will they ally with students, faculty, workers, alumni, parents in transforming California politics and the governance of the UC system?

As there is no coherent student movement, so perhaps there is no unified faculty interest. In the last few days, many faculty have come together to condemn the militarization of our campus. What will we do next? Groups of faculty have earlier this year taken up important issues-the analysis of the UC budget; the creation of a mandate to reorder spending priorities on this campus; the declaration of solidarity with the student and union strike called against fee hikes and unfair labor practices; the forging of alliances with sympathetic political forces in California. Some of this work has happened through SAVE the university; some of it through the Solidarity Alliance; some of it through yet other forms of organizing; and sometimes simply through individual action. What will be the role of faculty be next semester as the budget situation turns more dire and its governance crisis more desperate? How will we leverage our capacities and interests to tackle the herculean task of saving and transforming the public university? We are tempted to say that it is not our place to do so (indeed the danger of Nov. 20 is that it may lead us to such a statement) but we cannot. Refusing to remain bounded within that tidy category of "service" that makes up the holy trinity of faculty labor-teaching, research and service-this task has now become of fundamental importance to all aspects of our academic lives.

These are neither instructions for action nor guidelines for thought; rather it is a sharing of questions that we find ourselves returning to over and over again. But this we know, Nov. 20 cannot be the occasion or excuse for any of us to retreat. Too much is at stake.


Ananya Roy and Nelson Maldonado-Torres are UC Berkeley professors. Reply to opinion@dailycal.org.

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