Today, December 10, is the fourth day of a new occupation at UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall. Quite different from the first Wheeler occupation on November 20, this one appears to be modeled on recent European student occupations. Angus Johnston, a scholar of student activism, confirms:
"This new occupation has a lot in common with recent UC library study-ins, but it’s far bolder than those actions. Wheeler II is clearly modeled on the large-scale, long-term campus occupations that have swept Europe in the last year — occupations in which students have sought to establish functioning open university communities in campus spaces. A few recent American occupations have attempted to create similar environments, but I know of none which have reached the level of success that we’re seeing at Wheeler right now."
See the map of European occupations
Given that European student occupations are the model for this new Wheeler event, I thought readers might be interested in hearing a perspective from a Berkeley graduate student, Shane Boyle, who is presently in Germany conducting research on protest cultures. I posed to him a number of questions about occupations as a tactic in Germany and Europe, and with his permission, I circulate his answers below.
But first, some context: The current Wheeler event (billed as "Live Week" instead of "Dead Week") is an open door occupation, where people can come and go throughout the week, with no polarization of "inside" vs. "outside," etc. Occupiers of Wheeler are relocating within the building to make room for any scheduled classes/events, so there has been no interruption of the "service delivery" of regularly planned educational activities. The organizers have had a careful negotiation with the police, who have been attentive and responsive. As of Tuesday night, the occupation became officially sanctioned through Friday, which seems to be an acknowledgment of how well both the students and the police have managed the rules of engagement. Programming includes several general assemblies, strategy meetings, films, national conference calls, and lectures, which began with a talk by Bob Meister on Monday night. The Live Week/Open University website provides more info
The primary goal of the new Wheeler occupation/Open University seems to be not necessarily garnering public sympathy or even massive media attention (which is relevant to Prof Meranze's recent post on Newfield's blog
UCLA professor Michael Meranze (in his blog post referenced above) contends that "the narrative of the Occupations would demand a surrender of the University," which certainly seems to be true of some of the US occupations and their manifestos. But it might be helpful for us to think about occupations in more precise and differentiated terms. Not all occupations are the same. It's pretty clear that the current Wheeler occupation aims to do quite the opposite: occupiers are encouraging members of our community to claim the university. Furthermore, if it is true that, as Meranze contends, "the supine nature of the system-wide Academic Senate reveals that our own institutional agents are part of the internal problems we face," then perhaps faculty could learn from the students what it means to take full occupation (i.e. ownership) of what is ours.
Students may well be doing the math: There are 220K students in the UC, 440K students in CSU's and 2.8 million students in the CA community college system. Most of these students are California voters (and it's worth remembering that many students in the 1960s protests didn't have the vote.) Add it all up, and you get over 3.5 million students in California public higher education. If each CA student persuaded 3 additional non-students in CA (parents, neighbors, co-workers) to pressure the government for greater support for higher education, that's 10.5 million people. There are 36 million voters in CA, and I'm guessing many of them don't vote. So if actions like this succeed in building a shared student consciousness, a perception of students' potential power as a voting block, and the motivation and coordination to act as a block--all of this could have a significant impact on the status of higher education in our state and, indeed, well beyond our state. Students have the numbers in a way faculty and the administration don't. They have numbers that, frankly, I would think few interest groups in California possess. Furthermore, they are part of a much larger movement, and they know it.
To become part of the movement, stop by Wheeler, or tune your computer to the "tweets" from sites like:
or the remarkably multilingual and multinational #ouruni
Or just check out some of the links I've provided above. The movement is transpiring in both actual and virtual spaces. You are entitled to occupy any of them.
Professor, University of California Berkeley