Here’s an interview I did with some of the folks who occupied the Graduate Student Commons (GSC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. First published on socialistworker.org on October 5, 2009
COULD YOU briefly describe what happened on September 24?
AS AN escalation and extension of the broader protests on the 24th, a group of students and workers took over the Graduate Student Commons building in the central plaza of the university. With the support of protesters outside the space, who blocked police from the doors and moved other materials into place, we were able to secure and barricade the doors.
Since then, we have occupied the space and controlled the doors, allowing others to enter for political discussion, planning of further actions and outreach, and to bring supplies to those who have remained inside.
WHY DID you decide to occupy the Graduate Student Commons?
WE OCCUPIED the Commons not for symbolic but for tactical reasons. The UCSC campus was designed to be decentralized, without a central gathering point. The intent of that design was precisely to avoid mass actions. For this reason, we chose a space in a central plaza in order to create a real common center in a campus intended to have none.
Perhaps more importantly, we took it because it could be taken. This is a “demandless” occupation: our occupation was not contingent on certain demands made to the university. What we want are things that this administration will never concede: we want a truly public institution that shares no resemblance to the increasingly and alarmingly privatized UC system. We are not asking them for what they cannot give. We are telling them that the time of mass resistance has come.
Our interest in occupation is to put certain radical tactics back on the map, to encourage others to occupy spaces everywhere and to innovate other tactics. At this moment, the beginning of what we believe to be the terminal crisis of capitalism, we need to salvage abandoned radical tactics and to forge new modes of struggle. We believe that occupation is a necessary means of escalation, but it is far from the only one.
HOW HAS the UCSC administration reacted to the occupation?
PUBLICLY, THEY have largely ignored it, hoping that the incident will end quietly and be forgotten.
This does not worry us for two reasons. First, we know that this action has caught the attention of radicals far and wide and led to numerous expressions of solidarity, both written and in other actions.
Second, the purpose of this occupation is to function as a first salvo in what will be a long year of resistance and action. This is a point of departure for future struggle in whatever form it will take, as long as it takes.
WHAT SORT of reaction have you had from students and workers?
A CHORUS of voices and fists raised in support. We’ve seen real solidarity and, with it, a hope for the wider explosion of radical actions from other students and workers, some newly galvanized by the action, some who have already been working extremely hard to refuse the given trajectory of this year.
There are, to be sure, many who disagree with our tactics or the particular rhetoric of our documents and statements, but barring those who simply refuse to recognize the severity of the current situation, there is wide support for and genuine understanding of the necessity of radical action in a range of forms.
HOW DOES your action relate to the broader movement against the budget cuts? How do you see the movement developing from here?
FOR US, budget cuts are not the main thing to be combated: they are symptoms of the wider financial crisis. As such, our action is at once a concrete escalation of the struggle against budget cuts into the realm of more militant tactics and an attempt to cast light on the economic order of the day and its social consequences.
We have no interest in regime change. We do not want different administrators who will make the same cuts more gently. The administrators have managed the university atrociously, but their unacceptable actions are to be expected in this time of crisis. We do not want different or less extreme budget cuts. We want to reorganize the university, to put it in the hands of students and workers, and to make it truly public.
These are long-term goals, to be sure, but we refuse to limit the horizons of resistance to the surface effects of the global shifts in capitalism and its slow collapse, the first signs of which we are witnessing around the world. For this reason, we occupy to encourage other radicals–as well as those who do not consider themselves as such but who recognize that this state of affairs cannot be tolerated–to do the same and, more importantly, to do differently, to plan their own actions.
At this time, the need to organize, innovate, and escalate is not a radical demand: it is the only option remaining if we are to take control of this disastrous situation.