Of Many Tasers and Batons, a Few Torches and Rocks, and the Way Forward
The actions and arrests that occurred on Friday night at Chancellor Birgeneau’s residence have provoked a moment of pause and recalibration among those of us involved in the anti-privatization movement in UC. The facts about what happened that night are unclear. No charges were filed at the arraignments of those who were arrested and held in jail for four days on bail of $132,000. It would seem that, at the moment, there is no evidence to support the accusations of multiple felonies for which they were detained. At a time when people are considering the initial rush to judge and condemn, we should remember that lives are ruined by police accusations that those inside and outside the movement circulate as fact. Let us take this opportunity to affirm absolutely that the reaction to last Friday’s events must take place as a conversation among those who have been engaged in the defense of public education in California: the workers, students, and faculty who have risked much in pursuit of overturning the policies approved on November 19th at UCLA. The current UC President Mark Yudof, enabled by the tacit support of Chancellors, implemented the endgame of a process that will see our libraries close at 8 pm., our campus workers fired, and public education increasingly become a commodity for the wealthy to purchase. These offices are now engaged in a dishonest and insulting rhetorical game of misdirection that encourages students to address their rage to an abstraction called “Sacramento” in lieu of directing it at the flesh and blood people – Governor, UC Presidents, Regents and Chancellors — who penned, signed, and excused this gross betrayal of California public life. Part of this campaign to misdirect the message of the movement was the governor’s supremely irresponsible labeling of the actions of a few protestors on Friday as “terrorism,” equating the smashing of planters and the throwing of rocks at windows with acts of mass murder. One need not condone the vandalism that occurred at Chancellor Birgeneau’s on Friday night to condemn this abuse of language and logic and to worry about its dangerous effects. It would be laughable if not for the fact that such political posturing has material consequences for the lives of individuals and movements. We now know that there is insufficient evidence to charge those held in jail with vandalism, let alone to support the charges made by the Governor and the Chancellor’s office. We add this to the list of good reasons to mistrust reports issued by Chancellor Birgeneau and his Public Relations spokesperson Dan Mogulof. After the occupation of Wheeler Hall on November 20th, Mogulof claimed that those inside the building were not Berkeley students. There was no reason for the Chancellor and Mogulof to believe this and so we are left to assume that this was misinformation knowingly circulated. In an impromptu press conference held in front of Sproul Hall on Saturday, Mogulof affirmed again and again that the arrests at Wheeler early Friday morning were made in order to “prevent at all costs a scene like the one on November 20th.” This statement, heard by faculty, students and workers who were present, confirms that contrary to the Chancellor’s official statements of concern, these arrests represented a tactic in the effort to suppress student activism at Berkeley. If Mr. Birgeneau was simply concerned with clearing the building, certainly police would have issued an order to disperse to each of the occupants and allowed students the choice to take a civil disobedience arrest, or to leave. We are left to assume that the spectacle of students hand-cuffed in the rain was a PR goal for the Chancellor. Let’s not allow the public response to Friday’s action, whatever the facts turn out to be, to further excuse a policy of student intimidation that was underway prior to acts of property damage and intimidation. Let us not forget who perpetrated the previous violence on our campuses this year, and on whose orders. I urge the faculty, if they are uncomfortable with any tactic or ideology connected with this student movement going forward, to resist relying on spokespeople who have circulated lies. Ask a student what the environment was like in Wheeler prior to the mass arrests. Ask a student what students and workers are saying about the vandalism at the Chancellor’s house and how it has affected student activism as a whole on campus. Given the complete exoneration of those arrested we should vow to remember next time that while activists remain in jail, the in-house conversation can be nuanced and critical but the public comment should strive for solidarity and at all costs should avoid circulating the unverified (and in this case utterly, absurdly false) claims of the administration and the police. Faculty need not condone the acts of the few in order to express concern for the wrongfully jailed and renew a commitment to the mission and tactics of the larger UC-wide student movement: to resist the long pre-meditated and ideological policy of Governor Schwarzenegger and his appointee Mark Yudof to replace a public trust with a private concern and to take money out of the pockets of poor, working and middle class students and workers and put it into the pockets of the wealthy, their own and those of their under-taxed class mates.
UC-Irvine Graduate Student, Department of Comparative Literature