March 9, 2010

This day cannot be fully explained by any one perspective. Even if you experienced it, your story is not a totality, but one piece to a large puzzle. This is my perspective of the day at SFSU.

But I suppose that this did not begin in the day time at all, instead we started early. On the third, was our supposed last General Assembly before the day of action. Rosa Parks A-C held a few people, some of whom were new and ready to get involved. The problem was that the room did not contain a plan, a facilitator, a structure or even an agenda. The few people who did come quickly segmented themselves into different, individual projects for the next day. I viewed this ‘meeting’ as emblematic of our failing coalition. The weeks before M4, we saw the meetings get smaller and less structured. The debates that were emerging often took more of a personal turn and came off as attacks. This not only alienates people from working in a coalition, but keeps the coalition from functioning as it should. In general we lack outreach to new forces that could both bring new ideas and help us to turn away from attacking each other. But we also lack structure- by which I suppose I mean a focus. It is easy to get wrapped up in debates about inane details and forget our true purpose, what we are actually striving towards. I hope that we can adjust our scope soon, but without a date (such as M4) to set our sights on, I feel that the forces that are trying to build and create will only further segment themselves.

The General Assembly dwindled into banner making and questions about what we thought the next day would bring. A few hours later, a mobile dance party began in Malcolm X Plaza. The steady pounding of bass began with a little more that 15 energized supporters. The party traveled to the dorms and began to build in size and excitement. The dancing crowd continuously got more rowdy, losing articles of clothing along the way. The spirit of this party was unquestionably positive, and gave me much needed hope for the next day.

But at a certain point, somewhere in between a girl flashing the crowd and people spray painting on top on the Caesar Chavez Student Center, I began to question if this was about quality or quantity? We need to enjoy ourselves while in the midst of struggle, but did this dance party increase our picket lines the following day? Judging by how difficult it was to maintain them for much more than a few hours, I cannot say that they did. My own consciousness is mixed about the nature of a dance party (this could have to do with me just liking to dance). I felt both inspired by the spirit of the party and worried that it was nothing more than that – a party. Given the method in which these dance parties are both built and maintained, it is difficult to really inject politics into them. Rather, they stay as parties which also say something about occupations and budget cuts on the fliers. Someone holds banners and gives out signs but after hours of dancing, most drop them…

Some at the party attempted to create an occupation of Burk Hall. They successfully entered the building and began to barricade. Then some who were inside began throwing tables and breaking windows. Again, this day demonstrated mixed ideas about tactics. Some who were willing to occupy and barricade the building were alienated by the acts of destruction. In the last few weeks of coalition meetings, a debate about violence v. nonviolence had emerged, this clearly demonstrates its relevance. They left the building and occupation to fail. The party continued, students seemed more interested in the music anyways.

After a failed occupation, the police presence drew closer to the party. It was already about 1am. Sleep was needed.

I returned to the pickets at 7am. Different organizations had agreed to create and maintain pickets around buildings. This was especially exciting to see organizations of color specifically choosing to participate. One of my favorite pickets was MENChA’s picket at the Ethnic Studies building. In the early morning, they zip tied trashcans to the building, blockading the entrances for the day. Unfortunately, the police removed the barricades. I wish that MENChA could have had a stronger picket. Perhaps if we had been a little more clear and systematic with our outreach, this could have happened.

SUP maintained a relatively strong picket at the business building for the morning. The line was sturdy and had speakers who were articulate in their analysis. These pickets were designed to be flexible, those who were not convinced of the necessity of action would be allowed to pass. This meant that we needed to rely on our own arguments to convince and win over other students. It was much more difficult than I expected. It is terribly hard to let someone pass you by, pushing you out of their way. At the same time, it was a testament to our own dedication and political persistence when one person was convinced – we experienced victory.

At ten, there was a bit of debate about the nature of the CFA’s picket at 19th and Holloway. Members of the CFA had been especially hostile to student organizers on the day of, and many felt alienated by the union. Yet again, I feel that this development was symbolic of the fact that SFSUnited has not been working as a coalition. The events felt scattered, and in the fear of spontaneous action, the CFA attempted to maintain a choke hold on the day’s plans. I can understand their fear, they have much less security than students. It is therefore, the role of the students to inspire the teachers and convince them we are in the same struggle. We also must build a greater trust between students and faculty. The level of tension that existed between members of the coalition was insane, and they day did not need any of this added to it.

The CFA’s picket quickly grew in size, taking up about half of the campus which boarders 19th. On the whole, there was more marching and chanting here, and less dialogue than the building pickets. The picket did, however, draw a lot of media attention. Perhaps it was the attention or the fear that made some demonstrators so apprehensive of the attempted takeover at 19th ave. Students began to enter the highway and tried to blockade. There was instant police presence, but it seemed that the lack of unanimous support is what drew students off the street. I cannot say for sure what exactly made the decision clear, but the block did not last. This begs the question; does spontaneous action work often enough for us to completely disregard the planning of it? Can we truly expect to pull off direct action without a loosely based plan? Or, was the problem more that there was a mixed opinion on whether or not the plan was a good one?

Like many other moments in the day, this too fizzled to a slower pace. Students were revived when the creative arts rally began at noon. This rally drew in a large number of students who had high energy and emotions. Feelings of oppression and abuse by budget cuts were being expressed through poem, song, dance and acting. With all of the energy that radiated through the crowd, direct action could have happened. It could have happened well. SFSU may have missed an opportunity by not calling for an action while everyone was still in the quad and still excited about fighting budget cuts. Instead, the rally too fizzled into teach-ins, dance parties and a little bit of disappointment.

Though I’ve put forward critiques, in no way do I consider M4 a failure. Instead, I think we should all be analyzing what went well and what did not. As we’ve all said many times, this is only the beginning. So next time, I propose a few things:

Have a coalition that actually functions and trusts itself. If we are going to kill ourselves sitting through long and arduous meetings, they should at least have a point and a purpose. Rather than getting personally offended by differing viewpoints I hope that we can instead let them stand to a vote, and have one be chosen by the coalition. I feel as though we should be a little clearer about what the coalition is trying to achieve. Is our purpose to open up more spaces for students to participate (like general assemblies) or are we trying to build the movement ourselves?

Have honest assessments of what each action does. A general assembly does not easily radicalize a large group of people. Instead, it serves as a space to democratically decide which actions can and will best involve mass amounts of people. A dance party is fun, but does not raise political awareness or ideas about how to fight the budget cuts. These purposes could (and should be) debated, as I don’t really have the authority to dictate what an action does.

Who should we be orienting to? It is clear that relationships between students and members of the CFA are strained at best. How can we draw the faculty into more of the organizing and make them feel comfortable participating? For the student who is drawn to the idea of dance parties, how can we draw them to action and a dialogue about public education in relationship to the working class. And of course, how can we reach out the students who have yet to see the value in taking any action at all?

OUTREACH. Even though we had an infrastructure to have potentially awesome outreach, it fell through. How can we improve this in the future? It seems as though folks may just have to do more…

That we determine a new day of action. I fear that without something to mobilize and build this support around, our existing structures may continue to crumble (SFSUnited, GA). I always think it’s nice to have something to look forward to…

Please leave comments, critiques, thoughts, etc. I’m sortof trying to get back into the habit of writing frequently, so let me know if things aren’t clear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: