I was heartened to hear about this action at my alma mater, the University of California at Santa Cruz. It was a long time in coming. The Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), proposed by the Regents of the university, has long been the subject of considerable ire on the part of many in the campus community and that of Santa Cruz in general. The issue has become urgent enough, and the options for constructively engaging with the administration so completely exhausted, that the movement opposed to the LRDP was able to gain enough traction in the public to pull off what appears, at least from all the way out here in Cairo, to have been a very successful direct action, and, perhaps more importantly, one which does not simply stand on its own, but signals the beginning of a new and more radical phase of struggle.
The issue of the LRDP, and especially the proposed biosciences building that was targeted in this action, sits at the nexus of a number of problems that desperately need addressing:
- the shift of university priorities from a focus on education to a focus on research (no classrooms in the biosciences building)
- the increasing use of lopsided partnerships with corporate behemoths, particularly in the field of biosciences
- the transformation of educational goals from liberal arts education to the churning out of well-trained technicians and technocrats for the aforementioned private industries (hence the “UC Santa Cruz, not UC Silicon Valley” banner)
- the encroachment of development on forested areas in the midst of clear evidence of development-induced climate change across the globe as well as environmental degradation writ large (hence the “Save Upper Campus” banner)
- the lack of responsiveness of the Regents to the needs and priorities of the people who both pay for the UC system and are its supposed beneficiaries (hence the “Ruck the Feegents” sign)
- the lack of responsiveness of the university to the needs and priorities and problems of the larger community of Santa Cruz—the perennial town vs. gown problem evident in any university town.
The action seems, from here, to have been thought out and prepared quite well. The tree-sits could very easily have been set up without any interference under cover of night, but the organizers apparently decided to supply materiel to people already in trees as part of a relatively large group of protesters, thereby forcing the hand of local law-enforcement and guaranteeing significant press coverage. Nothing gets the cameras rolling—or garners the support of broad swaths of the public—more than batons swinging over the heads of student protesters. It could only have gone better if the police were mounted on horses. I personally have no problem with this. The police are of course at the service of state and capital, and their ultimately violent role in propping up the latter can’t be too often exposed in a culture still entranced by the myth of a police force duty-bound “to protect and serve”. I do find it a little disingenuous (or naïve) to hear some participants of this action cry “foul” because of police brutality, when the action was obviously calculated to foreground the extent to which the police willfully disregard the bounds of decent behaviour.
It does, however, lead me to ponder the differences between doing activism in Santa Cruz and doing it here, where the police and security forces at the tamest of demonstrations outnumber protesters 10:1 (not counting the legions of hired thugs) and the state is not embarrassed by the violence necessary to ensure its perpetuation. I do hope that activists in the US will take this into account, not because I think they should consider themselves lucky, but because I think they should take advantage of the extensive privileges they have to go even farther, with eyes wide open and in full acknowledgement of how much worse it could get and how determined they are to prevent this from happening. Stop harping on how you live in a police state and recognize that there is no such thing as a non-police state. The state and capitalism are necessarily violent and repressive, and in a place like the United States, locating the violence of state power in the persons of police officers will get you nowhere when the vast majority of people experience that violence not at the end of baton, but from a loan officer, the threat of a pink slip and a soul-crushing workplace.
That said, I’m very much excited about the work of activists against the LRDP and I wish them all the best of luck!
Correction: turns out they did intend to set up and supply the tree-sit ahead of time during the night, but were thwarted by the police before most supplies had made it up the trees. Still, while the action apparently wasn’t specifically planned to “force the hand” of the police and was rather more of an ad-hoc response to the conditions, I do find the constant attention paid to police brutality somewhat irksome, especially in an official press release, where I would expect media people to stay a bit more “on message.” Keep the police brutality stuff on Indymedia for the converts who need to be motivated to action, but the broader public still probably doesn’t get the point of it all (and, from comments on the Indymedia posts, is more concerned with the loss of parking spaces).