Before the Fall: Possible Futures for Anti-Austerity Movements

We’re pass­ing through a low phase in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia – a lull that par­tial­ly par­al­lels those fac­ing orga­niz­ers from Madis­on to New York. The rebel­lious energies so evi­dent recent­ly seem scat­tered the­se days, dor­mant. The uni­ver­si­ties are qui­et. And the forces that had gath­ered in city parks and squares, most mas­sive­ly at Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza, are large­ly absent. The encamp­ments are bro­ken up, the assem­blies dis­solved.

It’s hard to know whether this is sim­ply a peri­od of incu­ba­tion, from which anoth­er, sim­i­lar wave of class strug­gle will soon emerge, or if this moment of rel­a­tive inac­tiv­i­ty is allow­ing for the recom­po­si­tion of our forces, our alliances, the ways we take action togeth­er. If the ter­rain of strug­gle we now encoun­ter has been remade by the past year of action – by our effec­tive acts of oppo­si­tion, by new forms of state repres­sion and co-opta­tion, and by our own mis­steps – how can we most effec­tive­ly inter­vene in the shift­ing polit­i­cal force fields we’re com­ing to inhab­it?

As we offer our­selves a bit of relief from the inten­si­ties of the past year – as we heal, main­tain ties, and work through it all – it’s worth col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly think­ing through the­se ques­tions. Strug­gles again­st aus­ter­i­ty in Cal­i­for­nia, which I’ve par­tic­i­pat­ed in and tried to think crit­i­cal­ly about, can provide a con­crete con­text for this kind of reflec­tion.

While many of us have been tak­ing a rest, politi­cians have been active as ever. The recent­ly passed Cal­i­for­nia state bud­get is, as in pre­vi­ous years, crush­ing. It short­ens the amount of time peo­ple can remain in the work­fare pro­gram, reduces the program’s work exemp­tions for peo­ple with young chil­dren, cuts pay­ments for and lim­its access to child­care, reduces fund­ing for in-home sup­port­ive ser­vices, and guts pub­lic health care pro­grams. In com­bi­na­tion, the­se cuts con­sti­tute a sev­ere attack on work­ing-class wom­en, and there­fore on the class as a whole. The undo­ing of wel­fare, child­care, and in-home ser­vice pro­grams fur­ther pri­va­tizes and deval­ues car­ing labor, and thus impos­es increas­ing­ly impos­si­ble bur­dens of domes­tic and waged work on all those, par­tic­u­lar­ly wom­en of col­or, who have been denied finan­cial reserves.

Aus­ter­i­ty is still the order of the day. For all the class strug­gle that’s been staged in the streets, plazas, and uni­ver­si­ties this past year, and despite what we’ve accom­plished, those who gov­ern and man­age cap­i­tal are still effec­tive­ly mak­ing it hard­er for work­ing peo­ple to sur­vive. And no par­tial, uncer­tain vic­to­ries in the edu­ca­tion­al sec­tor should allow us to lose sight of this stark real­i­ty.

There are a num­ber of ways to make sense of the effects this year’s state bud­get will have on stu­dents and cam­pus work­ers. The basic sto­ry is that, rather than sim­ply cut­ting once again the bud­gets of schools and uni­ver­si­ties, the state has made the­se cuts con­tin­gent upon the poten­tial fail­ure of the com­pro­mise tax ini­tia­tive this Novem­ber. If the ini­tia­tive pass­es, we’ll have a tuition freeze in the Uni­ver­si­ties of Cal­i­for­nia, and a year with­out sig­nif­i­cant cuts in oth­er sec­tors of pub­lic edu­ca­tion.

That we may have anoth­er year with­out under­grad­u­ate fee hikes in the UCs, and with­out cuts to schools and col­leges, should be under­stood as an effect of recent rounds of uncom­pro­mis­ing stu­dent protest, includ­ing the cas­cad­ing strikes and encamp­ments that shook California’s uni­ver­si­ties last fall. The­se protests demon­strat­ed to the state and to the UC Regents that fur­ther fee increas­es would come with a cost, and helped build sup­port for the orig­i­nal Mil­lion­aires’ Tax, of which the cur­rent tax ini­tia­tive – formed out of a com­pro­mise between the gov­er­nor and the pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers – is a pale copy.

While we might be inclined to con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a year with­out cuts to pub­lic edu­ca­tion as a vic­to­ry, albeit an uncer­tain one, there are oth­er polit­i­cal dynam­ics shap­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion that make for a murkier pic­ture. Gov­er­nor Jer­ry Brown, in tying the fate of stu­dents to his tax ini­tia­tive, is work­ing to co-opt and neu­tral­ize stu­dent move­ments – move­ments that oth­er­wise could fur­ther dele­git­i­mate state insti­tu­tions enact­ing and enforc­ing aus­ter­i­ty, and even poten­tial­ly set off, as in Que­bec, a peri­od of gen­er­al­ized social unrest. This fall, it will be incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for those active on cam­pus­es to resist pres­sures to put our energies into cam­paign­ing for the tax ini­tia­tive, despite the fact that rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle of the rev­enue would go to edu­ca­tion (much is slat­ed to “pay down the deficit”); that the ini­tia­tive includes a tem­po­rary, regres­sive sales tax; and that elec­toral cam­paigns force us to engage on a ter­rain and in a mode of strug­gle that work to our dis­ad­van­tage, in com­par­ison to cam­pus-based direct action and mass orga­niz­ing. As we recent­ly saw in Wis­con­sin, social move­ments that allow them­selves to be entire­ly divert­ed into elec­toral pol­i­tics risk mas­sive demor­al­iza­tion, defeat in both elec­toral and non-elec­toral domains, and the fray­ing of bonds forged through col­lec­tive strug­gle.

Still, the pres­sure to par­tic­i­pate in the ini­tia­tive cam­paign will be intense, since the effects of a defeat would be so sev­ere. In addi­tion to the cuts that would be trig­gered, the initiative’s defeat would make edu­ca­tion­al pri­va­ti­za­tion appear all the more inevitable, allow­ing those push­ing fee hikes and pen­sion reduc­tions to invoke the “will of the vot­ers” in sup­port of their efforts. The UC Regents, for instance, are rumored to already be con­sid­er­ing a 20% fee hike (approx­i­mate­ly $2,500/year), which they’d try to imple­ment in the event that the tax ini­tia­tive failed. And the ini­tia­tive very well could fail, espe­cial­ly if, for instance, the Euro­pean debt cri­sis inten­si­fies, and the eco­nom­ic depres­sion in the States sub­se­quent­ly deep­ens.

While we have lit­tle con­trol over broad­er eco­nom­ic dynam­ics, we can still pre­vent our move­ments from being co-opt­ed and neu­tral­ized by the gov­er­nor. We could, for instance, explic­it­ly reject the elec­toral process as a pri­ma­ry ter­rain of strug­gle; along the lines of the move­ment of the Indig­na­dos in Spain, we could orga­nize a series of walk­outs and occu­pa­tions in Octo­ber tied togeth­er by the slo­gan: “There’s no vote again­st aus­ter­i­ty.” Alter­na­tive­ly, we could pri­or­i­tize local strug­gles whose out­comes will not direct­ly be affect­ed by the fate of the tax ini­tia­tive. At UC Berke­ley, for instance, the admin­is­tra­tion is attempt­ing to move up to six hun­dred staff mem­bers to a build­ing locat­ed miles away from cam­pus – a move explic­it­ly designed to spur work­ers to resign rather than endure degrad­ed and iso­lat­ing con­di­tions of employ­ment. In sol­i­dar­i­ty with work­ers orga­niz­ing again­st their dis­place­ment, we could hold dis­rup­tive actions at the build­ing to which they would be relo­cat­ed. We could also link up with the move­ment to defend City Col­lege of San Fran­cis­co, which appears to be tak­ing shape in respon­se to the threat of dis-accred­i­ta­tion and clo­sure levied by a recent audit – an audit per­formed by a body with ties to edu­ca­tion­al pri­va­tiz­ers and for-prof­it col­leges. Given how imbri­cat­ed the var­i­ous sec­tors of pub­lic edu­ca­tion are in Cal­i­for­nia, all stu­dents have a stake in the fight at CCSF, which has the poten­tial to gen­er­al­ize strug­gles again­st tuition hikes and course reduc­tions.

Even if stu­dent move­ments suc­cess­ful­ly avoid get­ting direct­ly caught up in elec­toral cam­paign­ing, it’s con­ceiv­able that their more rebel­lious edges might be worn off by the specter of the Novem­ber elec­tion. There’s a dan­ger that stu­dents might be haunt­ed by the imag­ined judg­ment of “the vot­ing pub­lic,” that we might take on this phan­tom as a kind of super­ego, avoid­ing actions that could upset a pro­ject­ed voter or make them less sym­pa­thet­ic to the cause of pub­lic edu­ca­tion. And there’s plen­ty of rea­son to think that vot­ers in Cal­i­for­nia are inclined to be unsym­pa­thet­ic: in recent decades, they’ve passed a num­ber of reac­tionary propo­si­tions, includ­ing 13, 209, 8 and 36.  While Gov­er­nor Brown may be con­fi­dent that vot­ers’ pre­sumed clas­si­fi­ca­tion of stu­dents as mem­bers of the “deserv­ing” mid­dle class will ensure pas­sage of this year’s tax ini­tia­tive, stu­dent activists ulti­mate­ly have lit­tle to gain from attempt­ing to fill the role of respectable defend­ers of exist­ing edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions.

While high­er edu­ca­tion has his­tor­i­cal­ly been under­stood, with some valid­i­ty, as a mark­er and repro­duc­er of mid­dle class sta­tus, col­lege is no longer a guar­an­teed tick­et to a sta­ble, decent pay­ing job. Increas­ing­ly, it offers to the degree-hold­er lit­tle more than decades of indebt­ed­ness and pre­car­i­ous employ­ment. Our gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents is fac­ing a process of pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion; and rather than cling­ing to a fan­tas­ti­cal “mid­dle class” sta­tus, defin­i­tive­ly refut­ed by eco­nom­ic trans­for­ma­tions, we should act in sol­i­dar­i­ty with, and with an eye towards, the work­ing class from which many of us hail and into which we’re head­ed. As we plan anoth­er round of protest, let’s con­cern our­selves with the per­cep­tion of the broad­er class, those fac­ing anoth­er dev­as­tat­ing round of aus­ter­i­ty, rather than with the sanc­ti­mo­nious vision of those who fear and resent the plea­sures and pos­si­bil­i­ties of work­ing class strug­gle and mutu­al aid – plea­sures that many of us expe­ri­enced last fall at the Occu­py Oak­land encamp­ment, and dur­ing strikes on our cam­pus­es.

While things have been slow this sum­mer, we’re still here; and if the recent past is any indi­ca­tion, anoth­er upsurge is like­ly immi­nent.  As we attempt to deter­mine the shape com­ing strug­gles will take, the expe­ri­ence of the past year can give us con­fi­dence that direct actions, cou­pled with mass orga­niz­ing, have the poten­tial to gen­er­ate wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion, open up new cen­ters of grav­i­ty, and offer us lives less con­sumed with the anx­i­eties of debt, work, and uncer­tain futures.

Author of the article

is an assistant professor of History at the University of Michigan and a member of the Michigan Society of Fellows. She has published on struggles in the sphere of social reproduction for LIES, Reclamations, and the South Atlantic Quarterly, and is currently working on a book project about anti-colonial and class struggles on the British and colonial Indian railways between the 1840s and 1920s.

8 Responses

  1. Bob Long
    Bob Long at |

    The arti­cle is impor­tant because it focus­es the prob­lem on the usurpa­tion of move­ments by the gen­er­al empha­sis on the elec­toral process.I dis­agree with it’s con­clu­sion, but this debate is vital in com­ing to grips with where the­se issues are head­ed.
    Even if one assumes that the elec­toral process is most­ly an impo­tent action, it is also a tool. It should not be dis­missed. The prob­lem with elec­tions is the per­cep­tion of their final­i­ty. The cam­paign should be a part of the stu­dent move­ment and the occu­py move­ment includ­ed. It should not be triv­i­al­ized. The writer is cor­rect that los­ing the ini­tia­tive would have sev­ere effects. But instead of sug­gest­ing that we should attempt to throw the focus else where because we would be co-opt­ed, the elec­tion should be embraced. If this move­ment is as strong as it seems to be, even with the nor­mal sum­mer lull, then win­ning the ini­tia­tive should provide exact­ly the oppo­site effect on the mem­ber­ship. At that point, the pres­sure should inten­si­fy to main­tain and expand what­ev­er respite we get from the finan­cial pres­sures that are crush­ing edu­ca­tion in Cal­i­for­nia. It would then be even more nec­es­sary to point out that no, win­ning the ini­tia­tive is far from win­ning the goal of a more equi­table soci­ety; it is only a mere bump in the process. But to sug­gest that march­ing on the the­me that the elec­tion is irrel­e­vant would not only iso­late the move­ment from the gen­er­al pub­lic, it would be “murkier” than the respite the win­ning of the ini­tia­tive.

  2. Before the Fall: Possible Futures for Anti-Austerity Movements « Kasama

    […] The fol­low­ing essay comes to Kasama from View­point Mag­a­zine. […]

  3. Anon
    Anon at |

    Nice reflec­tions. A few com­ments:

    (1) it is incor­rect to equate the lack of outright/occupy demon­stra­tions with a lack of «rebe­lious energies».

    (2) an alter­na­tive expla­na­tion (one put for­ward by Yud­of and Co) of the cuts sit­u­a­tion this year needs to be addressed/countered - name­ly, that the Uni­ver­si­ty has been scraped to the bone, and there sim­ply isnt any­thing light left to cut. We should not just pat our­selves on the back and assume out­right that it was the protests that stopped the (ed) cuts.

    (3) the arti­cle did not men­tion that what hap­pened after the Indig­nado move­ment and their rejec­tion of elec­toral pol­i­tics was (and not nec­es­sar­i­ly as a direct result) the com­ing to pow­er of the con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty and more aus­ter­i­ty.

    (4) elec­toral pol­i­tics and oth­er forms of pres­sure are not nec­es­sar­i­ly mutu­al­ly exclus­sive. the notion that ^elec­toral cam­paigns force us to engage on a ter­rain and in a mode of strug­gle that work to our dis­ad­van­tage^ seems to be a key claim in this arti­cle, but it needs to seri­ous­ly be rethought. In short, dont throw the baby out with the bath water.

    (5) Last­ly, there is a strange «we» here, and along with it a curi­ous con­cep­tion of the work­ing class that needs to expand out from just the nar­cis­sitic «core» of the US and West­ern Europe. If pro­gr­erssive Cal­i­for­ni­ans con­tin­ue with local­ist navel-gaz­ing, they will get nowhere.

  4. amanda
    amanda at |

    thanks for your thor­ough respon­se — I’ll just go through the points in sequence:

    1: I didn’t say there was a lack of rebel­lious energies, but that they seemed scat­tered and dor­mant. I’d be more than hap­py to hear an argu­ment for why this isn’t the case at the moment, local­ly….

    2: It’s true, coun­ter­ing the view that there’s noth­ing left for the uni­ver­si­ty to do but cut pro­grams and raise fees is an impor­tant task of uni­ver­si­ty move­ments. It didn’t seem nec­es­sary to me to reit­er­ate all of the­se argu­ments here, given that those some­what famil­iar with recent uni­ver­si­ty move­ments (the main audi­ence I was imag­in­ing, which I’ll say more about below) are like­ly famil­iar with the­se argu­ments (which turn pri­mar­i­ly on an account of UC cap­i­tal projects). On the ques­tion of why the ed cuts didn’t (nec­es­sar­i­ly) come this year: I’d be curi­ous to hear an alter­na­tive expla­na­tion that doesn’t involve the protests of the past years.

    3: I didn’t go into detail about the recent his­to­ry of Span­ish pol­i­tics because the point of the line about the Span­ish Indig­na­dos was sim­ply to sug­gest a pos­si­ble mod­el for a next mobi­liza­tion. To take up your point though, the rel­e­vant ques­tion would have to be: would the mul­ti­tude in Spain be bet­ter off today had those who helped ini­ti­ate the move­ment of the Indig­na­dos instead direct­ed their energies towards elec­toral engage­ment? My view is no. The exam­ple of Greece might be worth tak­ing up, as well.

    4: I’m not sure exact­ly what your pos­i­tive argu­ment is here; it seems like you just don’t agree with the argu­ment you take me to be mak­ing about elec­toral pol­i­tics. But the essay nev­er argues again­st all forms of elec­toral engage­ment in all con­texts. The point I’m mak­ing is that social move­ments should resist becom­ing entire­ly defined by, and con­cerned with, an elec­toral cam­paign (as hap­pened recent­ly in Wis­con­sin, with the recall). The risk is that they lose across the board, and become hope­less­ly scat­tered and demor­al­ized. And social move­ments, includ­ing ongo­ing uni­ver­si­ty move­ments in Cal­i­for­nia, don’t real­ly have the capac­i­ty (i.e. finan­cial and orga­ni­za­tion­al resources) to effec­tive­ly fight in the elec­toral domain (so the out­come would be large­ly out of our con­trol). That’s what I mean when I say that the­se cam­paigns work to our dis­ad­van­tage. We’re just bet­ter equipped and locat­ed to orga­nize walk­outs and occu­pa­tions than elec­toral cam­paigns, and the­se direct actions do appear to mean­ing­ful­ly alter our mate­ri­al con­di­tions, even when they don’t ful­ly suc­ceed or main­tain over time the high­est lev­el of mobi­liza­tion….

    5: I’m all for an inter­na­tion­al­ist per­spec­tive that takes seri­ous­ly the inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor. That said, there are class antag­o­nisms large­ly inter­nal to the ‘core’; this arti­cle con­cerns those antag­o­nisms, and sug­gests that we tend to view them in ide­o­log­i­cal ways, exclud­ing from view the links between stu­dent move­ments, oth­er move­ments in the sphere of social repro­duc­tion (i.e. wel­fare rights move­ments, fem­i­nist strug­gles for free child care, etc.), and move­ments of orga­nized & unor­ga­nized labor. It’s true that the “we” is shift­ing in weird ways in this arti­cle, from a some­what more expan­sive group­ing all the way to a pre­sumed UC stu­dent activist group­ing (which is my imme­di­ate con­text). I’m not real­ly hap­py about that aspect of the piece, but I think it some­what accu­rate­ly (if also some­what unin­ten­tion­al­ly) reflects the audi­ence of the essay and the posi­tion of the author, as well as the fact that the­se ‘bod­ies’ are porous and some­what unset­tled…. I’m curi­ous though: what do you think would be dif­fer­ent about the piece if it weren’t so local­ist, even “nar­cis­sis­tic”? Is there not a place for local­ly-focused analy­sis?

  5. Anon
    Anon at |

    Thank you so much for tak­ing the time to respond, and for your energies in the orig­i­nal arti­cle and activism.

    You’re right that you didn’t say “lack” of rebel­lious energies, and so I was won­der­ing why I read it that way, and if that was gen­er­al­ly the point you were get­ting at. I think part of why I read it as “lack” was the black and white pho­to, the word ‘fall’ in the title, and the open­ing sentence’s terms “low phase” and “lull”. A lull is dif­fer­ent than a lack I sup­pose in the sense of an implied cycli­cal­i­ty, but even a lull’s rest implies the lack/absence of suf­fi­cient ener­gy.

    Also, the terms “scat­tered” and “dor­mant” are joined by com­ma, and it so it’s not clear what the rela­tion­ship is between them (are the “energies” dor­mant because they are scat­tered, scat­tered because they are dor­mant, some­thing else, etc). The term “scat­tered” (vs, say, to ‘re-direct­ed,’ decen­tral­ized, or dis­persed) has a con­no­ta­tion or some­what messy ran­dom­ness, con­trast­ed with the (cen­tral­ized?) “rebel­lious” encamp­ments and assem­blies. If peo­ple - many of whom have been active long before Occu­py - are redi­rect­ing their energies in oth­er avenues, strate­gies, areas, or what­ev­er (quite pos­si­bly includ­ing mobi­liz­ing for future grouped activ­i­ties), then I think it is inac­cu­rate to call that a “low phase” or a “rest”, or even just “incu­ba­tion” and “heal­ing” (though we all do need rest and heal­ing :). “Recom­po­si­tion” is per­haps bet­ter, but per­haps only because of it’s ambi­gu­i­ty. Part of the prob­lem is priv­eleg­ing the assem­bly or protest as the ener­get­ic activ­i­ty, and the rest as just a lead up to that, vs, for exam­ple, see­ing the hard work in the prepa­ra­tion of fer­tile ter­rain in which protests can more eas­i­ly be orga­nized. There are loads of impor­tant and very “rebel­lious” every­day often rather mun­dane-feel­ing activ­i­ties that require tons of ener­gy in a ways that, say, attend­ing a ral­ly or sit-in doesn’t, and the risk with the above lan­guage is that those ded­i­cat­ed dis­persed energies are ignored, or, worse, dis­missed as unim­por­tant.

    True, the protests were an impor­tant fac­tor shap­ing this year’s bud­get pact, but what is also key - both ana­lyt­i­cal­ly, and in terms of bet­ter effec­tive­ness in future orga­niz­ing - is to under­stand how impor­tant were which protests, in which ways, and in rela­tion to which oth­er fac­tors, includ­ing actu­al UC admin­is­tra­tive finan­cial pinch­es. To sim­ply say that this year “should be under­stood as an effect of … protest” puts aside an actu­al con­sid­er­a­tion of how exact­ly protests were par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive (or not) in par­tic­u­lar con­texts, and that sort of hon­est, self-crit­i­cal reflec­tion is real­ly need­ed for strate­gic plan­ning. And whether and how admin­is­tra­tive finan­cial pinch­es (that Yud­of are wrong to focus exclu­sive­ly on) are trick­ling down to rel­a­tive­ly well-off pro­fes­sors and admin staff is also a key part of shap­ing strate­gies for pos­si­ble alliances.

    I though it was is impor­tant to include the Span­ish con­ser­v­a­tive elec­toral vic­to­ry in the sto­ry pre­cise­ly because it illus­trates that the Indig­nado protest was inef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing a con­ser­v­a­tive pop­ulist back­lash and its greater aus­ter­i­ty for Spain (we could also con­sid­er whether the protests played into the back­lash), and is thus a prob­lem­at­ic “mod­el” for us/CA/usa. It is also impor­tant for us to con­sid­er, again, more strate­gi­cal­ly, the pop­ulist sen­ti­ments in the US and how they get swayed towards con­ser­v­a­tive turns, both as a means of (re)organizing exist­ing pro­gres­sive energies, and as a way of empa­thet­i­cal­ly think­ing through more and deep­er alliances and activ­i­ties with such seg­ments under the pop­ulist sway in ways that aren’t just about prin­ci­ple-less com­pro­mis­es, dorky cen­trist “fram­ing” lan­guage or avoid­ing actions that would seem to ‘upset’ that poten­tial­ly sym­pa­thet­ic voter. And, get­ting to issue 4, it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a choice of move­ment activ­i­ties *instead* of elec­toral engage­ment - but rather a ques­tion of *which* sorts of move­ment activ­i­ties and in rela­tion to which sorts of elec­toral engage­ment. To not engage is, after all, a form of engage­ment, no? Greece is fas­ci­nat­ing, not least that the lefty par­ty emerged strong­ly and ulti­mate­ly lost also, so, again, the rela­tions between move­ments and elec­toral pol­i­tics need care­ful rethink­ing and recom­po­si­tion, rather than being reduced to exclu­sive one or the oth­er choic­es.

    OK, I like your point that “social move­ments should resist becom­ing entire­ly defined by, and con­cered with, an elec­toral cam­paign”, but this seems dif­fer­ent (but not incom­pat­i­ble) from what I took to be a key premise in the essay that (in this moment) “elec­toral cam­paigns force us to engage on a ter­rain and in a mode of strug­gle that work to our dis­ad­van­tage”. There is per­haps some­thing impor­tant “between” being entire­ly over­whelmed with cam­paign­ing, on the one hand, vs, on the oth­er hand, declared non-engage­ment, and we need to think and talk more about what that might be. And I think there are var­i­ous activists who do much of both (or have gone from one to the oth­er), and we can glean much insight from their experiences/limits/difficulties (not least the exam­ples elec­tored offi­cials like Quan/Obama invok­ing their ‘street cred’ as for­mer activists/organizers of some sort to dismiss/reroute/demobilize). What are the ways in which move­ment activ­i­ties can, with the capac­i­ty we have or can real­is­ti­cal­ly build, engage/intervene most effec­tive­ly in elec­toral pol­i­tics (effec­tive in terms of our aims, not nec­es­sar­i­ly who wins or los­es)? In some times and places that may mean just plain ignor­ing the cam­paigns, in oth­ers it may mean small inter­ven­tions, or full-on cam­paign­ing, but it calls for more open flex­i­ble iden­ti­ties, empa­thy, and clear con­ver­sa­tions and jus­ti­fi­ca­tions based on pre­cise sit­u­a­tion­al analy­ses. The Amer­i­can cor­po­rate elec­toral jug­ger­naut will con­tin­ue regard­less in the medi­um term, but the thing with jug­ger­nauts is that by def­i­n­i­tion they have their achilles heals (yes, con­vo­lut­ed mixed metaphor).

    The prob­lem is with implor­ing stu­dent activists to ally with the American/Western “work­ing class” with­out say­ing any­thing about how to avoid/overcome/ameliorate the glob­al­ly regres­sive pol­i­tics to which they have some­times suc­cumbed amid­st their “work­ing class strug­gle and mutu­al aid”, nor of the pos­si­bil­i­ties (and, actu­al­ly, exist­ing real­i­ties for some) of already lived transna­tion­al link­ages and polit­i­cal alliances. Both Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties and pop­u­lar class­es have often been impor­tant hand­maid­ens to, prod­ucts of, or apol­o­gists for impe­ri­al­ism. But they have also been fierce and effec­tive crit­ics and oppo­nents. I’m not sure what is meant in your respon­se by “tak­ing seri­ous­ly the inter­na­tion­al divi­sion of labor”, nor am I sure how accu­rate and rel­e­vant any stan­dard notion of “core” (or, say, just the con­ven­tion­al notion of the core as Europe & G8 coun­tries) is in the­se days of wide­spread reces­sion and (re)emergent Brazil, Chi­na, India, Rus­sia, etc. For exam­ple, the state­ment that the­se days “high­er edu­ca­tion … [increas­ing­ly] offers to the degree-hold­er lit­tle more than decades of indebt­ed­ness and pre­car­i­ous employ­ment” applies more or in dif­fer­ent ways to states/countries like CA/USA than, say, Sier­ra Leone (which just saw uni­ver­si­ty protests), and thus lim­its broad­er alliances that are need­ed to chal­lenge some of the inter­na­tion­al roots of local prob­lems. It is lim­it­ing by not facil­i­tat­ing both a care­ful eval­u­a­tion of (and actions upon) the class char­ac­ter of high­er edu­ca­tion (and its strug­gles) in oth­er con­texts and the rel­a­tive­ly tremen­dous priv­eleges and odi­ous lega­cies that “we” stu­dents in the West still bare. Yes, this would broad­en the ter­rain of strug­gle, and run the risk of a loss of focus, but it could also give greater sig­nif­i­cance (ener­gy?) to local actions to be able to see more clear­ly and delib­er­ate­ly their rela­tions with oth­er strug­gles and forces more broad­ly that shape our own “local” con­di­tions. A move­ment that explic­it­ly address­es from the begin­ning the inter­na­tion­al injus­tices upon which the exist­ing soci­ety and polit­i­cal econ­o­my in the West has been built (and not just as if those injus­tices were an after thought that could be tidied once we’ve got our own rad­i­cal house in order) actu­al­ly has a greater oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand its own lib­er­a­to­ry energies and pos­si­bil­i­ties by avoid­ing the repro­duc­tion of such con­fin­ing injus­tices. At the same time that it’s nice to have one’s own con­di­tions mate­ri­al­ly improved, it also feels nice to be part of some­thing big­ger. An analy­sis of chal­lenges, threats, alliances, and strate­gic open­ings could per­haps be done in a way that speaks to local grievances/situations/histories but simul­ta­ne­ous­ly does so through atten­tion to broad­er process­es that link and shape the­se locales. Cal­i­for­nia is an amaz­ing­ly inter­na­tion­al and diverse place, with strong links to Chi­na, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nige­ria, Por­tu­gal, etc.

  6. Anon
    Anon at |

    All of this indi­cates the key point that one of the major issues with occu­py Etc, was _not_ that it was too broad and didn’t have speci­fic demands (as many in the main­stream media and of the cranky pater­nal left­ys com­plained), but also the oppo­site. Nor was it that Occupy’s main con­straint was deal­ing with the par­tic­u­lar reac­tions and the chal­lenges of the over­whelm­ing broad­er struc­tures of mil­i­ta­rized cap­i­tal­ist restruc­tur­ing and his­to­ries of social injus­tice (as many in the move­ment not­ed), but rather even más grande. A key chal­lenge that ought to be dis­cussed more is to reach out to learn from each oth­er across the world by learn­ing from each oth­er (as supra-local peo­ple) in local­ly root­ed expe­ri­ences, to rethink our own iden­ti­ties by embrac­ing the often glob­al nature of our present per­son­al-polit­i­cal encoun­ters, and thus to clear­ly work on social rela­tions span­ning mul­ti­ple spa­tial­i­ties rather than focus our prac­tices too much on hold­ing (fetishized) phys­i­cal spaces for the com­mu­ni­ty (though that is, of course, still impor­tant as a tac­tic and goal). And in the process per­haps also see in a dif­fer­ent light the nation­al sys­tems of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and repres­sion that once seemed near­ly omnipo­tent. I think that is one of the main avenues to engage in this lull.

    (and the arti­cle right­ly con­sid­ers Que­bec, and the Indig­nado move­ment, but the ques­tion could also be reframed less as to whether they are mod­els to be followed/imitated/adjusted or not by us as a sep­a­rate group­ing, and more as to how exact­ly there can be more and dif­fer­ent engage­ment between the friend­ly peo­ple there and us)

  7. amanda
    amanda at |

    ”A move­ment that explic­it­ly address­es from the begin­ning the inter­na­tion­al injus­tices upon which the exist­ing soci­ety and polit­i­cal econ­o­my in the West has been built (and not just as if those injus­tices were an after thought that could be tidied once we’ve got our own rad­i­cal house in order) actu­al­ly has a greater oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand its own lib­er­a­to­ry energies and pos­si­bil­i­ties by avoid­ing the repro­duc­tion of such con­fin­ing injus­tices.” I agree, and think this is some­thing to strive for and some­thing that would force some revi­sions to the essay. It seems to me though that this imper­a­tive would actu­al­ly dis­cour­age elec­toral engage­ment, as such engage­ment tends to require the repro­duc­tion of dis­cours­es and exclu­sions of cit­i­zen­ship and national/state iden­ti­ty. There’s a lot to say about the cur­rent race and (trans-)national pol­i­tics of edu­ca­tion­al pri­va­ti­za­tion in Cal­i­for­nia, and this essay doesn’t do a par­tic­u­lar­ly good job of attend­ing to the­se dynam­ics (though I think that some of the argu­ments, includ­ing the final argu­ment about aban­don­ing the sta­tus of ”respectable defend­ers of exist­ing insti­tu­tions,” are poten­tial­ly con­so­nant with antiracist and anti-impe­ri­al­ist inter­ven­tions).

  8. Weekend Reading « Backslash Scott Thoughts

    […] Before the Fall: Pos­si­ble Future for Anti-Aus­ter­i­ty Move­ments: That we may have anoth­er year with­out under­grad­u­ate fee hikes in the UCs, and with­out cuts to schools and col­leges, should be under­stood as an effect of recent rounds of uncom­pro­mis­ing stu­dent protest, includ­ing the cas­cad­ing strikes and encamp­ments that shook California’s uni­ver­si­ties last fall. The­se protests demon­strat­ed to the state and to the UC Regents that fur­ther fee increas­es would come with a cost, and helped build sup­port for the orig­i­nal Mil­lion­aires’ Tax, of which the cur­rent tax ini­tia­tive – formed out of a com­pro­mise between the gov­er­nor and the pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers – is a pale copy. […]

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