A MONTH WITHOUT BARGAINS! — the politics of February, and the three tactics of the administration

The following was written by UC Davis Professor Joshua Clover:

the politics of February, and the three tactics of the administration
a note for friends at UC Davis and elsewhere

PART ONE: someone is afraid
I apologize for beginning with a personal anecdote. I got out of Santa Rita on December 11th to find a voicemail from my acting department chair, checking to make sure I was okay. I called to thank her, and to ask how she already knew I had been arrested along with 65 others early that morning; it hadn’t been on the news, unlike November 19th. She explained that the UCB police had called the UCD police who had called the Dean for the Humanities who had called her; she knew I was in jail almost before I did. I’m not sure everyone burning up the lines that day was equally concerned for my well-being as my chair; it appears more like surveillance. But this was a useful piece of information.

It was a personal note on a public ledger. That ledger includes the 66 arrests in Wheeler Hall. It includes the bargain struck in Mrak Hall during the second occupation of the Fall; just as much, it includes the dogs and riot cops and chopper, the 52 arrests at the first; the denouement of the Wheeler occupation on November 20th; and a number of other events I wasn’t there for. To this list we add the Governor’s January concession (however sleazy his purposes) that the active protests had pushed him to reverse his course on education funding; and the Office of the President’s recent bid to co-opt the March plans, and channel the refusal and resistance of workers and students away from the very administration that is systematically privatizing their campuses.

All these items total up to an evident conclusion: the administration is afraid. Their responses, seemingly varied, are characterized by panicky overreaction; nervous attempts to placate the movement; and rather pathetic misdirections of the kind practiced by third-rate stage magicians. None of the maneuvers suggests a calm certainty in their own course, or in their ability to impose it. They are now afraid of the political cost of their business plan, and how that plan might come undone. They are afraid of us.

PART TWO: you may choose anything but to act
Their fear is dangerous, and that danger is now part of the conditions in which we proceed. We can be honest about this. They seek to export that fear to our quarters, as was shown last month at Davis in the extraordinary force deployed to confront the grave threat posed by banners. Events two nights ago in San Francisco reaffirmed this knowledge. The administration’s tactic of intimidation, designed to paralyze, is well-known; all of us have seen the spectacle of armed and armored militants — the riot police — surrounding unarmed students at Davis, Berkeley, UCLA, Irvine, SFSU…

But we must learn the full lesson. Such intimidation is not their only tactic. All of us recall the sense of dispiritedness and confusion when the Dutton Hall occupation was drawn into empty “discussion,” separated into small groups and lured into the quicksand of chitchat with an administration committed only to dissuading folks from actual protest of actually intolerable policies. And all of us recall the similar feeling of disempowerment when we walked away from the second Mrak occupation. Certainly we departed with a few concessions that were hard-won and important. But as was eloquently pointed out in the aftermath, this negotiation was only a defensive movement on behalf of our comrades arrested on November 19th — an outcome still a huge distance from the actual hopes of the people who courageously stayed in the building that night.

So we can say this about the administration: they will attempt any maneuver that stifles active protest. They will seek to disempower protest via intimidation, misdirection, and via the reduction of real struggle to vague haggling. They will do anything but actually relinquish any of their power — this is why the charges for the Mrak 52 were not dropped but held over, to threaten any of those people should they choose to act again. You may choose anything except to act — that is their rule.

We can in fact summarize the administration’s position, for it is perfectly clear through their actions: the administration is not committed to education, but to preserving their power to decide who does what when.

PART THREE: spring is on its way
I believe this all sets some very clear terms for the next month. It is certain that we will see all three tactics from the administration. There will be applications of excessive force. You will be told you brought it on yourself. This is a lie.

There will be further attempts at co-optation and misdirection, the mirage that “Sacramento” is some white building on a hill, as if the campus actions were somehow invisible to our political class. As we now know from Schwarzeneggar’s speech in January, this too is a lie.

And there will be more attempts to bargain. We know the administration is afraid. We know they are particularly afraid of what might happen around March 4th. We have seen heightened use of force, more and more desperate misdirection. As March 4th approaches, we will also see attempts to bargain — not for the purposes of supporting education, but to confuse, fracture and disempower the coalition of students and workers, to leave us feeling disarrayed and diminished. They bargain not to make things happen but to stop things from happening. They will do this very mindfully as an attempt to avoid any sort of real reckoning in March.

But it is time for a reckoning. It is time to discover the state of this young and growing movement. It is time to reverse the course of privatization, rather than plead that it slow down just a bit. It is time to stand up to the militant threats of the administration. It is time to oppose the centralization of power, the war on campus workers, and the contempt shown for public education.

We cannot stop the administration from jibbering absurdly about being on the same side as they fire us, price us out, cancel our classes, and use our fees as collateral for buildings we won’t be able to afford to visit. We cannot stop them — so anxious to be on our side! — from calling armed police on unarmed students and workers (to which one can only say, that’s not irony, that’s bullshit). But we can stop playing their divisive disempowerment games. We can focus on building constructively for statewide actions on March 4, across the educational system. And this is my proposal, a politics for February: a month without bargains! Let’s not get drawn into that trap. Let’s not internalize their fear as our own. Let’s understand their motivations. And let February build without interruption for March. And then spring is on its way.

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