Not Quite-There and Back Again: Some Thoughts on the Formerly Occupied Emory Administration Building
Not Quite-There and Back Again:
Some Thoughts on the Formerly Occupied Emory Administration Building
The administrative structures, of which we are all painfully familiar, have substituted legitimacy for enchantment. It's doubtful that anyone today is still holding out for the next cast of managers. Between the "At-Least-He's-Not-the-Other-Guy" arguments of the heart-broken Obama voters and Bloomberg's abysmal response to Hurricane Sandy, it is an undeniable fact that the only thing keeping it all together is the tendency of systems to simply linger on.
Today, nearly 200 people walked out of class and filled the grassy "Quad" in front of the Emory University Administration Building. After a half hour of speeches from the organizers of the event, a move was made to storm the building and occupy the 4th floor. Upon entering, it became evident that a small group of student leaders had committed themselves to acting as representatives in hopes of dialoguing with the school president. They manipulated crowd dynamics in order to ensure all remained according to their script... This was all unsurprising. The crowd's unwillingness to accept this did surprise us. Would-be occupants slowly filtered out; some complained that the occupation wasn't about four or five people, while others pointed out the inability of the university to acquiesce to demands. Those that stayed in the hall made small talk, and brewed the president's coffee.
Amongst the one's who weren't already "in" on the decision-making there was a general feeling that this was not at all what we wanted. Some of us had dreamed of dramatic university occupations going on for days. Now we suddenly found ourselves in a university occupation, and we were completely unprepared. While many were quietly grumbling about the top heavy occupation organization, others were simply shuffling through their textbooks in preparation or exams and finals, completely unchanged by the circumstances. Anarchists failed to alter the situation enough to qualitatively change the demeanor of the occupation.
The gross deployment of arguments intended to deligitimize the agency of nonstudents was present both inside the occupation and from the administrative staff. Between the begging on behalf of "those most affected," and the cynical presumption of authority by the grad students, some used the occupation as another maneuver in a years-long grab for power and recognition. What is lost in all of this is the recognizition that this isn't a struggle over the education of those privileged enough to gain access to Emory University in the first place. This is a struggle between an entrenched capitalist aristocracy and those who are affected by their decisions, living in a world designed by specialists. The occupation is a moment of disconnection, when the nodes of control and citizen-production begin breaking down. As one administrator put it "We can't 'do business' while you're out here."
The incessant chatter about politics and legitimacy matters little.
What is important is to act decisively.
We need to understand that a conflict is necessary, and a break with the managerial perspective of the administration must be made before we can pursue what we actually want. We can't get lost in the politics of "building the movement" - which has basically been the justification for lying to your peers so they think you're more moderate than you are.
When we act like each action exists only for itself, we consign ourselves to one of two dismal outcomes: the action fails, and we are demoralized, or we succeed and return to our complacency, vindicated in our play-acting at negation or, worse, "people's power." Both of these are poison. We don't seek to reverse the cuts, or to sit back and say "I told you so" when all of this is over and the cuts remain. We want to show that it doesn't really matter, because the same logic that governs the university governs our whole society.
From here on out, there is only one interesting discussion: how are we going to create an event that never ends. An occupation with no demands or surrender, a walk out that never returns; essentially: a revolt that experiences itself as an autonomous force capable of never returning to the normal situation. A revolt that doesn't stop spreading.
A clique of "student leaders", manufactured the consent of the occupation and went to meet with President Wagner to negotiate. In the hallway more and more of the crowd began drifting away. This is unsurprising. After all they had been reduced to spectators in their own occupation. The specialists who had assumed the only legitimate agency to act entered some closed doors with the president after posing for pictures with the local press. Most of those still lingering on after the hours long meeting voted to take the offer from the administration: a promise to meet again with 11 people some time in the future.
Think of another scenario: 200 people storm the building in order to get organized. Circles form, large and small, to facilitate the production and circulation of text, the construction and maintanence of barricades and banners - or else, the coordination of a phone-blast to invite everyone to the party. The copy machines are reappropriated and so is the PA system. Dozens begin dancing to the newest Rihanna while others toss empty champagne bottles from the 4th story windows at campus security. When the administration tries to reason with the crowd, they are shushed and scoffed at - we are plotting a move to take over another building and we are giving directions to our friends with pick-up trucks.
If events like these never unravel, it's not because we have confronted the limits of possibility but, to be cliche, because we lack the imaginative focus to make these ideas become reality. Begin by getting organized now, with your co-workers, your roommates, your family, your neighbors, your bandmates, your classmates or whomever. Create the necessary material relationships to make it happen, and to make it last. Don't wait for the others, we will find you. As soon as you can, get started.
The following is the text from a leaflet distributed during the walkout/occupation. The
following warnings turned out to be a little more insightful than we had hoped.
"WE'LL SHOW YOU A CRISIS:
SOME IDEAS FOR MAKING SURE THIS BREAK-UP LASTS FOREVER
We have found each other in a position of impending dislocation, facing a breakdown of our relationship with the university,our jobs,the economy. Five years into the crisis, we have learned a few things about what meaningful response looks like...
i. In late 2009/early 2010, university occupations broke out in New York, in California, and elsewhere. The resistance exploded into a series of small riots inside barricaded buildings under the slogan "demand nothing, occupy everything." The energy, however, remained localized and was eventually co-opted by student politicians.
ii. In Wisconsin, a year later, legislation was proposed to ban collective bargaining. Thousands of people flooded the capitol building in an indefinite occupation. The movement, however, was always trapped in the electoral narrative which ultimately sapped energy into an unsuccessful re-call vote.
iii. Finally, last September, parks and plazas all over the country were seized by people in the "Occupy" movement as an attempt to create material relations capable of escalating a social reaction to financial precarity. Due to a number of factors - including a foolish commitment to nonviolence toward police and the eventual dove-tailing with less relatable single-issue campaigns - the movement waned.
Each of these openings have taught us something new. Namely, we can no longer organize successful social responses from our positions inside of capitalism; we must refuse collaboration or mediation with the powerful and their police; it is easier to invoke a total break than to even win partial demands for inclusion into the failing economy.
In the global markets, it is easier to outsource or to mechanize labor than to give in to our pitiful demands. Our counter-culturual and "alternative" innovations have been recuperated by the new generation of information technologies and "green" capitalism.
The only thing holding us together is the painful return of The Outside.
This return is not our own, but it holds many opportunities.
The response to this general dislocation is to disrupt and attack the economic and political institutions which, for us, are becoming just out of reach.
To actually "Walk-out" is to do so much more than simply move a body out of the classroom.
It is a recognizing that the democratic community of the university is an illusion. It is a rejection of the role of the student, the quiet hard-worker who sacrifices their young years in order to be better off in the future-a future that no longer exists. With the rapidly detoriating climate, and increasing precarity of capital ,we can't expect any of the jobs we are promised to actually exist- not that we want them anyway.
SO WHAT NOW? 5 IDEAS FOR AVOIDING DISAPPOINTMENT
DESTROY CENTRALIZATION//DEVELOP SELF-ORGANIZATION
Currently, a political script is being crafted about what these cuts mean and about what this walk out means in relation to a broader strategy. In order for you to get the most out of this energy, you must develop autonomous self-organization, maybe with just a few friends, maybe with strangers.The point is to not just accept the structures that currently exist to oppose these cuts, but to use them however you can while developing new methods, forms, and ideas to make up for where the existing iniatitives leave you feeling incomplete.
BEWARE OF MOVEMENT MANAGERS AND LEADERS
Sometimes, people come along who already have everything planned out. When people seem to have all of the right answers with the perfect strategy that everyone should obey, they are often ignoring, hiding, or forgetting some important tensions. They may even claim a false humility - in fact this is likely in the post-Occupy era where hierarchy has largely been discredited. Those who always know what to do next are more than likely following a script. In order for this momentum to move forward, it must break the entire theater of student life, including its imposed roles and convoluted "movement leaders."
CRAFT NARRATIVES THAT JUSTIFY REVOLT//PERMIT DIVERSE PARTICIPATION
We can hear it already. Appeals are often casually made to the "Emory Community", on behalf of the "students, faculty, and staff." The hidden assumption is that in this "community", there lies the "most affected" who are the "legitimate" actors of a social response to cuts and austerity. However, if we rely solely on such discourses, we may end up foregrounding isolation and detachment from a broader base of potential-accomplices. By appealing to each other in the language of our roles, we may be lodging ourselves deeper into the networks of domination we are trying to oppose. Furthermore, if we appeal only to students and staff, we will find ourselveswith less allies year after year as the cuts and layoffs keep rolling in.
In other words: todays students are next years drop-outs. Let's keep space open for participation and agency from all sectors of society. Who, after all, is more legitimate to oppose fee hikes and budget cuts than those who can no longer afford to attend classes in the first place? Oppose the demonization of the "outside agitator" whenever you hear it.
DON'T JUST PANDER TO THE MEDIA
For those who "only that which appears in the media exists" real action takes a backset to the maintanence of the the media image. The goal of this image management is never to attack any institution of domination, but to affect public opinion and stay trapped in an endless cycle of "building the movement." The media isn't an objective institution, who will work alongside us if our cause is just. They will report on things in their own interests, to boost ratings, please parent companies, and to maintain the illusion of social peace. The idea of "looking good for the media" is often used in an attempt to discipline and control anyone who does anything that could be seen as controversial, however slight. This is just another way in which movement managers and leaders attempt to control what happens, to ensure only their idea is heard. Opposing the mass media doesn't mean we should try to keep our story to ourselves. Creating your own analysis of what is happening allows everyone to record their story as they see fit.
It's unclear if this walkout will lead to anything else. It's common for well-intentioned activists, in their tendency to delay, to spend months building up to a big event with no social traction, with no follow up.
What happens today, and tomorrow, is up to you and those close to you.
"People are convinced to act not through endless talk, but when they see that
others are willing to take risks. It is only when those who have little to lose actually do
something that those who have a lot to lose can join them."