They Want Everything: UCSC and the Seeds of a Student Occupation Movement

Like the society to which it has played the faithful servant, the university is bankrupt.  This bankruptcy is not only financial.  It is the index of a more fundamental insolvency, one both political and economic, which has been a long time in the making.  No one knows what the university is for anymore.  We feel this intuitively.  Gone is the old project of creating a cultured and educated citizenry; gone, too, the special advantage the degree-holder once held on the job market.  These are now fantasies, spectral residues that cling to the poorly maintained halls.

Something truly amazing has started in California that may be a sign of a growing movement in the U.S. Even more interesting than their activities so far (see Occupy California for updates, and this IndyMedia page for photos of the first occupation on September 24th, and We Want Everything for the “critical theory and content from the nascent ucsc occupation movement”) is the manifesto behind it, which lays out the vacuousness and banality of the current system and of our lives trapped in it.

The words above open that manifesto, and they are just the beginning of an effort to disillusion University students (graduate students particularly) and jumpstart a real movement of protest and resistance that aims to spread outside of the University and throughout the nation. Behind their occupation is the growing awareness since the 2008 financial collapse that everything is bankrupt, “Everything is Broken,” as Bob Dylan put it, and that there is no hope in fixing anything without changing everything.

Reading their manifesto, Communiqué from an Absent Future, is exhilirating, especially for someone who has just struggled for more than a year to figure out how to say all that was wrong with graduate student life and work in this country so as to convince grad students to get out of their ivory tower fantasies and stand up for better conditions and wages, and maybe even for a better world in general. Although the GEO campaigns at Purdue did pressure to the University to marginally reduce the ridiculous fees they were charging graduate students, they did not contribute to any greater change or more than a marginal improvement in the financial shithole that they are placed in by the University. But all of the deeper issues and problems are all spelled out in this Communiqué, and at a pregnant time for change. Now almost everybody is being fucked over by or shut out of the system; everybody except the super-rich are feeling the pinch, are losing jobs or homes themselves, or watching people they know falling off the precipice that looms closer and closer.

There are too many potentially quotable sections in this essay, so just go read the whole thing if you feel it resonates with your situation. It is openly Marxist/communist in its language and sentiment, mostly in the anti-Capitalist sense, though the calls for a “free society” echo the Declaration of Independence more than the Communist Manifesto. Below is the opening of the third section:

We seek to push the university struggle to its limits.
Though we denounce the privatization of the university and its authoritarian system of governance, we do not seek structural reforms.  We demand not a free university but a free society.  A free university in the midst of a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison; it serves only as a distraction from the misery of daily life. Instead we seek to channel the anger of the dispossessed students and workers into a declaration of war.

I hope something comes of this, and I hope it doesn’t just degenerate into calls for reform than end up changing nothing. I hope more students, workers, professionals and unemployed come to see the mutual grimness of their situations, shed their feelings of hopelessness and/or delusions about “making it” and work together for some common good–something sorely missing is our politics and our society.

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