I also hold a bit of disdain for the Occupy movement, but i have also been disappointed in the claims against it. I’ve been equally perturbed by its whiteness and yet fiercely protective of what it is that the movement is attempting to accomplish. I am ambivalent – drawn by the promise of a new experiment in an un-led dis-organization and perturbed by the whiteness, maleness, and apparent middle-classness (who has time to protest?).
I think this partially comes down to who has the privilege to protest? Who has the political language? Who has the populace language? Who is included and who is excluded? And while the movement has worked furiously to make room for “all voices”, does it make room for all histories?
Yesterday, when i finally went down to Occupy Seattle at Westlake, i found that a Latina woman was MCing the open mic, a South Asian was organizing speaker order, and a young African American man was speaking about the war on people of color that is happening in America. Behind the stage, a Native American woman began banging on a trashcan, screaming angrily and crying. A group calling themselves the Peace Team quickly moved in and offered her kind words, space to speak.
This is not meant to be a tally of The Number of People of Colour i saw yesterday. I just happened to walk up at a strangely diverse moment – particularly strange as it was in downtown Seattle. So what is my point?
I avoided the marches and protests, even as my colleagues went en masse from the university campus to downtown, and again as they tried to organize amongst departments and schools. I wondered where my people were – the brown folks whose land was stolen to make this country. Where are the women of color – where are the working mamas, the grandmothers who will never retire? Where are the disenfranchised – my brothers and sisters who make up 16% of the US population and only 5% of the graduate programs at my school?
So… do we make this our movement? Do we take up this struggle, or do we turn away and simply wait it out? What is that balance in the ambivalence?
I decided that there is one thing i can do: teach. It turns out that there are a number of people who feel the way i do and are organizing a teach-in. Many of the people i met yesterday had no understanding of the histories of oppressions that have occurred in this country or by this country. Many of their histories reach back three years to the economic collapse. Their frustrations are based on anecdotes and charts, shocking numbers and liberal soundbites. And that is not to take away from the absolute enormity of what we are facing as a nation and as individuals. But what can we do to make it more meaningful, to last longer, to have a greater impact?
We are the 99%, but we are also the 14%, and the 16%, and the 35%, and the 51%.
I received an email early this morning from one of the listservs i am on. There was a link to this speech.
Two things struck me:
1. what an articulate young man
2. how apathetic many of us have become
At a recent Graduate and Professional Student Senate meeting (of which i am a senator), we were presented with the Legislative Agenda. Here are some of the notes i took from that meeting:
·$385 million less than expected for current budget cycle
·Gov: “voters sent a message of an all-cuts budget” but saying no to raising taxes
·$810 million less than expected for next budget cycle
·Budget deficit $5.7 billion out of a $32.3 billion state budget
oOf the portion that the legislature can touch (discretionary) is $10 billion – the rest of the money is protected…UW falls into the $10 billion slice of the pie – we are looking at severe cuts
·This is quite possibly the most significant budget crisis this state has ever faced
Last revenue short fall was announced in September, including a 3.6% cut across the state. The next shortfall is looking at a special session in December where the legislature will work through $400 million in cuts – but it will not be across the board next time. We can expect similiar cuts to what was seen last year.
If something is not on the agenda, our lobbyist cannot bring it up so they’ve tried to make it as detailed as possible. It is a communications tool. Was put together with the Legislative Steering Committee, who discussed priorities, orders, etc. and endorsed by GPSS Executive Committee.
All of the economic issues are having a major impact on what they can lobby for – because of massive cuts, we can’t ask for more money. We will be following last year’s call – No New Cuts. Further cuts will result in larger classes, increased time to degree, fewer resources. Also, every dollar invested in UW returns more than $23 into the state’s economy. It is easier to raise tuition than taxes. Also, we will not see any stimulus money this go ‘round like we did last year.
1.Funding and quality – GPS urges the legislature to make no new cuts to higher ed. Cuts to ed should be proportional to cuts to other discretionary state programs 2.Financial Aid – GPSS urges the leg to expand financial aid funding and to support policies that ensure access for low- and middle-income students. (the state has divested in financial aid for graduate and professional students – we would like to see that change) 3.Affordability – Current “ask”: GPSS urges the leg to adopt an income-based tution model to mitigate barriers to entry for students who cannot afford to pay increasingly high tuition rates. Also: entertain motion to change to : GPSS urges leg to support a tuition policy that takes students’ ability to pay into account.
·With republican control of the house, there is an anti-spending wave coming through the House. Pledge to America – proposed cuts to research funding up to 30% which affects NSF, Department of Defense, NIH, etc. Lobbyists will explain why they should continue to fund research.
We may be looking at tuition hikes for undergrads that look like what happened in the UC system. Grad tuition is not managed by legislature.
I bring this up for a few reasons:
1. The Washington State voters screwed their economy and their higher ed students in the last elections / votes. We are facing a crisis that is not dissimilar to that faced in 1931 at the University of Washington campus. The UW’s Great Depression site has a great article about the defunding (and eventual refunding) of the state university.
2. The GPSS leadership has bowed out before the fight has even begun. They have said, for two years in a row now, that “We can’t ask for more money – we’ll just be laughed at, so we’re asking for no new cuts.” What happened to fighting for your constituents? Yes – you might be laughed at – but with good argumentation, you may also force the questions of the poor decision of the voters into the center – fear has never been a good excuse for any political decision.
3. The warnings against the tyranny of the majority (or the masses) has been ignored by 24 states in this country – leaving major decisions not up to political leaders, but up to voters. Thus the individual rights of the minority (and graduate students are a minority and will continue to be more of one, particularly those of us in the Social Sciences, at this rate) are crushed under the weight of the majority. Especially in these times when we face the indoctrination against academic elitism (which is being promulgated by the economic and political elite – can anyone spell I.R.O.N.Y?), how are the non-academic supposed to vote? Unfortunately – we’re not loud enough to point out that elitism, itself is not the issue at vote, but the furthering imbalance of power is.
And it is at this point that i have to point at myself. I sat through that GPSS meeting, diligently taking notes on everything that was said, preparing a neat and as-readable-as-possible email to the other grad students in my department. I then went home, crawled in bed and read a little before falling asleep. And that’s it.
Listening to the 15 year old in the video, i realized that all of our hope rests in him and his generation. But why should they carry the burden of our apathy? Why should we (my generation of grad students) carry the burden of the economic elite? Why should any of us be facing this massive mess that is the global economic system while simultaneously trying to cling to our beloved education? Why are our students not realizing that they are the ones being affected? They and we are all facing a future of crushed hopes and dreams with a bland kind of apathy that leaves us stunned and disconnected.
The use of “violence” has come up a number of times in the past few years, but again, particularly in the past few weeks. By “violence”, i mean, by extension, the use of violent terms to describe actions. But more on this in a moment.
Am I the only one to find politicians’ use of the term ‘violence’ to condemn protests inappropriate given the systematic violence being done to higher education and social mobility? Or the violence of the wars initiated or supported by those doing the condemning?
No, you are not alone. Unfortunately, the ones trying to point out the very irony of it all are precisely the ones being crushed. That violence may only be meted out by the government – as intervention, suppression, humanitarian aid – is one side of that coin – a kind of ownership over violence and death that Max Weber so elegantly called Gewaltmonopol des Staates (it just doesn’t sound as sexy in English: state monopoly on violence). And while this is as much about the legitimization of violence within the purview of the state, as in the right to defend one’s own property, it somehow fails to extend to our rights to protect our…well…for lack of a better word: rights.
But that’s getting ahead of myself. I really wanted to start with violence, precisely- not what has brought Britain to this point of disruption.
The same thing happened at the WTO protests in 1999. I watched my friends get dragged off rather brutally by police, another was shot at point blank range with a rubber bullet – all as we sat peacefully in the road attempting to enact our right to protest against the other kinds of economic and political violences against all of us that were being decided behind closed doors that week-end. We stand in the middle because it is terms of violence that are used against those who would stand up not just for our own rights but for the rights of others – of our future, of our fellow human beings, terms like: riots, clashes, attacks.
This isn’t just happening in Britain (well, the underlying cause of protest is fairly enclosed). I wrote about this earlier in the week in regard to Haiti – protesters referred to as violent, rioters. We saw the same thing here in Seattle – peaceful protesters being goaded, ringed in, shot at, driven into, beaten. That the protests continue is testament to the strength of people’s convictions, i think.
What this brings to mind, then (and i’m no political theorist, so please forgive my crude take on all of this) is Habermas’ assertion that the state must ensure both legitimate law making and enforcement. Legitimate law making. At what point do we view the violence of the state against its own people, exercising their rights within the frame of the law as deligitimization of the state? That the state works so furiously to delegitimize any protest through the use of terms of violence speaks, i think, to their fears of being delegitimized themselves. Is that what it’s come down to, then?
I want to leave off today with the words of Thich Nhat Hanh which i keep over my desk – a reminder of all that resistance is:
Resistance at root must mean more than resistance against war. And there are so many things like that in modern life that make you lose yourself. So perhaps resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted and destroyed, by the system. The purpose of resistance, here, is to seek the healing of yourself in order to be able to see clearly…. I think that communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness.