Cops and Cowards: Reflections on the Recent UC Regent Protests
The event on Thursday, January 19 at UC Riverside was a strategic experiment for Southern California organizers and nothing that occurred should be taken at face value and assumed useless. What the press hasn’t been showing is the most important point in the entire protest: when students drove the police into a corner and off the campus in the protest’s closing moments. An action that We can most definitely learn from…
i am not particularly concerned with a majority of the activity that occurred Thursday, January 19th at the UC Regents meeting in Riverside, because the energetic ad hoc efforts of the student organizers from all of the participating UC’s speaks for itself. The day represented a solid advancement for Southern California student activism. It is an advancement that has been growing and will hopefully continue to fuel a sense of urgency for Our struggle.
What i am concerned with in this essay, is what has been lacking from the critiques of Thursday the 19th: creativity, tactical analysis and above all: a look into the events that unfolded while the cops still maintained their presence on campus post-meeting. This moment, for me, crystalized an idea that has been floating around the UC community/blogosphere for some time now, the struggle cannot only pertain to austerity and fee hikes, but the opportunity has been widening for making domestic militarization a central focus of Our praxis in the student movement. A decision that has the potential to connect the struggles of students fighting tuition increases and eroding access to education, to the struggles in the prisons, to the struggles anti-violence groups face, with the struggles of immigrants rights groups and with the struggles of communities across the state.
Earlier accounts of police violence at the Davis and Berkeley campuses have been vainly provincialized, described as epic calamities – when moral outrage was merely the result of police crossing the boundaries of whiteness. So with this understanding, i do not want to dismiss the importance of acknowledging the privileged perceptions amongst the liberals and a majority of UC advocates, as a barrier between understanding modes of domination in the US and within the UC community itself. This understanding is the basis of my politics and this essay should be read with an assumed understanding of the context in which it is written from.
It should be also addressed that this is not an attempt towards a superficial inclusion (occupier “semantics”), let alone a crass stab at progressive coalition, it is a call for a genuine movement against domestic militarism, institutional racism, and all that is imbedded within the logic of Western law enforcement. It should be made very clear that a militarized police presence is, nonetheless, the divide between Us students and any dream of completely controlling Our educations. The police were the physical wall between Us and the Regents on Thursday the 19th, they were the lurking force that surveilled organizers prior to the meeting, and outside of the University they are the physical embodiment of all that is so completely fucked in Our society.
First off, i want to make clear that reflections on the event’s engagement with the police cannot be allowed to fall victim to the same institutional press coverage and useless chronological recaps of events. We are battling on a new terrain. Many of the Southern California campuses have never seen political activity of this magnitude, so Our organizing efforts have to be fresh and creative. As well, Our reflections on actions like this need to be conducted in a manner contradictory to the norm. If We are going to conquer the new terrain before Our oppressors, We must squeeze every drop of creative and theoretical juice possible out of the body of information generated from Our actions. Whether it be strategic, theoretical, artistic or humorous, alternative forms of reflection will always have the potential to breathe new life into the praxis of SoCal student activism.
So in this manner, i do not want to make this piece a summary on the entire event itself, but rather a conceptual analysis on its conclusion and epilogue. Our practice of protest in Southern California is embarking on something this region has never experienced, but with that comes the responsibility of not falling into the patterns of the system inherent in the liberal-conservative SoCalian University atmosphere.
To briefly summarize the conclusion of the protest: During the majority of the meeting demonstrators blocked
ALL three possible exits a number of exits the Regents could use and their parking lot entrance/exit as well, shifting from exits to exit throughout the course of the day, unfortunately never occupying them at the same time. However, once further police violence erupted and the riot police began ketteling demonstrators, folks got caught up in their emotions and in the spectacle of violence – serving as the initial distraction the regents needed to slip out of the third (least occupied) exit.
Note for further actions: it is an extremely hard thing to do, but organizers must be able to step outside of the moment and see past the short sightedness that everyone else inevitably has when in protest. Constantly preparing for what is going to happen next is key and it is an imperative that organizers try not to get too caught-up in the action itself. Students did an extremely good job of this on the 19th up until the masses of riot police came trucking in from the north side of the campus (Context: at this point everyone in the event was exhausted, mentally and physically… It was quite understandable).
The distraction only held temporarily, and protestors rushed after the regents as their vans drove away. In the unfolding action, the protesters at UC Riverside organically regrouped. Hundreds of students lined and then cornered the police forces that previously escorted the regents from the meeting.
When the Regent’s presence disappeared completely, the legitimacy of police authority was emptied of all its value. A mere hour after police kettled, shot and arrested demonstrators, the power relation had reversed, and a mass of students cornered the police into a state of tactical retreat.
This was a revolutionary moment – a moment beginning when the chants started changing from rhetorical protest clichés to “Leave Our Campus!” and “Fuck the Police!”
Southern Californian organizers should not take this moment for granted. This is how Our movement will succeed. If We see the police and the Regents as being no different from one and other – two sides of the same coin. The movement towards taking back Our schools cannot physically materialize (literally) into anything unless We confront the issue of the police. Hence, a radical movement that truly believes education is a right. The police are a hindrance on Our ability to speak and learn freely.
One fellow protester and i rationalized the events as they unfolded before Our eyes as “going overboard,” and at face value they did seem likely to be just that. But in reflection, the empowerment this moment gave to a campus on the cusp of mind-numbing political apathy and eternal “fratability,” the final confrontation is not something to be taken for granted. So to clarify what “going overboard” really is: an example would be the regents escalating Our tuition year after year after year after year.
The cornering of the police was a revolutionary moment that cannot be dismissed as anything other. To most, revolution sounds chaotic, and revolution seems messy. To be honest as i reflect on the epilogue of the protest, it is the very sloppiness and chaos of the closing hour, that made this day so beautiful!
Prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore articulates power as being not “a thing” but rather “a capacity composed of active and changing relationships enabling a person, group, or institution to compel others to do things they would not do on their own” (247). In this moment the students acknowledged their own capacity for power. In the events that unfolded after the Regents’ cowardly exit, the police lost their legitimacy as a presence of authority on the student’s campus, and proved that when students unite they are a force to be reckoned with.
Instances of police infiltration into privileged environments are as productive of moments, as they are counterproductive. How We reflect on them is the difference between creating a movement against police violence that understands the entirety of the struggle, or having it concede to the coercive forces of progressive politics and liberal who-rah-rah. The student movement must understand that police violence is structural and proliferates daily not even 100 yards away from most University campuses. In fact, a dialogue on real police brutality and real police violence (legalized racist murder per say) can even lead into possible discussions on how the institution of the University is unnatural and coercive in itself (though I’ll reserve that discussion for another time).
Our generation’s student movement is growing, but the structural imbalance of power that the few who make decisions hold; whether it is in the realm of the pedagogical, economic or the state’s monopoly on violence, entails a Praxis that must involve more than hikes and cuts. Want to knock power off its pedestal? Then aim at its pillars to get to the top.
Not one person who confronted the police that day can say the events on the 19th didn’t change their perception of the University. For a display of anger to occur at this magnitude, in the historical and geographical conditions in which they existed: a campus on the remote outskirts of the geographical and ‘Political’ UC system, should be seen as a catalyst for activist organizing on Southern California campuses. And above all it should serve as the beginning of the dismantling of the historical and physical walls that divide Us and the possibilities of controlling Our own education. Walls which encompass the Regents, the Police, the bloated salaries of administration and the fee hikes/loans (*cough* chains) that hold us down.
The goal is not “thoughtful” piecemeal reform with the Regents, which of course is going to garner national media attention Chancellor White… um duhh… calls for reform always fit in well on propaganda networks. It is total control of Our educational opportunity and the means for learning that we want. On January 13th there was no loss in the real struggle to defend education, because the real struggle isn’t to defend it, but to revolutionize it. Wanting “engaging” and “provocative” discussions with the Regents can only get so much. The goal is to end the hierarchical control of education and the defeat the family structure of Our higher education system, that as UCR’s student body president once said (roughly paraphrasing): “students should be the children, and the administrator should be like their parents.” Having someone telling you how to learn is a little different then someone teaching you how to learn. So don’t blur the two prez. Free education! Free the UC’s! Embrace radical pedagogy! ftp.