05/12/2011 Comments Off on interview
People across the country are supportive of the Occupy Wall Street movement even if they don’t fully understand what the movement is about. How would you describe this movement? What do you stand for, what do you fight against?
The movement is not *about* any one thing. It is about a lot of things. While these things are certainly interconnected, many participate for different specific reasons.
The general thing against which the occupation positions itself is austerity. Austerity is the privatization of the public good, i.e. cuts to social services, privatizing public spaces like parks, cuts to education and healthcare, among others. At the UC we stress austerity’s effects on higher ed–for the obvious reason that we are getting serious cuts–but we should not separate *our* issue from, for instance, Occupy Oakland’s foregrounding of police brutality. The riot cops in Oakland, as in Davis, are used to quash those who fight back against austerity.
We stand for many various things, but again these things have a certain unity. I would describe this unity as “care.” The camps have become notorious for stressing that anyone is welcome, anyone can stay, everyone will eat, etc., this is logic opposed to austerity. We stand for reclaiming space and the good (healthcare, education…) and making them publicly available. At least that is my opinion.
Tell me what’s going on with the movement in your area/region/community?
We have several occupations on going in Davis. The first was set up several weeks ago in a park in downtown Davis. That occupation is repeatedly hassled by the police and city and now has been told that occupiers will be cited for vagrancy should they not depart.
The second occupation is on the lawn at UC Davis. This was set up after we were forcefully evicted–famously being pepper sprayed. After that instance of police brutality, both the police and the chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, received quite negative attention from local, national, and even international press. The continued media interest in our situation seems to have intimidated the police and university administration from again forcefully evicting us as they have so many times over the last several years.
With this situation in mind, we have now occupied Dutton Hall on campus, a central building near the quad which houses financial services’ offices. We are demanding the immediate resignation of the chancellor, for the UC Police Department to be disbanded, and for an immediate freeze on tuition rates.
Why did you get involved?
I got involved for a lot of reasons. While the concrete political goals of the movement are essential, one should not underestimate the many other aspects of occupations–those less condensible into formal demands. Occupations are a really fun place to be (and sometimes really difficult). It is profound to see strangers come together and care for each other. We have lived so long in an era that insists “there is no society” and “greed is good,” but the occupations are showing, proving that there *is* such thing as society. We are society. And we do not want to live that way any longer.
What do activists hope to accomplish from the protests?
Just being here is so important. We have demands–Katehi’s resignation, cops off campus, and tuition freeze–and our demands are important. But even having all three met will not satisfy us.
What is the goal or ultimate outcome of the movement? For instance, the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements wanted equality and justice across the board. The Labor movement has demanded recognition, collective bargaining rights and a voice at the table. What do the Occupiers want?
I cannot speak for everyone, but I want the end of capitalism.
How do people support the movement?
We need two things: bodies and stuff to support bodies. We have an Amazon wishlist for the latter, we have a building and tents for the former.
How do you sustain a leaderless movement?
It is not easy, and the model of General Assembly has significant problems. That said, every model of organization has problems. For a couple of years, the GA was not working very well. We would have long meetings discussing when we’d hold our next meeting. With the development of the occupation movement, the meetings have come to function much more effectively.
Momentum is built through repeated escalation of tactics. Rallies become protests, protests become tent cities, and tent cities become building occupations. Without expanding the movement, both in size and extent of activity, it will wither.
I’ve heard talk of communal type society being established and encouraged by the Occupy movement. Besides this course of action how does the movement hope to/expect to shape our society?
Well, establishing a “communal type society” is pretty impressive. So was shutting down the port of Oakland. The occupation movement is already having real social effects–noticeable in the popular culture.
The point of the occupations, at least as far as I understand them, is not particular political issues. There are lots of issues that we, at least it seems, are passionate about. However, precisely what differentiates this moment from the past–you’ve brought up the civil rights and women’s movements–what distinguishes us is that we are simultaneously about *everything* and *nothing*. I like to say that we occupy in order to change human nature. It is kind of dumb, I know. We are all educated postmoderns who know that there is no such *thing* as human nature and all that stuff. Also, as political activists, we know that human nature is a fuzzy concept, one the extent of change to which is hard to measure. All that said, I like this phrase because it describes what actually goes on at an occupation. Socially, these are profound and beautiful and heartbreaking and frustrating and wonderful places.
Another BIG question, Pls describe the day you got pepper sprayed and give readers a better understanding of how a peaceful protest became sullied by the cops when they attacked the students.
I got to the encampment at 3:15 on Friday, after seminar. My professor and friend saw the 35 riot police before they entered the quad, and joined the protest rather than get coffee. Linking arms in the circle, I and my friend chanted: “cops off campus!” The riot police marched onto the quad–at this point there was a circle of 70 protesters around the tents and about 200 onlookers–and the cops got in formation. After reading an order to disperse, the cops attacked us and threw us to the ground. At that point about 100 of the onlookers flooded into the circle and removed our tents while the cops made some arrests. We reassembled our circle and chanted for the cops to release those arrested. The cops told those of us seated on the side walk to disperse and we refused. At that point Lt. Pike, who was inside the circle, stepped over us seated on the cement walkway and he turned and pepper sprayed us. They were able to break apart the circle and take out those arrested, we then assembled, all now about 300 of us, and marched the cops off the quad chanting “you can go.”