The following was posted as a comment, responding to the post “From a Community College Student.” We offer this testimony to our critics at UCI, around the UC, and elsewhere. We present this as evidence that the success of an action is judged not only by its having occurred but also by the opportunities it creates. While the actual library occupation was co-opted by admin and perhaps had a less than ideal turnout, it must be seen as a success.
I thought my campus was very apathetic, apolitical, and hostile to meaningful collective action, too. Then I went to one of the reformists’ coalition meetings and gave an impassioned speech about how Irvine was going to occupy their library, and that if they could do it in Orange County, we could do it three times over! I swore just enough, I loudly rejected the idea of limiting ourselves to traditional mainstream tactics, I gave specific ideas on radical actions we could take, I justified my proposals, and then I made very clear that they were just that, proposals–that the important thing was for people to get angry and get active, no matter what we decide to do. At the beginning of my speech, the meeting was about letter-writing. At the end of my speech, the meeting was about blockading a freeway. And when somebody asked, “Who wants to occupy the library?”, every single hand in the room shot up.
By the end of the meeting, we hadn’t occupied the library, and we still haven’t. But more importantly, someone (me) had the utter lack of respect for the social order to be openly radical, and when people saw that someone was willing to speak up, they found the courage to speak up too. Perhaps even more importantly, my performance at the meeting gave other radicals the courage to approach me later and begin building working groups. The main reformist group, even as it radicalized, did so in a “manageable”, reformist kind of way. But it did radicalize, and me sticking my neck out made it a safer space for people to say what they thought even if it was outrageous. Students spoke up and found that their dreams were shared, even the crazy ones.
The point is that you can use mainstream protest spaces to open up the debate to radical action. Every time you normalize radical theory and action in normative spaces, everybody else’s normal gets a little more radical. Bold action on the fringe emboldens those in the middle. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to cow people over, you don’t have to make them buy into your ideology, and you don’t have to convince anyone of anything–just being the example gives other people the room to create and develop their own examples.
So, let the reformists be reformists. Don’t let it get you down–because deep in their hearts is a black, black hope just waiting for the right to explode. Remind them of their right. Be the future and the future will join you.
If you need words of encouragement, help on the details, or anything else, you know where to find us.
I’ll see you on the free side, comrade.