“UCI is NOT a state of anarchy!” – UCI Political Science Department Chair Mark Petracca, to Muslim students disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk 2 weeks ago.
Well, Mr. Petracca, we’ve tried it your way, it’s time for ours!
A curious thing happened yesterday at the University of California Irvine: for several hours, the campus descended into a state of anarchy.
At 9:30am, 14 students and 3 AFSCME 3299 representatives began a sit-in outside Chancellor Michael Drake’s office. The police were caught completely flat-footed, and it was only because a police officer saw the crowd and rushed to the 5th floor to lock Drake’s door that the students didn’t get inside. A list of demands was issued, and while there has already been much debate and discussion about the demands, we have no interest in dissecting the demands–the fact that these issues are even being talked about is sufficient. Police seemed unprepared to deal with the sit-in; really, nothing like this has happened in years on our quiet Stepford-esque campus. After nearly an hour, police finally made the move to arrest the protesters.
What made this action more than a protest, and took it beyond the spectrum of most campus sit-ins, was the actions of solidarity by students outside. To us, solidarity means attack, and attack we did. Students were able to seize the moment, put their fears and disagreements aside, and quickly moved dumpsters, tables, and even doors to barricade the doors to Aldrich Hall. One door was left open–if the police want to take our friends to jail, they’ll have to get past us!
We found each other in those moments of pushing and flipping dumpsters. Black and white, teacher and student, none of those distinctions really mattered. We were acting for our friends inside, and we were acting for ourselves and each other. New faces appeared behind masks, and we all found strengths that we never knew we had.
We later found out from our friends inside that as the actions outside unfolded, police shouted news over the police radio: after the first dumpster was placed, police rushed downstairs to assess the situation. Soon, we had about 20 police plus our campus oligarchy (admin) barricaded inside. It was only a matter of time before police broke the barricades–a dumpster left on its wheels, a table not secured well enough–not that that’s important. A few minutes later: “They’ve taken to the streets!” Students rolled dumpsters into the street passing Aldrich Hall, Pereira, a main artery on campus. Two dumpsters flipped, workers and students jumping and dancing on top of them, and a crowd gathered around. All myths about the agency of workers, AB540 students, students of color, women, queer students were shattered–anyone can throw down when they believe they can. For several hours, we ran wild mere feet from police, who watched helplessly.
As our friends were being released, we left the street to rejoin them and cheer their return. All were out by 2:45pm. Their charges were minor–“failure to disperse.” It is easy to speculate: would their charges have been worse? would they have been taken to county had we not escalated outside? Our arrest count for the year is 29–a year ago we barely had that many activists. Many of us are still free without charges, ready to continue to escalate.
March 4 is right around the corner. Irvine awoke from its slumber yesterday. We realize that we set the bar high, but we see this as a challenge: how will we top yesterday’s action? If not dumpsters, will we push something else? Just a few hours later, we all felt the pain of coming down from a high, and the only way to restore that euphoria is to get back in the action. We will never look at dumpsters in the same way. Yesterday we discovered that we had it in us, that the revolutionary spirit lives within us all, that it takes only a little provocation for that spirit to be released. We have to come to terms with our own agency and learn to love it. We also learned that spontaneity is liberation, and the more unpredictable, the more ready to explode we are, the further we can go and the more rewarding it will be.
We offer this account to students around the country and the world. If we could do it, so can you. As we pass through our 15 minutes of fame, we want to make it clear that there is nothing unique about our situation. Two days ago, we never would have anticipated this. We have struggled for some time to organize students; we just realized that that was the problem–they didn’t lack organization, they lacked confidence. Go out and try new things. Show students they can act. Be creative. Be realistic, attempt the impossible. Sit in. Lock down. Lock in. March 4 is just a few days away, but it only takes a few moments to turn a boring action into something beautiful.
Yesterday the dumpsters.
Tomorrow the world.
Subversities has additional info about the arrests inside.