"To Fan the Flames of Discontent": Some Thoughts and Reflections on the Occupation of Mrak Hall at UC Davis

"To Fan the Flames of Discontent": Some Thoughts and Reflections on the Occupation of Mrak Hall at UC Davis

On November 19, 2009 hundreds of students at UC Davis spontaneously occupied the central administration building and held it for several hours, with 52 eventually arrested. This text was written by one of the arrested and distributed during a meeting with the others, and another 150 copies were distributed at a general assembly the day after.

1. The most significant element of what happened was not that we got a higher “score” on the arrest count than the students at Berkeley or UCLA. What is really important is that the Mrak Hall occupation happened without any official organizers, that it was a common project initiated by all of us in accord with our own political intuition, and that by turning Mrak Hall into a forum for real communication, we overcame the separation that this society creates.

2. We were able to carry out such an unexpected and amazing common activity precisely because we are in the “cow-town” of Davis, because we do not have the established student Left of Berkeley, LA, or Santa Cruz. We do not have the “responsible” Left who would attempt to organize us in advance towards responsibly ineffective activities, and we do not have the more rhetorically radical Left who would also attempt to choose our activities—and the meanings of those activities—for us in advance.

3. The strength of our arrests and our solidarity comes from our collective refusal to accept the police ultimatum of having everybody who wanted to avoid arrest leave at 5 pm, rather than complying with the order and leaving a small group to be arrested as a statement. By ignoring the threat of the police, we refused to have our action turn into a disempowering and ultimately ineffective action, and we refused to be divided into active participants and passive spectators.

4. One of our biggest missed opportunities was to not collectively open the doors to Mrak Hall and let in the students outside before the police received massive reinforcements. Since we were all arrested anyways, we had nothing to lose by attempting to open the doors and allow in anybody who wanted to. Logistically, a dozen cops trying to keep a group of two hundred or more separated would not have been able to stop or arrest any of us. This would have had two benefits: it would have turned the occupation into a common project of an even larger group of participants acting according to their own initiative and will; and if enough people had joined us in solidarity, it would have made it logistically impossible for the police to actually arrest us—they would have either been forced to let us keep Mrak Hall, or to physically attack us and expose the open brutality that the State will resort to in order to continue fetishizing the dictates of the economy, dictates which are opposed to the needs of human beings.

5. Our strength and our solidarity came from our resolve that, whatever the police threatened us with, we did not leave the building, which we had rightfully asserted belonged to us. We lost much of that strength when we stopped linking arms, when we began voluntarily accepting the arrests. Our weakness was amplified by our lack of unity in the jail—we were disarmed by the promise of a quick release if we were “courteous.” However, only a few were released quickly, with the rest of us held overnight and given a bologna sandwich and an apple each. We alternated between being held in cold concrete cells and a lobby of sorts, complete with chairs and a TV, but with the guards working behind us and constantly threatening to return us to the cells if we tried to communicate with one another. We should have refused the “reward” of the TV room that allowed them to further break our unity and communication. We should have all claimed to be vegetarians in solidarity with those who were. In the same spirit, we should have maintained unity against their attempts to separate us by our perceived genders, and we should have been prepared to claim that we were all transgender or queer in solidarity with those among us. The perceived women were much more challenging and did not allow the guards to keep them silent, while the perceived men, including myself, were unfortunately too tired or demoralized to resist this enforced silence. Even divided in separate cells, the prisoners in the men’s cell should have been loud and unruly in solidarity with those in the women’s cell. 52 of us could have shaken the walls of the Yolo Sheriff's Detention Center if we had had the resolve to keep chanting, singing, or even just talking.

6. By taking action, we implicitly rejected the dominant ideology, according to which the capitalist economy is the natural state of humanity and the crisis is merely a natural disaster which we have no choice but to try and survive until it passes. The vampiric logic of the economy is not natural, it is social and must be struggled against and overcome socially. We are being attacked by, and struggling against, the same economic dictates as the students in Austria, Croatia, and France and the workers in Egypt, China, Vietnam, and the USA. Like them, we can only succeed if we continue to prioritize our human needs rather than helping those who dominate us solve their economic problems.We should recognize the significance of this for our future activity: we are struggling against the same economy that has angered and mobilized students in Austria, Croatia, and France, and the workers in Egypt, China,Vietnam, and the USA.

Posted By

Mar 4 2010 04:52


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