Back to Mrak: an assessment

A piece looking back at an occupation at UC Davis in Fall of 2009, calling into question the point of negotiations between one side that has the police at their disposal and the other side, the students, who are unarmed.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 11, 2012

One might have imagined that “negotiations” and “continued constructive dialogue” were merely a means of deferring, defusing, displacing the university struggle. They are certainly that. But it was clear last night in Mrak Hall that these are also a direct extension of police intimidation, of the immediately repressive apparatus of the administration.

This was the case, first, because our negotiations focused primarily upon the role of the police in last week’s occupation, thus turning our attention away from our collective bond in the present, and away from the future of the university, toward a retroactive struggle against an injustice done to our friends and comrades. That struggle is, of course, a crucial aspect of our solidarity, and it is no small thing that it was at least partially won last night. But as one impassioned student pointed out as the negotiations were concluding, she didn’t get fucking arrested in order for her fucking charges to be dropped. Presumably, she got arrested due to the immediate urgency of a total demand: an end to the destruction of our lives and our universities by the neoliberal agenda of state legislators and opportunistic administrators.

But the directly repressive role of dialogue was perhaps most evident in the fact that negotiations could not proceed without the presence of the police. It was during our first encounter with Vice Chancellor Janet Gong that the cops arrived on campus, called in before the negotiations began and establishing their positions under their cover. These were not riot cops, the Chief of Police informed us, but “police with tactical equipment.” While we were talking, these police with tactical equipment began closing down the doors of Mrak Hall, as they had on Thursday 19. We should note the simple structural fact that students were able to guard those doorsbecause they stopped talking to the administration. They rushed away from an endlessly circular conversation and into tactical positions; they had to remove themselves from the essentially performative scenario of dialogue in order to carry out the concrete task of defending their preferred configuration of the building against the police. Successfully defending those doors against closure last night was perhaps a greater victory than any eventual concession to our demands.

Unable to close the doors, the cops then closed off access to the washrooms. And this, too, occurred in a breach of good faith with the spirit of “negotiations”—one which only served to confirm their true function. Having expressed their emotional distress at the police presence—after having seen their friend violently arrested last week and videos of police brutality on the Berkeley campus—students demanded that the cops be sent off campus. Agreeing to “consider” this possibility for three to five minutes, administrators and the chief of police left the building—only to send in two columns of armed and helmeted officers while they were gone, striding through the crowd in order to check doors and to establish positions in a side hallway and at the top of the steps. Thereafter, all access to the washrooms was prohibited: an obvious tactic to both disperse occupiers from the building and to pressure negotiations toward a favorable outcome for the administration. The Vice Chancellor, the Chief of Police, and an armed police guard then returned to the building no sooner than thirty minutes later to resume the “conversation.”

It should be a clear and unyielding principle of any future occupations at UC Davis that there can be no discussion with the administration whatsoever while tactical police forces are on the campus. As long as the administration has already called the cops to arrest us whenever necessary, negotiations are a total sham, and must be treated as such. There can be no “discussion” with administrators once they have already called in repressive forces to coerce and intimidate their interlocutors. What happened at UCLA, UCD, UCB, and UCSC between Nov. 18 – Nov. 22 will not soon be forgotten: police deployments by the administration effectively militarized our campuses; students and faculty were arrested en masse; a UCSC professor fell from a second story patio and was carried from the scene on a stretcher; students at UCLA were tasered; a student at UC Davis was repeatedly slammed against the hood of a car; students at UC Berkeley were beaten and maimed by punitive riot cops. The nightstick, the taser, the riot shield became an extension of the bureaucratic violence of the administration. All this because students occupied buildings in order to refuse the privatization of their universities, as do students in Europe for weeks, without any police response whatsoever. The sequence of events that unfolded last week—and the UC administration’s accountability for the brutality that ensued—is a fact that has consequences. We will certainly continue to resist and to struggle collectively; but we should not enter in dialogue with administrators who have proven themselves to have no respect whatsoever for our collective well-being, until they prove otherwise by refusing to deploy police forces that have demonstrated their malice and incompetence.

But there is also a different story to tell about Mrak on Nov. 24, which was, after all, a victory of sorts. There are different modalities of victory. And if there was a victory yesterday afternoon and last night, it was not just that certain demands were met by administrators. It was a victory of the intellect sharpened by praxis. The day was a sequence of remarkably precise articulations from a multiplicity of perspectives and positions. When we spoke amongst ourselves, we showed that in the context of collective struggle we can cut through issues that all-too often confuse and divide the movement. We did so with no facilitator, no stack. When we spoke to the administration and the police, we felt the clear superiority of our goals, our motives, and our collective intelligence over their own. We understood, immediately, the legitimacy and integrity of our action. We felt the power of our being-correct.

There are no “students” “faculty” “staff” any longer, among those who manifest themselves at Mrak. There is collective determination breeding active reason, measuring the strength of its consequences.

Originally posted: November 26, 2009 at Whose University? Our University?