What follows is intended to promote discussion and debate about tactics among all who wish to defeat the UNO budget cuts. The author is not advocating violence or illegality.
I believe in supporting those with whom I have a common struggle. This is an open letter to those who advocate fighting the budget cuts but criticize the student actions on September 1st, the day of the walkout. Most of the critiques I’m responding to aren’t from a particular person or organization, but just complants I and other people I’ve talked with have heard around town and in the university community. They were critiques that deserved a response.
Critique 1: The march was made up of “white middle-class male anarchists” or “outside agitators”
These slurs have been thrown around to discredit the students and members of the community who marched into the administration building on September first.
The reality (shown by photos and videos) is that a diverse group of people from different political, social, and economic backgrounds participated in a march that was violently halted by campus police. There certainly were white male anarchists in the crowd, but to credit them with the entire action is silencing and denying agency to the feminist women, the queer liberationists, and the people of color who participated in the march. Some of the marchers were anarchists, some socialists, some without a political identity, and some were liberals or conservatives. All we had in common is that we were fed up with inaction.
The phrase “white middle-class male anarchist” is used to conflate those identities into one, to define anarchist principles as inherently white, middle- or upper-class, and male. This ignores and silences the histories of (among others) working class anarchist movements, anarcha-feminism, and APOC*.
I will not use this space to defend or define anarchist principles. I recommend people seek out for themselves the works of Ashanti Alson, Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day, Leo Tolstoy, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky**, and other influential anarchist thinkers, to educate themselves about anarchist theory if its presence in this movement concerns or excites them.
As for the claim there were “outside agitators,” it is true that as well as students marching into the building, members of the New Orleans community, UNO alumni, professors from UNO and Loyola, women’s studies graduates from other regional universities and many other valued “outside agitators” physically expressed solidarity with our struggle that day. I can only thank them.
“Outside agitator”, is a phrase often used in the south, sometimes applied to labor organizers, more often used to defame white students who challenged their privilege and fought alongside people of color during the civil rights movement. Outside agitators have a proud tradition in the south, and I would only hope to have people in the movement worthy of the title.
Critique 2: “People were tricked into going into the administration building”
Short of blindfolding people, hypnotizing or drugging them, I am not sure how anyone could trick anyone else into marching into a building. Nobody said there was a permit. No one had any reason to believe the administration would grant a permit to march into the building. It did seem that our large numbers would prevent police retaliation; campus police initially stepped aside, allowing us to walk into the administration building. No-one expected the unprovoked violence the police then used against us. Blaming victims of police violence FOR police violence– blaming the abused for the abuse– only promotes the abusive culture of the current society and repressive environment of fear that has settled over our campus.
Critique 3: “This is bad press for the movement”
On this, I take the stance that any publicity is good publicity. Even if a particular action doesn’t itself garner approval—although responses from the larger New Orleans community were overwhelmingly positive, even on the usually reactionary NOLA.com—an action succeeds if it gets the issue (budget cuts) onto people’s minds. The dramatic nature of an occupation or a march through the administration building reflects the seriousness of the situation and the depth of the crisis. We need to keep UNO’s crisis in the community’s gaze, or we’ll be crushed to death quietly and invisibly.
As far as September 1st’s effects on more mainstream organizers, I feel it not only doesn’t damage them but to the contrary provides them additional leverage. This was the relationship between militancy and pacifism in the civil rights movement: a more disruptive action makes those in power nervous and backs them into a corner where they will more likely listen to the more mainstream, less disruptive counterpart. A good work on this history is, “The Deacons for Defense”, by local author and anti-racist activist Lance Hill.
Critique 4: “Why target the administration? They are not responsible for the cuts.”
Former Chancellor Tim Ryan’s response to the cuts was to increase admission standards. An e-mail he sent to the student body expressing this plan carried a tone of glee at making the university a more elitist institution. He said, “We are in the process of restructuring the University so that it is a leaner, more efficient, and more focused institution,” and, “There are many directions a university can take when it encounters adversity, but in my estimation the only viable option is to pursue the path of excellence.” He painted a pretty picture, but what those words meant were admission standards more exclusionary to students who faced economic and social disadvantage in their primary education.
Tim Ryan’s firing was bad news in that it consolidated John Lomabardi’s power over UNO, but Tim Ryan was at odds with the idea that the university is for all people. That meant his administration deserved and needed to be demonstrated against.
In conclusion, it is out of respect, care, and solidarity that I write this letter. I would like to engage in critical debate instead of infighting. This is my olive branch extended towards those who disagree with the tactics of September 1st. Please respond with constructive criticism, solidarity and questions. We all do want to defeat the budget cuts. We are all in this together.
*APOC refers to Anarchist People Of Color. The First APOC conference was in 2003 in Detroit, Michigan. The movement has held yearly conferences, spawning collectives, publications, actions, and other kinds of revolt.
**All the authors I mention offer some sort of introduction to anarchist thought. They represent various backgrounds and approaches to the subject, rooting their anarchist beliefs variously in Feminism, Black Power, Sexual Liberation, Ecology, Catholicism, Pacifism, Anti-colonialism and other traditions.