The September 1st UNO Walkout: Responses to criticism & an invitation to dialogue.

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.

Towards Solidarity

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.

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15 Responses to The September 1st UNO Walkout: Responses to criticism & an invitation to dialogue.

  1. I think the idea that your actions on the first gave the movement bad press is rediculous. In Mankato, MN I have often pointed to the action students have taken at the UNO and other universities to help highlight the various ways student resistance is blossoming. You have certainly been an inspiration to us and others.

    The criticism of anarchists has also happened in our actions, even though only a small handfull of those organizing resistance at MSU are anarchists. The idea that just because their are people of differing ideologies within a movement should reflect negatively on the movement is misguided since it creates divisions and saps power from students. Everyone needs to work together to fight these budget cuts, regardless of where they may stand politically.

    Keep on inspiring us,
    Bronson

  2. Puerto Rico says:

    Hey y’all, following the huge strikes of last April and the big marches of this summer, students of the University of Puerto Rico declared October 14th they will be occupying and paralyzing the campus once more beginning next Tuesday Oct. 19th starting with the Humanities department and moving on to the Education and Social Sciences departments. This is protesting the $800 quota the administration will impose on the students, even though they had reached an agreement during the April-June strike that the tuition would not be raised for 12 months. Source is in Spanish but translated article is below: http://www.elnuevodia.com/paralizaranfacultadesdelaupr-798419.html

    THEY WILL PARALYZE DEPARTMENTS OF THE UPR
    Por Cynthia López Cabán

    The students of the departments of Education and Humanities of the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico approved today motions to paralyze administrative and academic labor in their respective departments this coming week.

    The Humanities students, meeting at the assembly in front of the Institution Theater, agreed to occupy their department on October 19th. For their part, students of Education, met at the lobby of the department and approved to paralyze labor on October 21st.

    Throughout today, the departments of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences will hold assemblies to establish an agenda and strategy to fight the economic politics of the administration and the new $800 quota that should come into full swing next January.

    The students, professors, and employees of Social Sciences met in the lobby of the Ramon Emeterio Betances building. There they debated diverse topics like quota, budget reduction for the campus and the reduction of courses. They later approved a strike without opposition for October 21st.

    Also check out (for Spanish speakers):
    rojogallito.blogspot.com
    indymediapr.org

  3. a says:

    income tax increase proposed to pay for higher ed:
    http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/10/state_income_tax_increase_dedi.html

    TAX THE RICH NOT OUR INCOMES!
    TAX BIG OIL!
    TAX THE MILLION-DOLLAR-PLUS INCOME BRACKET!

  4. hotboyron says:

    Higher education initiative started:
    http://www.ktbs.com/education/25458219/detail.html

  5. Pingback: Video: Provost King at the City Council |

  6. bloodpressure says:

    Jindal sez “stop whining,” gloats over cuts, jets off to yet another out-of-state fundraiser…

    http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/10/gov_bobby_jindal_outlines_107.html

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