Why occupation? Why barricades? Why would an emancipatory movement, one which seeks to unchain people from debt and compulsory labor, chain the doors of a building? Why would a group of people who deplore a university increasingly barricaded against would-be entrants itself erect barricades? This is the paradox: the space of UNO, open at multiple points, traversed by flows of students and teachers and workers, is open in appearance only. At root, as a social form, it is closed: closed to the majority of young people in this country by merit of the logic of class and race and citizenship; closed to the underpaid workers who enter only to clean the floors or serve meals in the dining commons; closed, as politics, to those who question its exclusions or answer with more than idle protest. To occupy a building, to lock it down against the police, is therefore to subtract ourselves, as much as possible, from the protocols and rules and property relations which govern us, which determine who goes where, and when, and how. To close it down means to open it up – to annul its administration by a cruel and indifferent set of powers, in order that those of us inside (and those who join us) can determine, freely and of our own volition, how and for whom it is to be used.
The university is already occupied—occupied by capital and the state and its autocratic regime of “emergency powers.” Of course, taking over a building is simply the first step, since our real target is not this or that edifice but a system of social relations. If possible, once this space has been fully emancipated, once we successfully defend ourselves against the police and administrators who themselves defend, mercilessly, the inegalitarian protocols of the university, the rule of the budget and its calculated exclusions, then we can open the doors to all who wish to join us, we can come and go freely and let others take our place in determining how the space is used. But we stand no chance of doing so under police watch, having sat down in the building with the doors open, ready to get dragged out five or six hours or a day later. Once our numbers are sufficient to hold a space indefinitely, then we can dispense with locks.
Our goal is straightforward: to broadcast from this space the simple truth that, yes, it is possible to take what was never yours, yes, it is possible for workers to take over their workplaces in the face of mass layoffs; for communities where two-thirds of the houses stand empty, foreclosed by banks swollen with government largesse, to take over those houses and give them to all who need a place to live. It is not just possible; as the current arrangement of things becomes evermore incapable of providing for us, it is necessary. We are guided by a simple maxim: omnia sunt communia, everything belongs to everybody, as a famous heretic once said. This is the only property of things which we respect. If possible, we will use this space as a staging ground for the generalization of this principle, here and elsewhere, a staging ground for the occupation of another building, and another, and another, for the continuation of the strike and its extension beyond the university. Then we can decide not what we want but what we will do. If we fail this time, if we fall short, so be it. The call will remain.
(adapted from the Wheeler Hall Occupiers in California Nov. 21 2009)
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- Video: Provost King at the City Council
- The September 1st UNO Walkout: Responses to criticism & an invitation to dialogue.
- Media Round-Up #2: the movement is growing!