Occupy California

Posted: 30 September 2009 in Uncategorized
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The current crises of capitalism are affecting, in different ways, all aspects of U.S. society and all regions of the country. The budget cuts in California are certainly among the most dramatic.

In response to the cuts in higher education and the effects of the crises on the wider society, students at the University of California-Santa Cruz have occupied one of the campus buildings—and have asked for support for their occupation and called for more occupations throughout the state.

Here is an excerpt from their manifesto:

Let’s be frank: the promise of a financially secure life at the end of a university education is fast becoming an illusion. The jobs we are working toward will be no better than the jobs we already have to pay our way through school. Close to three-quarters of students work, many full-time. Even with these jobs, student loan volume rose 800 percent from 1977 to 2003. There is a direct connection between these deteriorating conditions and those impacting workers and families throughout California. Two million people are now unemployed across the state. 1.5 million more are underemployed out of a workforce of twenty million. As formerly secure, middle-class workers lose their homes to foreclosure, Depression-era shantytowns are cropping up across the state. The crisis is severe and widespread, yet the proposed solutions – the governor and state assembly organizing a bake sale to close the budget gap – are completely absurd.

T. J. Clark, who holds the George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair as Professor of Modern Art at the University of California-Berkeley and is the author of numerous books, including Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999) and, most recently, The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (2006), gave a recent speech at Berkeley on the current situation in California in relation to higher education. Here are some excerpts:

What I see in front of me – the banners, the faces, the demands – is the life of the university as I understand it. It is the university taking on form in the public sphere – escaping from the academic boardroom, shrugging off the jargon of the entrepreneurs and patent-seekers, and reminding us what a university really is. A university is not a brand name. It is not an umbrella organization for a 150 assorted corporate laboratories, with the faculty inside each striking bargains with their funders about how much or how little of the new knowledge they produce is immediately going to be “privatized.” A university – a public university – is not a finishing school for the sons and daughters of the shrinking few able to afford the fees. A university does not build its future on the backs of those most vulnerable in its midst – the men and women who keep the places we learn in safe and clean and continuing to function. A university – this is the last and vital element in its moral and intellectual life – does not see its crisis in isolation from the one that is threatening the state as a whole. It knows what is happening in schoolrooms in Richmond and Oakland and San Jose. It feels the despair of those for whom community college or the Cal State system seemed to offer a way forward, and who now see their courses cancelled and buildings shuttered. And all this – this is what is unforgivable – in a state whose concentrations of private and corporate wealth remain immense, but which a failed political system has put off limits even when the very life or death of our society is at stake.

There is a real emergency, we recognize, and many of us are willing to help address it. What do we want? What would bring us on board, as active participants in a work of reconstruction?Well, supposing we were presented with an honest and transparent and coherent plan for the preservation of the public university in hard times… Supposing the plan was one in which sacrifices really were shared – in which the pet projects and inflated building programs and hidden overhead were no longer off limits when cuts were discussed… Supposing the profit-generating parts of the UC system (and they exist, by the way) were asked – maybe temporarily, as part of the true emergency – to contribute a proportion of their surplus to the urgent needs of the university’s teaching heart… Supposing the preservation of the true economic, racial, and ethnic diversity of UC’s student body was an absolute priority, an un-negotiable part of our institution’s character… Supposing it was simply unthinkable for the university’s future to be decided, as Yudof and the Regents are planning, by a commission of professional school managers and technicians who seldom or never face an actual classroom or a lab…

Then we would come on board. And this can still happen, my friends. We are at a moment of near-breakdown, and no one is pretending that the way out of it will be pain-free. An immense amount depends on the wider politics of the state. It is up to us to argue the case for a public university – for public education – in a democracy in crisis. The crisis is real. But crises produce choices. They shine a light on managers and management-speak. They make another vision possible. They remind us of why we think teaching and learning and the production of new knowledge matter – why they are vital to the life of society at large –and they call us to fight to preserve the space in which they can thrive. The fight has begun.

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