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A few thoughts on the Cooper Union occupation.

 

Cooper Union's current student occupation is as unique as the institution itself.

What started 20 (!) days ago as a sit-in protest against CU's impending tuition has now morphed into something entirely different. The very first day of the occupation, the administration threatened to arrest — and possibly expel — any students who did not leave that evening. Students called their bluff, and the big wigs blinked. Now occupiers have been calling the president's office home for more than two weeks straight, complete with delivery meals paid for by supporters, a frequent stream of guest speakers from around town, and even a chocolate cake created in the likeness of the CU's administration building.


Students in the President's office.

Saar Shemesh at {young}ist has a fascinating first-hand look into the nuts and bolts of the occupation:

On May 8 we began to hold the office space, exclaiming that it was “no longer the Office of the President, but an Office for Over 100 Presidents from the Cooper Community.” We chose to occupy the president’s office to show how we could make the space function for the institution better than had Bharucha – literally taking hold of the hub of the administration at Cooper.

I can't emphasize enough what a colossal blunder President Barucha and the Board of Trustees have made in not kicking the students out. They've abandoned one of the most strategic and symbolic spaces on CU's campus, and are seemingly at a loss as to what to do. They clearly didn't learn the lessons that the New School and NYU administrations learned from their occupations several years ago. As told by the New York Times:

Dr. Bharucha has been operating a government in exile from his home and other offices, doing what he can with e-mail and cellphones. “They have a tremendous amount of passion for Cooper,” he said diplomatically, “so this reflects a very understandable expression of their passion and frustration.” As for how long he was prepared to wait the students out, he said only, “We’re taking it one day at a time.”

And so, with a combination of administration incompetence and student confidence, we arrive at a rather unique situation. Barucha and friends have been back on their heels from the start of the occupation, and at this point they're just hoping they can wait the students out. All the students have to do at this point is give just a small push, and the administration will be down for the count.

Maybe the push is setting up a new, popularly elected Board of Trustees, and keeping the old Board from performing any function beyond disbanding itself. Maybe it's replacing all top administrative staff with elected and recallable faculty and student committees. Maybe it's establishing a student/staff/faculty General Assembly as the supreme decision-making body at Cooper, with veto power over all administration decisions.

The push could take any number of forms, but they would all stem from this fundamental understanding: students are now in charge of The Cooper Union. The President and the Board of Trustees are disliked, if not despised, by almost everyone. The President's office — the Winter Palace of any university — has been stormed and taken. Faculty and students are voting "no confidence" in Barucha in huge numbers, and student organizers should have an absolute majority of all students very soon, if they haven't already.

The central argument on which all university administrations base their legitimacy is a very simple. It boils down to:

There is no alternative. You students and professors could not run things as well as we can, certainly not if you waste all that time and energy running things democratically.

It's an argument that gets decimated on a fairly regular basis, and this time it's Cooper's turn. An administration who cast as one of its central revenue sources "expanded alumni donation" has managed to piss off and alienate just about every present, past, and future student. A President who is supposed to unify and cohere the institution pulls off the opposite, pitting arts and engineering departments against each other, and can't even be bothered to do a real Q&A with students (simply hiding behind pre-written questions on notecards). And, as a microcosm of all that's wrong with Wall Street, wealthy CU Trustees who have no real stake in the future of the school are given complete unaccountable control over hundreds of millions in Cooper's investments and property, and proceed to run it into the ground with absolutely zero consequence to themselves.

As one student occupier suggested, "maybe we don’t need a president at all." A truly democratic institution? For many universities, that's still a far-off dream. But for Cooper Union, for at least this moment, all that is needed is to reach out and take it.

Keep up-to-date on the latest by following Free Cooper Union on Twitter and Facebook.

Rutgers Student Occupation Day 2

For background information about the occupation, and a summary of its first day, check out my previous blogpost here.

UPDATE: 9:00PM: The student occupiers have left the building without arrest or (as of yet) any university disciplinary action.

The students made it through the night in the President's office in Old Queens, an administration building.

Eleven stayed the night, locked in by the police, and under constant threat of arrest and removal. Students were unable to get food, water, of medicine from the outside. Thankfully late at night via a makeshift pulley using an extension cord, students were able to get provisions (possibly including a pizza that UW students phoned in in solidarity!). 

This morning the sit-in students were officially allowed food by the administration, after many chants by protesters of "let them eat!"

At noon today the students held a press conference. Check out newly-released video from the first day of the occupation:

Rutgers Students Occupying President's Office!

For even newer info, check out the blog post for Day 2 of the occupation.

UPDATE: 4:44pm: I just talked to a student in the office - she said it looks like they're about to be arrested. Anyone near New Brunswick should get their ass to campus, to stand up against this!

UPDATE: 5:06PM: The Rutgers VP of Student Affairs told students that after the building closes at 5:00, the students will be "trespassing". It's six minutes past 5:00 now. RU's General Counsel was just seen walking in the building. Word is that some students will be leaving voluntarily, and others will refuse. Media is present: NBC4 has a camera on scene, and the AP has done at least one interview.

UPDATE: 5:13PM: This is actually one of several sit-ins over the past week, including at William & Mary, Emory, Tulane, and of course, the University of Wisconsin.

UPDATE: 5:58PM: No arrests yet. However, USAS has a page where you can email or call Rutgers Prez McCormick to give him a piece of your mind.

BIG UPDATE: 6:40PM: Rutgers students will NOT be arrested tonight! They'll be staying overnight, apparently with 2 cops present in the building. EPIC WIN.

UPDATE: 8:20PM: Students are now getting mixed signals about whether they can stay in overnight or not. Only time - and the size of crowds outside - will tell.

UPDATE: 8:30PM: Scroll down to the bottom for video of the sit-in!

UPDATE: 10:12PM: Via twitter, 11 students are inside, still no food or toiletries allowed in.

LSE is Occupied! An Interview

2010 LSE Occupation

On December 2nd, students at the London School of Economics and Political Science occupied the Old Building on campus, demanding the Administration take a stand against the looming education cuts coming from Parliament. I chatted with occupying LSE students Isla Woodcock ('11), Emma Kelly ('12), and Alice Stott ('13).

FSP: So first off, what's the overall mood in the building right now? What are folks doing?

LSE: Very positive. The events team are drawing up a schedule for the week, others are drafting our statement.We're all ecstatic about getting official union backing this afternoon after a vote!

FSP: Yes, I read that! How much organizing for the occupation itself was done under the auspices of the student union? Or was it more of an independent grouping of student activists?

Interview with an Occupier: A Closer Look at the UC Santa Cruz Occupation

University of California Santa Cruz Occupation

Also published at WireTap.

On the morning of September 24, students across the University of California's ten campuses awoke to their first class of the school year: an object lesson in labor and student resistance.

That day, thousands of faculty, students and staff joined to protest the massive budget cuts to the state's university system -- and to protest the complicity of the university's administrations and the Board of Regents.

California is facing a budget shortfall measuring in the tens of billions of dollars over the next several years. As a result of the unique legislative hurdles required to pass a budget (it requires two-thirds majority, which neither party has), no decisive action has been taken to close the fiscal gap. On July 24, as teachers and students were away from campus for the summer, Sacramento passed a budget that included $8.1 billion in education cuts.

Soon after, the University of California announced that tuition and fees for in-state students would increase more than 30 percent over the next year, coming on the heels of a previous 9.3 percent hike announced in May. Hundreds of university employees are being laid off with most remaining employees subject to furloughs. Faculty and staff unions, who saw the cuts looming well in advance, organized in opposition, calling for a walkout on the first day of classes.

Protesters' tactics vary by campus -- UC Berkeley saw thousands march through the streets, picketing, blocking intersections and holding teach-ins on the crisis and ways to reform the university; UC Davis saw support staff unions honoring picket lines and students briefly occupied the administration building; UCLA's protesters marched to and then occupied the chancellor's office, holding signs proclaiming "freeze our fees," "stop the privatization of our public UC" and "stop the layoffs, layoff Yudof" (referring to Mark Yudof, the president of the University of California system).

While building occupations were attempted on several campuses, only one of them -- the occupied Graduate Student Commons building at UC Santa Cruz -- is still ongoing. I had a chance to talk with one of the occupiers over the phone Friday morning (name withheld at their request).


For Student Power: How many UC system campuses have occupations right now?

UCSC Occupier: We believe we're the only one -- Berkeley attempted one and it was rapidly shut down. They were sabotaged by various liberal student government types, who let the cops in.

Over all, here, it's great! It's going amazingly smoothly, and it's in an optimal location. This building is in the only central location on campus, so we're really using it to propagandize a lot.

Actually, there was this spontaneous dance party that erupted down in the area below last night. A ton of freshmen came out of their dorms and partied with us on their first night on campus. So we think we're going to be using the space really effectively. So far the police haven't been too bothersome -- we got through the night without incident.

FSP: What's the primary function of that building?

UCSCO: It's a commons area for graduate students -- there are some offices and conferences are scheduled here, so we're interrupting those. But here we have access to the internet, computers, a printer -- even a coffee machine.

FSP: What are the students doing right now?

UCSCO: Some of us are milling around; we have a lot of literature that we drew up in the early stages, and I think we'll continue to draft some things. We're having meetings, talking about how we're going to expand this to different buildings and campuses. We're in contact with the Berkeley people and they may try something again.

FSP: What's the organizational impetus behind the whole walkout? When I see the headlines, it looks amazingly well-coordinated among students, faculty and staff.

UCSCO: For the occupations, specifically, there [were] a couple of meetings about something like this at the end of the spring quarter which fell through over the summer. The situation with the system-wide governance became a lot more pitched, and the faculty led the way and decided to schedule a walkout for the first day of school. The faculty were being forced to take furloughs, so they voted unanimously to hold those on instruction days. The Regents chose to ignore this and granted President Yudof emergency powers to get around that dissent and bypass any shared governance with faculty.

About 1,200 faculty system-wide signed up to walk out. On the same day, one of the service worker unions, UPTE, called for sympathy strikes, as did the clerical workers union. From the faculty's lead, then graduate students and undergraduates started organizing over the summer.

Some of us have been involved with the more "above ground" meetings, but the occupation was not actually planned by or with the strikers.

FSP: Tell me about the students occupying the building right now.

UCSCO: There are over 30 inside -- comprised of students, graduate students, some lecturers and a few staff and alumni.

FSP: Occupations more than anything hearken back to their predecessors in the late '60s and early '70s. Is there discussion on where this fits in historically?

UCSCO: Yes, it's been discussed, but some of us took issue with that comparison, because we're situating this specifically at what we consider to be a turning point in the history of capital. The '60s were a completely different period and they had to deal with different material conditions. We're focused on a very different horizon than those in the '60s. We are, of course, still drawing on that history; we're also drawing inspiration from the Chicago Windows and Doors occupation, and the recent occupations of the New School, NYU and University of Vermont.

FSP: Does UC Santa Cruz have a strong history of activism on campus, relative to other UC campuses? Have there been building occupations at UCSC in recent (or not-so-recent) history?

UCSCO: Santa Cruz does have a fairly strong history of activism relative to other UC campuses. David Horowitz thinks we're one of the worst in the nation, so that's something. Our anti-military recruitment campaign a few years back got us on the FBI's Terrorist Watch list; as far as occupations go, we're not really sure. There was a tree-sit two years ago where small buildings were constructed in trees, but beyond that, I think this is unprecedented.

FSP: How are decisions made among the occupiers?

UCSCO: We have really long meetings [laughs]. There isn't much of an organizational structure, honestly; we don't have a name or anything. It's just people who share concerns and share this tactic. In the run-up to this, we did have several meetings. We actually switched the location at the last minute. We decide by majority vote.

One of the things we didn't decide were demands, because this is a demandless occupation. We're pretty cognizant of the absurdity of issuing demands to people whose agency we don't believe in, as either causing this crisis, or being able to get us out.

So we're using this to make an appeal to all students and Californians to take this occupation further.

FSP: Do you think that having a demandless ocupation, one without even "transitional demands," may cost you some support from the population at-large?

UCSCO: We may lose some support, yes, but the impact on campus thus far has actually been so bemused in general that I'm not even sure they're aware that it's demandless. We'll see how it plays out from here.

FSP: You were saying how the Berkeley occupation was sabotaged by their erstwhile center-left allies. How are you arrayed ideologically inside the occupation? Are most folks self-described radicals, or is it a larger swath of the student population?

UCSCO: Actually, some people unaffiliated with us spontaneously tried to occupy another building on campus once they had heard about us; that was shut down very quickly, but some of them jumped over the railing and joined us. Some freshmen, whose very first day of college this was, who I don't think had a very strong political identity yet, jumped in and joined us. But yeah, there are some radicals here, but we're not all hard-line anarcho-primitivists or anything.

FSP: Are you seeing the protesting and occupying students shift in terms of demands and understanding of the situation? The walkouts started as a reaction to budget cuts, but do you get a sense that folks are widening the scope of their criticisms to more systemic causes?

UCSCO: The students organizing things are certainly widening their scope. Many of the people here on the inside I met last year in a relatively reactive, reformist-minded group which went nowhere; they’ve since begun, publicly at least, to issue these more systemic criticisms. The budget cuts do have terrifying, material effects for certain people, though, and therefore are obviously more interested in entering into negotiations when their livelihood is directly on the line, but its also becoming more apparent that the same pretexts for cuts are brought up again and again. We're looking at a solid decade of state fiscal emergencies, so hopefully people will begin to see what we're seeing.

FSP: I think a lot of students would love to know the play-by-play of how exactly you took the building.

UCSCO: We were a little worried about how we were going to deal with the workers who were going to be here. Thankfully, we found out the night before that the clerical workers union who would be staffing this building called a strike as well, so we expected that nobody was going to be here.

There was one woman, who I guess wasn't respecting the strike, and she was in her office. So we came in, and we were like "Uh, we have a study group meeting!" She was kind to us at first, but then she started getting suspicious.

Meanwhile, there was a rally and a general assembly being held at the base of the hill we're on, so we coordinated with people down there to try and turn it into a march to bring them up here. As we got word that there were 100 to 150 people coming up the drive, we had to put things in place, so we sent some people to talk to the secretary and she left the building. We then had blocks and tables and everything in place -- we started at 4:30 and had it locked down by 5:00.

FSP: If occupations don't spread, what's the end game?

UCSCO: If they don't spread immediately? That's a topic for discussion this morning, actually [laughs]. Worst case scenario, we walk out of here; we've demonstrated that occupation is on the table as a tactic that people can use. And we'll continue organizing, and trying actions like this in the future.

FSP: What's your best-case scenario?

UCSCO: Starting with the UC system, we get occupations going on every campus and we shut it down -- we demonstrate to them that they are running it in such a way that it cannot function, and that we will not allow it to function. Best case, of course, is occupations in every school and workplace -- students and workers stopping the theft by our own elected representatives. They're stealing from what is held in public, so the best-case end game is widespread occupation to stop this theft.

FSP: Your occupation has gotten statements of support from students and activist groups from all over. Is there anything you'd like to say to students across the country, who may be looking to the UC system walkout and this occupation as a source of inspiration?

UCSCO: Do it yourself -- occupy a building on your campus. The time for sitting at a table with negotiators, trying to figure out a more equitable way to, you know, cut off your left arm versus your right arm, has passed. We see no more point in petitioning, or requesting meetings with administrators. They can't give us anything; they've made that abundantly clear, at the very least in California. Time is past due to occupy and take your own spaces back for yourselves.

New School Occupation Redux: Summaries and Analysis

The New School Free Press has a nice timeline of events up, as does NYC Indymedia; the ever-reactionary NYULocal has a few photos from the short-lived occupation, as well as a piece prodding the NYU Administration to expel the NYU students involved. The New York Post interviews New School President Bob Kerrey, who idiotically laid out the terms of his own resignation:

This is the second student protest to unseat Kerrey in five months, but the former Senator from Nebraska said he is resolved to keep his seat, "unless the quality of my life deteriorates."

Below is a good short essay by New School student Dave Shukla that places the latest occupation in the larger struggle to reclaim the New School. When he writes "imagine what we could do," that's exactly what he wants us to do.

What Are You For?
by Dave Shukla

Yet another occupation. The entire center of campus around Fifth Avenue cordoned off by NYPD. Videos of cops beating up students on YouTube. What next?

Let’s be clear. It is a mistake to fixate solely on Kerrey. Among the pressures on the New School over the past eight years, he is simply a vector. He has position, mass, velocity, and direction. The question is, which?

Since December, there have been grudging concessions. Under scrutiny by the Trustees, the administration has been forced to act on some basic concerns – student space, a functioning student senate, tuition and financial aid relief, graduate student work compensation, socially responsible investment. While the administration expends great effort in trying to constrain student input or decision-making, these reforms nonetheless provide an entering wedge into shifting the structure of power in the university. Along with changes in the Faculty Senate, Deans’ Council, and especially the Provost’s Office, there is momentum that belies the argument that “nothing can fundamentally change until Kerrey is gone”.

This latest student action on Good Friday forces some difficult questions: How much closer are we to Kerrey’s resignation or removal? How much closer are we to rewriting his job description, or that of Murtha, Millard, Moskowitz, Gartner, Adams, Reimer or any of the rest of the administration that actually design and run the current business model of the university? How much closer is the New School to replacing these people, and repairing the damage they have done to the New School over the past eight years? How effective has student organizing and activism been over the past four months? Are we living our values, and is doing so yielding tangible results? What are we learning from?

Imagine that Kerrey is on his way out. Imagine that Murtha, Millard, all the rest are on their way out too. With them, the intense corporatization of the New School over the past eight years is at an end, and socially responsible financial practices provide us with long-term stability. Imagine what we could do.

Do you want a say in what student space is created in the new building at 65 Fifth Ave, or do you want another mess like the 16th St. building? Do you want a Starbucks on campus, or do you want work-study jobs to run a food co-op that serves healthy low-priced food? Do you want some of the most expensive dorms in the city, or do you want the costs cut in half by creating cooperative student housing? Do you want more tuition relief and financial aid? Do you want student representatives on the Board of Trustees? Do you want them to have the voting power that forces them to be taken seriously when fighting for student concerns? Is all of this news to you? If so, would you want a newspaper that was funded and staffed sufficiently to come out every week and cover every division?

In short, we all know what we are against. But what are we for?

New School Students Re-Occupy 65 5th Ave

Reports started flooding in early this morning, as a large group of New School students occupied and locked down the campus building at 65 5th Avenue. This action has seemingly come out of the blue, and it's hard to nail down a lot of specifics about what's going on. Whereas just the cafeteria in the building was taken last December, this occupation is aiming to control the entire building. The occupying students aren't affiliating themselves with either rival New School radical student group (Radical Student Union and New School in Exile), but I think it's safe to say there's a ton of overlap.

Cops are on the scene, and there are conflicting reports as to whether they've gotten inside the building at this point. The occupiers have a blog going:

http://reoccupied.wordpress.com/

There's also a FAQ, and a communique that was read by megaphone from on the roof, which from the text of it makes me think the occupation is primarily grad school students.

Keep an eye on NYC Indymedia too.

From NY1:


UPDATE: The occupiers are reporting both teargas released inside and four supporters arrested outside. I'm hearing that New School President Bob Kerrey told the NYPD they could do whatever they deemed necessary in removing the occupiers.

UPDATE: Aaaaand, it's over. All the remaining occupiers (19 in all) have been arrested and taken to the 6th Precinct. A call for people to rally there has been put out. Via a CBS affiliate.

NYU College Republicans and Democrats Lecture TBNYU on How to Create Radical Change

HURR DURRIn a move reminiscent of The Wall Street Journal criticizing David Graeber's anarchist credentials, the electoral and reformist student groups at NYU did their best at hand-wringing and concern trolling, through a press release (of course sent out after they knew how everything would turn out).

NYU Students and Administration Members,

Though “Take Back NYU!” (TBNYU) has raised legitimate concerns regarding the conduct of the NYU administration, we, the undersigned believe that these concerns should be expressed in a more constructive manner within the avenues that NYU has established for student advocacy.

Many NYU students support budget disclosure, financial aid reform, greater sensitivity to student concerns, and increased openness and transparency. However, we believe that:

1) TBNYU’s tactics are confrontational and disrespectful in a manner that alienates sympathetic students and prevents the university from constructive and respectful engagement.

2) TBNYU’s demands are too disjointed. Broader student support can only be achieved if demands are coherent and focused.

3) TBNYU’s conduct is not appropriate to the gravity of the situation and does not encourage the thoughtful discourse necessary.

We urge that the NYU administration not dismiss the concerns of TBNYU and continue to pursue an amicable end to the situation. Should they be raised in a more constructive and appropriate manner, whether by TBNYU or any other student group at NYU, we hope the administration will not close the door to future discussion on the issues.

We, the undersigned:
NYU Students Organizing for America
Students of Color and Allies
Think Torch
NYU College Democrats
NYU College Republicans
Political Union & Review at New York University

"Golly gosh! Can't we win a better university without ruffling any feathers? What if we just kept asking nicely urging NYU to open its books and for the Administration to cede power to democratic structures?"

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, TBNYU activists and allies can easily determine the mental status of their fair weather friends.

NYU Occupation - The Aftermath

(2/23/09 - Thanks to beet for the updates!)

From what I'm being told:

  • all the NYU students who were caught were suspended by the University.
  • Non-NYU students were simply released released after having their names, addresses, and photos taken (possible NYU charges against them in the near future).
  • All of those who were nabbed that have campus housing have been evicted as of now.
  • We still don't know what happened to the one student - Alex Deschamps - who was arrested last night. People are looking into it. Alex Deschamps is out and he's okay.
  • The Kimmel Center is re-opened for student use (so the idiots can get their quesadillas now).

Final statement by Take Back NYU!:

At around 2pm today, members of Take Back NYU! left the Kimmel Center for University Life, ending a 40 hour+ occupation. Their action made national and international news, and showcased the real power of the new student movement sweeping the globe.

No doubt NYU will begin attempting disciplinary action, but no suspensions, expulsions or arrests can contain what began in the last two days. This fight will carry on in the hands of the dozens of people who made it inside, and the hundreds more who came out to support the occupation. NYU showed its irrational need to defend secrecy and its exclusive hold on power, and that alone will drive this movement forward.

For everyone showing support: the real lesson here is that you can act and you can make a difference. Take the lessons from the occupation on to your own struggle, and begin to act yourself. Onward.

NYU Occupation - occupiers allowed to stay the night

Word from is that NYU Administration is "allowing" the occupiers to stay the night. I say "allowing" because at this point NYU isn't in a position to allow or disallow anything - hundreds of students both in and outside the building are the ones in control right now.

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