SDS Womyn's Caucus Blog

Why I’m More Inspired by UC Student Actions than I am by NYC Student Actions

Posted on: November 20, 2009

-reposted from facebook with permission-

written by Farah Khimji (former SDS member and organizer from Take Back NYU)

Look at the pictures. pics from new york all look similar to this:

UCLA

and like this (except, you know, with much less sunshine):

UCLA

but at the uc actions, not only are there angry white punkish anarcho-kids (which, don’t get me wrong, i do love y’all) but there are ALSO photos like this:

UCLA

UCLA

UCLA

UCLA

See a difference? yeah, that’s right, there are ACTUALLY WAY MORE students of color who are being radicalized, standing up, and fighting back. they’re not all caught up in the trappings of white anarcho-punk subculture (look! they wear colors! and no bandanas! and they’re also wearing their college sweatshirts, oh dear god, SCHOOL SPIRIT!) – instead, they’re caught up in the fact that their tuition is going up by 32%, that their classes are regularly cancelled due to lack of funding, that this is the ONLY WAY THEY CAN GO TO SCHOOL and it’s being taken away from them. they aren’t fighting back against bourgeois ennui and problems with authority, and they aren’t checking to make sure their black bandanas are hanging out of their ass pocket, just so, before they go out to march. they aren’t even fighting because they don’t want to graduate from private school with a fuck ton of debt. nope – they’re fighting to actually be able to go to school. if nyu/new school raises tuition – and we know they will – we’re just gonna dig deeper into our loan pockets and keep paying. we aren’t having our classes canceled because our school couldn’t afford to keep them open. we didn’t come back over the summer to find out that hundreds of professors and staff had been fired, and that the tuition we’d already paid suddenly wasn’t going to be enough to cover us for the whole year. now, THAT is something to get seriously pissed off about.

why am i writing this? well, i’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately, one of them being my very deep dissatisfaction and feeling of alienation from “the radical scene” in new york. these feelings come not from the fact that i don’t share similar political beliefs – i’m as much an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, smash-hierarchy kind of person as the next anarcho-dude. my dissatisfaction & alienation come from not feeling a part of (nor wanting to be a part of) the sort of material trappings of the anarchist scene. i don’t wear all black, unless i’m in a black block, and no i don’t feel the need to have my bandana swinging from the pocket of my supertight torn black pants all the time. no, i don’t identify with your insurrectionist zine because it doesn’t pull from my life experiences, or leaves very important life experiences out of its rhetoric (like race & gender). to put it frankly, the radical scene here makes me feel whitewashed. and i don’t like being whitewashed, because it’s something i’ve felt like i’ve had to do for most of my life. and i’m beginning to refuse, consistantly and constantly, to ever be whitewashed again. problem is, my refusal to be whitewashed also makes me feel like i’m not welcome.

the number of times i’ve been told, jokingly of course, that i don’t “look radical” or that they thought i was a “norm” or they’re “surprised” by “how radical” i turned out to be once they got to know me – all of these times make me realize just how much these otherwise good folks are caught up in a certain white subculture that i’ve never wanted to be a part of. looking around the room and realizing that not only am i the only non-white face, but i’m also the only one wearing blue jeans, is getting really fucking tiring. and my problem isn’t that folks like to wear these things and express their radicalism in these ways – that’s fine, if it makes you feel good, then go for it. what pisses me off, what makes me want to not be a part of it any more, is that i am judged as not-quite-radical because of the way that i look – or rather, the way that i don’t look. it feels yet again like i’m expected to assimilate. well, fuck you, i refuse to assimilate. fuck your cultural hegemony, fuck the fact that you call yourselves anti-racists but you don’t have a problem with trying to whitewash me. i’ve fucking had it.

and so, i return back to my original point: why i’m so much more inspired by uc student actions than i am by nyc student actions. clearly, i care deeply about what happened (and what will continue to happen) on our campuses here in nyc – i participated in these actions, and cared enough to get arrested with a bunch of strangers, most of whom i’d just met a week before. but it’s because of shit like this that i’ve stopped feeling like i can be a part of this, on my terms, without compromising who i am and who i want to be. but when i look at press from uc, and read about the percentages of students of color, and see people in the photos who i can actually identify with, i feel inspired by them. we run around asking ourselves how the fuck are they doing this, how are they getting so many people involved (500 at the last ucsc campus shutdown, wtf?), why can’t we accomplish things on this scale? well, maybe this is part of the reason: because we alienate people. and i don’t mean we’re too anarchist, we’re too militant, and that’s why we alienate people. no, that’s not why i feel alienated. we alienate people because its just so goddamn important to look and act like a white kid who got politicized by listening to punk and grew up to read the coming insurrection. maybe if that stopped being an unspoken prerequisite, maybe more rad folks would be willing to work with us. hasn’t anyone ever wondered why some apoc folks are so angry <http://illvox.org/2009/07/smack-a-white-boy-round-two-crimethinc-eviction/> at what they call the “white anarchist movement”? we alienate people because race is hardly ever addressed, and if it is then it takes a person of color to agitate for it to be addressed.

so yeah. i’m really fucking inspired by students at ucsc, because when i look at those students, i feel like i’d fit in and be accepted much more than i do here. those people look like they could be my people. some days i’m not even sure if i really have people here.

Graffiti at UCSC

21 Responses to "Why I’m More Inspired by UC Student Actions than I am by NYC Student Actions"

this is great–thank you so much for sharing this <a3

I agree wholeheartedly and as a poc, have felt this way too. Thanks so much for posting.

I am glad you wrote this, because it really puts a finger on something that took me a long time to realize.

i already said this on facebook, but this is really awesome. it definitely made me think a lot about my own role in perpetuating white subculture.

i think what is attractive about recreating these stupid hierarchies in our subcultures, is that a lot of radical white people feel marginalized from mainstream white culture, and this becomes a heavy identifier for us, since white people are taught we have no culture. many of us try to cling to whatever we think makes us different, in this case, being “radical” and we try to create a culture around simply NOT being the mainstream. (hope this makes sense?)

i think this is problematic because it’s reactionary and nothing else. if dominant society says to sanitize all the time, we’ll be dirty. if it says to shave your hair, we don’t. if it says to take pills to be happy, we are angry and sad and wear black. none of this stuff is inherently bad, and i think letting go of these pointless standards can be very empowering. BUT it becomes bad when we create hierarchies that equate coolness (i.e. degree of radicalness) with being the dirtiest, hairiest, saddest angry punk. what we should be working towards is a free society where everyone can choose to shower as often as they feel like it, to wear whatever colors they want, to feel however they feel, etc.

so yeah…i guess i’m saying i think white people create these hierarchies because we feel like WE have been marginalized in the mainstream and we want to create an alternative hierarchy where US and OUR “VALUES” can be on top. and by doing so, we not only alienate other white people (whom, after all, we are purposefully trying to distance ourselves from), but POCs and other non-dominant groups – the people who ACTUALLY ARE marginalized.

i don’t think there is an easy solution to this…i know that after reading this essay i will definitely try to be more aware of when i participate in recreating hierarchy and white supremacy in my subculture. i will do my best to recognize when other white people are doing it and to call them out. unfortunately, though, i feel like it’s something that is learned best with time and experience.

anyway….i know that was kind of long but i feel like there is a hell of a lot that can be unpacked from farah’s post. anyone else wanna chime in?

Agreed agreed agreed!!! I just saw people from NYU and New School speak about occupations this weekend, had these same things in mind, and I couldn’t agree more. People need to realize who they’re organizing with, what they hope to accomplish (both in terms of overarching aspirations and more tangible, pragmatic goals) and need to check their fucking privilege, because examining and deconstructing all of those things is essential to effective political action.

The influence of hierarchy, capitalism, authority, racism, sexism, etc. etc. on the lives of these students is undeniable, but I think that acknowledging and encouraging diversity in ideas is just as important as diversity in people here- i.e., people have different reasons for organizing, for protesting, for occupying, for wanting shit to change at their schools, and not everyone does it from a purely anti-capitalist (or whatever) perspective.

And in reference to what you call the material trappings of the anarchist scene- I feel you, and I think another very important source of privilege that needs to be checked in these situations is socio-economic status. Fighting back against capitalism and the fucked up bureaucracy of academic institutions is at the crux of these political actions, but the reasons and motivations of students who participate in occupations and rallies and the like at their schools is going to be effected by whether their school’s budget crisis is going to make it impossible for them to afford school.

As activists and organizers (and in every aspect of our lives, for that matter), we need to stop alienating people and realize how important human connection is to the work we do. Through our activism, isn’t an important end goal to make peoples’ lives better, freer, more liberated, and more autonomous? It’s hard to do that when you’re making people feel like shit at the same time, and feel like they don’t have a stake in what’s going on. Being nice is radical!

AMEN.

Those occupations had such fucked up dynamics… I feel like I’m still recovering from them. AND for the most part, I don’t want anything to do with anyone involved in them! (Obviously you’re exempt from that).

I was shocked when I heard that there were folks from the new york occupations going on a speaking tour… gross! What could most of those angry white manarchist dudes have to say about them? How fun it was to be confrontational and so totally revolutionary and not take a shower for three days? I’m so over it.

Anyway, I think we all had a lot of lessons to learn from what went down there, from your post, from Robin’s comments… I know I have a lot of food for thought.

okay, but weren’t there positive aspects to the NYU occupations, for example, that have been less present in the UCSC occupations?

Internationalism and solidarity with the people of Palestine, for example, was central to the NYU demands.. which I think has been painfully lacking in the California occupations.

Obviously, there is a real importance to the California occupations, but I feel like this throws out the NYU/New School experiences rather than trying to learn from their both positive and negative aspects?

i totally agree that we need to *learn* from the nyu & new school occupations. i participated in both – and writing this piece was in no way meant to be a rejection of those occupations. i was proud of what happened, and i’m really glad i was a part of it. even though there’s definitely a lot that needs to be addressed about them.

rather, my critique is larger than just those two occupations. i’m a “new” anarchist, and i’m new to the anarchist communities/scenes in nyc, but after nearly a year i have some serious problems with it. my critique is about the entire thing, not just those two actions (but of course, for folks who don’t live in nyc, the occupations are all they have to go off of).

a short reply-

I think the NYC stuff in general was missing a lot. I think what eric mentions above is interesting, but not realistic. I think the New York stuff was a lot of running before we can walk. I think what the UC stuff has tapped into is a common public thread that can be radicalizing and can be used as a space to bring more attention onto issues like palestine, possibly leading to some demand on it in the future. I think that it is crucial to be in touch with the reality that most americans are not informed well enough to take a strong stance on palestine and something that rises out of ecnomic demands should be weary of isolating itself from a larger movement by making such demands that do not have an immediate effect or context to the work they are doing. I have heard that these actions have developed spaces to discuss a lot of these crucial issues, but we fail to develop these spaces when we run out with a political program that, however awesome, radical, and correct, is out of touch with the context. I think if this wa an atni-war movement, it would be entirely different, but if you can engage broad strokes in radical discussion, you want to do that and not isolate yourself politically by being “right”.

As a white male who has had an outsider’s perspective on the New york shit for a while, tho I have related to several folks who were involved, I too was inspired more by UC Strike and Occupations more than New York stuff from this past year. Yes, they were more diverse, but I also think they were able to achieve this because they related to and were part of a larger struggle that included the unions, the faculty, and seemingly, most of the left forces there. I think Cali has set a model of organizing for student/youth that is proven and works, and I think there is a ton to learn from this past week. I reflect a lot of the sentmient of everyone who has posted, New York shit seemed to isolated from reality and a larger movement. It even seemed to absorbed in its own issureectionary rhetoric at times. But there is a big difference b/w the both of these. The cali occupations come out of months of building a broad reistance movement and the occupations were largely successful and empowering because there was mass support and mobilizations outside of them. New york seems to have not had support that could even echo those levels or an aim to build a longer protracted struggle to build to a point such as this, it seemed more intersted in being more radical and politically “awesome”. I am glad there is some official sentiment and arguement out there like this, I would love to hear more womyn and people of color who were around the NYC stuff talk about thier experiences with it, too. With Cali, lets see where they go form here – occupations are good, but they only work when we are building a mass struggle, so as long as that is kept in mind they will be successful. One lesson from NYC, dont get caught up in practicing isolationary politics, have politics that reach out instead of close in.

there were plenty of limits to what was happening in nyc last year, but look – the united states gov’t is murdering people in mass in afghanistan,the global recession is killing 22 extra people every day from starvation, malnutrition, thirst and preventable disease, and a billion people are living in slums. it’s great that the uc actions involve people of color and that people there are fighting for their education, and the nyc actions could have gone a lot farther in terms of taking on a broader political scope (for just one example, the nyu kids adamantly refused to do anything when hillary clinton spoke at their commencement), but if this post up above was really narrow. we have to embrace both of these sets of actions and try to take them further and challenge the people involved in them.

I think your criticisms of “white” anarchism are pretty baseless, at least when it comes to the fundamental differences between the two student movements. I’ll be up front that I’m tired and weary of this lazy criticism that is directed at “white anarchists” or some variant of “anarchist subculture.” These kind of criticism would have more weight if they were directed at the *behavior* and *attitudes* expressed by some people, which includes people of different genders and races. I’m tired of people whining about “white anarchists” like they are some homogenous group of people. It’s also stupid and lazy to lump people together with people who do annoying things when they don’t do those annoying things. How about addressing the individuals who act annoyingly instead of labeling a group of people?

I think the fundamental difference between the two student movements boils down to self-interest, a basic motivation for prompting students to take action and protest. If my tuition is going to be raised 32%, that is going to get me to protest, even if I’m not politically inclined. That’s a lot of money, even for students from middle class families. This is not an expense that can easily be covered by most families with students in college.

The University of California system is also a huge system with lots of students, so naturally a broader cross section of students will turn out for protests. The UC system is state schools, so theoretically they should be more affordable than attending *any* college in NYC.

It’s been 20 years since I was last in school (graduate school at the Univ. of Wisconsin). I’m still dealing with student loans, which is difficult when it is so had to find full time work. And I paid so little in tuition then compared to today’s college costs. My sympathy is with the striking students. I just wish that people would give each other more respect and find ways to work together instead of resorting to broad generalizations.

@ 7|Eric: I think things are a bit more complex than the notion that internationalism was present at NYU and lacking in the UC occupations.

Yes, the NYU occupation included demands for scholarships for Palestinian students and for the rebuilding their university. But, internationalism and the national question are considerations that apply inside the borders of this country as well.

Here, they have implications not only for the development of political consciousness, but also for the question of whether student movements will be white or multinational, in terms of both participation and leadership. This is a question at the heart of the original post.

For example, like at many other elite schools, Black and Latino students are underrepresented at NYU, respectively 4.3% and 7.6% of undergrads. This is something to struggle around, being an issue that led to some of the most tactically militant Black campus struggles of the 1960s. What was the extent of efforts to develop ties with Black and Latino students and together formulate demands?

Wow, Chuck, you’re still resisting the voice of reason, huh? These are not “broad generalizations”, these are pointed, valid, criticisms, which the anarchist community ignores at its peril. Please, work past your denial.

I wanted to link to a piece I wrote this week, which is called “Why I Broke Up with the Anarchist Community” (it’s not stated in the piece but the city I am referring to is NYC). So I hear you LOUD and clear. The reason I dropped out of the anarchist scene was that, not only was the community not doing the work I considered most important, but they were also being continual assholes to women and POC. (Of course, not EVERYONE was an asshole, far from it, but the overall feeling in the scene was often one of oppression/repression for me. You know, having people tell me to shut up in lots of different ways.) After a while, you just say, ‘that ain’t for me’. You know? You have to draw the line somewhere, even if you are an anarchist.

Here’s the essay I wrote a few days ago: http://elevenoclockalchemy.wordpress.com/

i read your essay, and i think it’s really awesome & important. maybe you want to post it here as well? i can totally see these things happening to you in nyc. i wonder if we know each other or have met? i’d like to talk more & suggest a couple of anarchist communities in nyc that are much more supportive of poc & parents. my email is fnk205@gmail.com, i’d love it if you emailed me.

I think that people frequently forget that CUNY students are activists and that they are a way more diverse group than kids who attend NYU or the New School. I’ve seen plenty of CUNY demos where the student body is extremely diverse and super radical. Of course comparing a public school to a private school will show drastically different student types.

This piece accurately describes a lot of the probelms with the anarchist-activist subculture in today’s US, in particular its insularity and tendency to be extremely self-indulgent. This subculture does tend to be a predominantly white phenomenon, but actually much less so now that it was back in the 1980’s, when I started to be a part of it. And that’s not the whole of the problem here — and I relaize that the author isn’t simply reducing it to that, either.

A society gets the dissidents it deserves. Consumer capitalism elevates being perpetually and effortlessly entertained to being the highest possible form of human aspiration, and this warped notion of reality is loyally mirrored in the prevailing ethos of today’s circle-A-scenester-scene.

The following article describes, among a number of other things, how some typical circle-A-scenesters here in the SF Bay Area bailed en masse on a commitment they made to help get together something that was of at least some potential relevance to the everyday life concerns of working people to go have a self-indulgent, irrelevant “anti-globalization” riot instead:

http://www.infoshop.org/myep/muni_social_strikeout.html

Many of the scenesters in question weren’t white, so it’s definitely not just a skin color thing, but I think more a frivolous entertainment ethos thing.

Let me start by saying that this critique is an important one. It is, at this point, a very old one.
Why have we been reading these same frustrated words for so many years? Because white anarchists don’t listen?

I think a good amount of them do. I think even more anarchists drop out of activism and/or anarchism quicker than these problems can be adequately addressed. I also think that, of course, white people are not going to address their racial privilege easily. but that’s to be expected. realistically, people of an oppressor group never give up their privileges, except in the rarest of circumstances.
But i really dont want to damn anarchism. i believe that true anarchists (those genuinely invested in attacking ALL fixed unequal power relations) might be the MOST likely to address their privileges, be they race based, class based, gender, location, etc. etc….

I see the problem being that anarchism is too small. anarchism shouldn’t equate white punk dudes. there needs to be all kinds. the white dudes too, but they should be outnumbered.
we don’t need to be ONE scene or one subculture. we need to be many. and not scenes that are against each other, but scenes that address their own needs and stand in solidarity with other anarchist scenes as they come up against their enemies. (and-of course-anyone else fighting for dignity and against that which oppresses them) This of course would be an anarchist movement and not a scene at all…
(I think in some ways this fantasy of an anarchist movement exists. it’s a crying shame when people talk about anarchism under this presumption that it is all white people, or all dudes, or completely middle class. those of us who are not straight white dudes -or don’t have secret trust funds- need to start recognizing each other and giving ourselves props. we also need to connect so we don’t feel “whitewashed.”)
There are many problems with white and/or punk dominated punk anarchist scenes. They will not fix themselves over night. So i think what i’m asking is that you don’t wait for us.
“you” the woman, “you” the person of color, or “you” the embarrassed white ally. whoever you are.
you’re concerns are absolutely correct, but i believe you to be making a grave mistake if you think appealing to “the scene” or telling them “fuck you” will actually change it, what with its comfortability in whiteness and its tendency to recycle itself every three years as another generation gets frustrated and leaves, while another crop of 18-year-olds replace it.

no more appealing to people of an oppressor class for access into their camp! that’s liberal thinking, even if white anarchist are far from holding the same power as the State.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a “love it or leave it” speech. i don’t want anyone else to leave anarchism or “the struggle” –however that looks to you. i just think that oppression and privilege is something we will ALWAYS deal with. all of us. even if my image of an anarchist movement were to be fully realized, it too would be rife with different amounts and versions of sexism, racism, ect. in the various groups within it, despite how many “oppressed” people are in them.
if white anarchists don’t address your needs or alienate you, you should organize with other people whom you trust and make you stronger as a political agent. organize with people to build a strong movement.

i NEVER comment on blogs because i find the arguments to be circular and tear potential comrades apart more than they connect them, but this is so important. i hope my words are clear enough in this small space to resonate and not just start new endless bickering.

for transparency’s sake: i’m white, working class, never been to college, queer, born female but don’t always pass or feel like one, and am 25 years old and have participated in white dominated anarchist scenes for almost ten years. (i’m also in france hanging out with anarchists that are not the invisible committee and have never read the coming insurrection.)

finally, JESUS. never hang out with anyone that judges you based on how you dress. they are ignorant, immature, fools.

I just wanted to give kudos on this post because although I’m not an sds member anymore, I got an email about this blog and I do read it occasionally.

I have to say of all the reasons I left SDS, this was the biggest by far, and it’s what I usually attribute my bad feelings to when I’m asked about them. However, I do think it goes far beyond race and while I agree that’s a factor, I think it would be a mistake to imply a), that there is a complete lack of radical communities of color because that is just…not true and b) that by upholding this kind of culture in the organization you’re only alienating people of color.

This is far from being specific to SDS, but the group being alienated is simple. Normal kids! Normal students! “Mainstream” students! People that wear clothes from Target and H&M who listen to the music that actually gets played on the radio because they like it, not to “be ironic” or make fun of it. Kids who feel weird about the PC language and practices at meetings and stuff for reasons that aren’t just that they aren’t educated enough. Kids who are more than open to the idea that capitalism isn’t working for the common good but still want educations that are going to get them money-making jobs and who don’t understand why it’s ideal to feel guilty about every aspect of their everyday lives. Kids who know the two-party system and a whole lot else about U.S. politics sucks but still thought Obama was pretty cool.

I do agree that it would be incredibly difficult to completely transform the culture of an organization, and of course disingenuous to do it purposefully. People bond best with those they have something in common with, and of course that doesn’t always have to be how we dress.

I think SDS does a lot of interesting work, and I’m still on level with a lot of it. I still have a lot of friends in it and support some of your work. But I did leave because I felt like I was a bit too mainstream at heart for it and that I needed to be myself and be honest about it. I tried for a long time to understand and fit in, and it just wasn’t working anymore. And that’s fine because, along with what the previous poster mentioned, we all have to do what we think is best for us personally.

For transparency’s sake (yay!) I’m a mixed race, straight female, I’m middle class, 22, did go to college, was involved in radical organizing from when I was about 15 to a little over a year ago. I do still consider myself a leftist, but I’m a lot of other things as well.

I hope this doesn’t make you guys angry, I just wanted to chime in because it was interesting…LOVE YA!

This was great.

[...] college or not, are the ones protesting the loudest. I’d recommend checking out this link: Why I’m More Inspired by UC Student Actions than I am by NYC Student Actions: See a difference? yeah, that’s right, there are ACTUALLY WAY MORE students of color who are [...]

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