Friday, May 11, 2012

Part Two: Critique of Take Back UCI (self-critique)

      I'm now back from the Labor Notes conference, and have caught up on the sleep that I missed out on due to some enthusiastic grad student organizers from University of Wisconsin-Madison (never trust a Wisconsin grad student when he says he has 'a little bit of whiskey up in his hotel room.'  Their idea of 'a little bit' is far different than ours.)  I'm going to produce a bit of a write up of the conference later in the week, but I want to complete my thoughts on the (self) critique of Take Back UCI that I began on Thursday.  That initial comment got quite a bit of reads, but not much in the way of responses.  Hopefully, folks can begin a sort of conversation with the continuation of the piece here.  One last note, before I begin, my initial response got a fairly snarky and thoughtless response from Dmitriy Kunitskiy, host of the fairly uninteresting KUCI show, Countdown.  I'd like to distinguish my problems with the organization from his, which seem to be focused on both his fear of social justice movements and genuinely public spaces.  In any case, here is the second part of this article.

4. A lack of independent spaces for undergraduates:  This issue is a little more abstract than some of the other issues that I brought up in the first section of the article, but I think that it is equally significant.  One of the things that has struck me in the years that I have been at the University of California-Irvine is that there isn't a lot of spaces that are controlled by students.  The one exception might be the Cross-Cultural Center, but there seems to be a lot of admin control over that space, particularly manipulating the politics of that space through a lot of games around funding.  I don't want to dismiss the many great folks who do work there or some of the interesting projects, either, but it isn't independent space.  I'm used to the broader freedoms that we had at the university of minnesota, where the progressive student organization had a permanent office in the student center.  This was a space that we controlled with a very minimal rent that was paid for through the occasional benefit show at the whole (we once had a show where both Lifter Puller and Dillinger 4 played).  This gave us a place to meet, hang out, store stuff, talk, and think things through.   A number of folks are proposing a sort of independent, radical student library.  I think that this would really help activism a lot in Irvine if it was a genuinely independent undergrad space.

5. Media: Don't get me wrong.  There are a lot of limitations within this category that don't have anything to do with us.  It's not really surprising that we're not getting good coverage from the Orange County Register and the corporate media, but there is a lot of independent alternatives even in our area.  We have a number of potential contacts within KUCI, which we haven't taken as much advantage of as before.  We're not going to get a reasonable hearing from Countdown, but there are a number of interesting left wing folks on the station.  In addition, the OC Weekly has sympathetic folks, and there is the LA Pacifica station, which has expressed interest in us as well.  We've left press releases and connections to the last minute and haven't done the follow through on those connections, either.  Furthermore, we have lacked the independent media production that we have seen in other parts of the UC system.  Tetsuro Namba has produced some remarkably good analyses of the situation in UCI, but those essays haven't gone any farther than the local campus activist circles.  This is work that could contribute to the fight across the state, and we haven't created or followed through on the blog infrastructure to communicate with the rest of the state about those issues. (There are some things remaining from the 2009-2010 protests, but they haven't been utilized lately.)

6.  Provincialism:  One of the most frustrating things about the Irvine activist scene has been its lack of connection with the rest of the UC system, with its networks, its actions, etc.  These connections could contribute to having a better sense of the conflicts, ideas, and actions that are going on around us.  Moreover, we could contribute to the pool of ideas and actions that are going on.  We need to get our activists onto other campuses, and other cites of struggle, which the university is just one.  There are certainly some informal connections to the struggles in Santa Ana, as well as some older connections with the State University system that need to be rebuilt and strengthened, but those are limited to a small group of folks.  Similarly, we have connections to the rest of the UC system through union reform, but those connections are limited to a small group of folks, and haven't filtered down to the rank and file activists, particularly undergraduate activists.  I want to make it clear that I am not arguing that the activism outside of our small pond is superior to ours, far from it, but that engaging with folks involved in similar, but not the same project, can give us some perspective and creative ways of approaching our own projects.  I'd like to see our activist community tied into all social justice issues, but the question of the defense of public education seems to be the best place to start, given the common issues.  I also think that this needs to move beyond the university level to both the community college level as well as the CSUs.  Our common ability to think and act can be increased by this sort of communication, and I believe that we have as much to contribute in these conversations, as we have to receive.

I think that's it for now. 

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