In an attempt to start writing a bit more frequently, I thought I would send a brief critique of some of the current practices of Take Back UCI, which is an implicit self-critique because I've been involved pretty heavily in the group. I'm not making any universal claims about movement politics through this engagement, and I'm not sure how valuable these comments will be outside of our particular context. I'd be curious if resonates with other folks issues or not, though. Perhaps we could get a small conversation going through this in the comments. I'm just going to present a list of my thoughts in no particular order.
1. Process. In the three to four years that I have been involved in UCI activist groups, this has been one of the most serious problems that has run through all the various groups and coalitions that I have been a part of. Unfortunately, Take Back UCI is no exception to this. Our meetings often run far longer than they should. We repeat ourselves in multiple meetings, and decisions frequently are not followed through on. Our lack of procedure additionally leads us to reinventing the wheel for a lot of our protests, taking a lot of time for stuff that should be routinized in order to focus on more interesting and serious problems. In addition to this, the forms of informality lead to an informal mechanism of exclusion of new folks getting involved in the group. These are all issues that could be solved through creating an atmosphere where meetings were guided by a set of simple rules that were discussed at the beginning of each meeting, rules that would guide conversation, and give new folks a more solid position to engage with the issues at the meeting. The question of follow up is a slightly more vexed question, but having more formalized notes as well as expanding on our designation of tasks could work towards resolving these problems.
It's notable that these same issues existed in the movement two years ago with far less of a negative impact, but those activist structures were far more hierarchical in nature. The informal structures worked well when small groups of individuals were making the decisions, rather than the horizontal structures that we are trying to work with. It's important to also note that those processes were only successful through a massive amount of labor on the part of those small groups, so I'm not criticizing them, but I do want to note that informality, rather than leading to strong democratic and horizontal organizing, often contributes to an atmosphere in which small, insider groups make the decisions, and that makes it extremely difficult to get into those groups. In many ways, I think that we have been trying to combine informality with grass roots structures, thinking that they are compatible forms of organizing, when in many ways they are not. If we want to use meeting spaces to fight the multiple structures of oppression in our society, rather than replicate them, we need structure. Not endless structure, but real mechanisms of decision making and follow through that allow for meaningful access and contributions for all.
2. Graduate Students. Yes, I am part of the problem. Graduate students have contributed to the shutting down of meeting space, through our tendency to talk too damn much in meetings. We're trained to do this sort of thing, and our classes are often structured on the expectations that we can an will speak up as graduate students. The problem is that this often freezes out undergraduates, and creates conversational settings that are not accessible to everyone involved. At the same time, we as graduate students haven't been doing enough talking outside the meeting setting, as a colleague has noted. We need to be doing a lot more work talking to our fellow graduate students and to the professors that we have greater access to, that is to say, we need to do more of the day to day organizing to enable bigger and more intensive actions. We need to encourage our friends and colleagues to teach the budget, and to bring these issues of public education into the classroom. In effect, we need to step back in meeting spaces, and step up as organizers in the spaces of the university where we have some influence.
3. Outreach. This is something that where we have had some substantial issues. We should be in regular and formal contact with the various organizations in the cross-cultural center, with various social groups, and out fliering. These are the sort of mechanisms that allow for events to bring thousands, rather than hundreds. We have been making an effort to talk to undergrads in various classrooms, but only in relationship to urgent actions. We need to engage with the social, cultural, and political life of the university to a greater extent. We should be talking to dance groups, the folks who run Acrobatics Everyday (they put on indie music shows), along with the substantial social and political groups on campuses. These groups have ideas and skills that can contribute to the movement. I'm not saying that they will be immediately on board. Our university has a powerful effect of depoliticization, but we can only become stronger through these interactions. We should begin every quarter by sending activists out to these various groups, along with making plans for that quarter, to invite them in to our processes, to criticize them, and to ask for there input into where we should be going, even if they don't want to be at our meetings
I have a few more points to make, and each of these deserves a great deal more time, but I'm going to leave there because I need to get on a plane to the Chicago Labor Notes conference soon.