Sunday, December 21, 2008

From an RSU member of The New School in Exile

I am writing this as a member of the New School Radical Student Union, a student organization whose goal "is to build a movement for social revolution. By social revolution, we mean a fundamental transformation in the defining values and institutions of the various spheres of social life (kinship, community, economy, polity, international relations)." However, in the article to which this response is directed (Rules of Thumb Learned by An Occupant of the New School i Exile), it seems that the only "revolutionaries" inside the New School In Exile's occupation of the Graduate Faculty Building were a group of about 20 anarchists. As many RSU members observed during the occupation, there was a feeling that anytime we opened our mouths we were immediately marginalized and scorned, so maybe it was difficult to actually hear our beliefs in the midst of holding a successful occupation. The RSU's constitution is explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and acknowledges the need for revolutionary organization (you can read more at radicalstudentunion.blogspot.com/).


To write that many RSU members had a "pro-negotiation, 'Just reason it out with the authorities' attitude" is disappointing. Again, maybe it was loud, but we weren't saying reason with the authorities, some were stressing the need to open a dialogue and articulate demands that would allow us to win so that we would have the feeling we had when we left last rather than leaving "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," as Tom Hayden puts it. Additionally, the split between those committed to direct action as a way to achieve our goals and those that were looking to begin a dialogue with the university administration is merely a tactical difference. There were many perspectives on what would have been the best way for the occupants to be able to leave the occupation victorious, which was the attitude of many of the RSU members

The claim that many "prominent [RSU] members were against the occupation," is highly inaccurate. In a meeting on Monday night, one RSU member proposed for the occupation to take place Thursday so that we could spend the next two days organizing the dorms and classroom buildings to spread the word about the occupation, articulate our demands, and get more people to join us either inside the occupation or outside in solidarity demonstrations. That proposal was voted down, but I fail to see where that equates to being against the occupation from the beginning (unfortunate perhaps as I'm sure many have read that a certain amount of New School students either did not know about the occupation or misunderstood its desired effect, something more prior organizing may have helped to limit). For a group with many, many members against the occupation from the beginning, the RSU sure did mobilize a large amount of people who were either participants in the occupation, or were helping to coordinate the demonstrations outside. This speaks to a certain amount of dedication in that some RSU members may have been divided in debate but were certainly united in action, something certainly lacking from some of the 20 revolutionary anarchists mentioned with the setting up of the "Autonomous Faction of Non-cooperation Against the Division of Labor." In fact, many of the RSU members who were participants were indeed willing to go to jail if necessary, and helped formulate demands and do what we could to keep the momentum going. Characterizing RSU members as being against direct action while being largely in attendance of an event that by definition was direct action is problematic as well. There was a difference in strategies in large part, for sure. I myself felt as though the occupation was being driven itself as a strategy when in fact it was part of a much more long-term struggle in which it was merely a tactic – albeit a highly successful one.

New York City is nowhere near the level of struggle taking place around the globe, and it will require a lot more patient organizing and education (which does not negate direct action) before it is. This occupation was an important first step towards more militant action, but we must keep in mind what things were like before the occupation. As it stands, Kerrey, Murtha, and Millard are still in power, yet we could not be in a better place going into the next semester. We must learn from these actions and begin to work together to build the type of student movement needed to take back the university from the warlords and business people who have final decision making power in how the school operates. The occupants of the Graduate Faculty Building articulated a very clear demand for a university in which students, faculty, and staff have a say in the operations of the university in proportion to the degree they are affected. Let us celebrate our significant victory and join in building a student movement capable of being a catalyst for the type of change that our society needs. Education, protests, occupations, and strikes – we must do whatever we can to build a movement and take back our university.

Member,

Radical Student Union
The New School in Exile

24 comments:

  1. A cordial response, from another occupant inside:

    "It seemed as though anytime we opened our mouths we were immediately marginalized and scorned."

    Are you kidding me? You all talked about 20 times more than any other single individual. Please, ask ANYONE else!!! Your style of meeting take-overs is very effective in weakening everyone until they are forced to listen to you. This should have been stopped immediately, but everyone was too distracted by the security to do anything.

    "The RSU's constitution is explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and acknowledges the need for revolutionary organization"

    A constitution says NOTHING about what you actually do. In fact, it is usually used as an alibi for what you CANNOT and DO NOT do.

    "The claim that many "prominent [RSU] members were against the occupation," is highly inaccurate. "

    Wow, history gets re-written so fast. Do you remember all the meetings leading up to it? Do you remember how every proposal to act was blocked by you all because it wasn't controlled by you? Only if you controlled it, had your name on it, got recognition for it, would you do it. Once it happened, against your will, you all came to it predictably to try and take it over.You were only allowed to do that because everyone knew how insignificant you were. You future politicians make me sick.

    "For a group with many, many members against it from the beginning, the RSU sure did mobilize a large amount of people who were either participants in the occupation, or were helping to coordinate the demonstrations outside"

    Again, not true. Many people did not come BECAUSE of the RSU. Once they found out it wasn't actually an RSU event, they came. Noone needs you, but you surely do need this for your activist resumes.

    "In fact, many of the RSU members who were participants were indeed willing to go to jail if necessary, and helped formulate demands and do what we could to keep the momentum going."

    Were those the same members that would repeatedly talk and dominate every meeting, and then leave right afterwards because they had something 'better' to do? Or were those the ones that wanted to leave at 7am the first morning? Or were those the ones who called meetings every 15 minutes which consistently destroyed every shred of momentum? Anytime things were exciting, be sure that a meeting would be called immediately to recuperate that energy into the party-like machine of the RSU.

    "I myself felt as though the occupation was being driven itself as a strategy when in fact it was part of a much more long-term struggle in which it was merely a tactic – albeit a highly successful one."

    Long-term struggle? You're "long-term struggle" is a reified myth that you use to negate any desires for action that are not directed from your core leaders. Your long term struggle functions the same rhetorically as "real communism" did to the workers movement: an ever-receding future horizon, used only to justify the abuses of power in the present.

    "New York City is nowhere near the level of struggle taking place around the globe, and it will require a lot more patient organizing and education (which does not negate direct action) before it is. This occupation was an important first step towards more militant action, but we must keep in mind what things were like before the occupation"

    Again, you're telling us what is possible and what is not, so that you can limit what is beyond your own levels of commitment and courage. Thanks for the lesson on "patience" and "education". i'm glad the occupation was a "first step" for you, but for some of us, it was routine.

    "As it stands, Kerrey, Murtha, and Millard are still in power, yet we could not be in a better place going into the next semester."

    This was exactly the point you rejected in all of the lead up to the occupation, remember? You said that we would be in a worse point going into the next semester if we did an occupation. Nice recuperation.

    "Let us celebrate our significant victory and join in building a student movement capable of being a catalyst for the type of change that our society needs. Education, protests, occupations, and strikes – we must do whatever we can to build a movement and take back our university."

    Build the PARTY! I mean, movement! Yes, towards the consolidation of power into the MOVEMENT! Anything for the MOVEMENT! only the MOVEMENT can act! All praise the glorious MOVEMENT!

    You don't need to lie to get things done. Movements, in the way you know them, are dead; future struggles will grind their gravestones into rocks for the insurrections to come.

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  2. Listen: we all worked together and got that shit done. Different people and groups had different skills. I think what was amazing was how they were coordinated without the whole thing falling apart. The goal is to utilize as many strategies as possible. RSU was into demands and meetings; so be it. They were able to do that and keep themselves occupied (no pun intended). Lets try to stay sane, while accepting our differences. We are stronger together because we are so different. What unites us is not any positive vision, but the object of our hate: Kerrey. Let's maintain that.

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  3. one more:

    "I myself felt as though the occupation was being driven itself as a strategy when in fact it was part of a much more long-term struggle in which it was merely a tactic – albeit a highly successful one."

    This needs to be problematized. Occupation is NOT a tactic towards an end, neither is it an end in itself. There is no movementism or activistism here. Rather, it shatters the easy binary between tactics and strategy that professional activists so commonly use to beat up their opponents.

    Occupation is precisely a means without end, a form of action that perpetuates other forms of action without an end in sight. It is pure means, a gesture incapable of being reduced to a moment in or tactic of the 'much-more-long-term-struggle'. If we don't rethink the relation between means and ends, then we have learned nothing in the last century, and we may as well return to the 19th.

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  4. You must realize that the NS isn't a radical institution. The senior faculty who initiated the no-confidence voting are the most conservative segment of the university structure. They are concerned with budgets, hiring, travel funds, etc. The less senior faculty also is conservative with respect to the institution: there are mortgages, credit card bills, and private schools to be paid for and, hence, the boat will only be gently rocked by this group.

    Kerrey is in crisis management mode and he's succeeded very well: each "concession" consolidates his survival. The only chance to bring about his removal was an over-reaction on his part. Someone has clearly put him under control and don't expect more public statements along the lines of "not fearing any vote the faculty might take." He knows how to play the game and he'll pay off the faculty and Deans with organic carrots. In the end, you'll be isolated and the subject of ridicule by the wits at Gawker.

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  6. "Lets try to stay sane, while accepting our differences. We are stronger together because we are so different."

    On point, thank you.

    The amount of bickering that occurs on this blog is in no way helpful to our cause. This is a public site and the New School in Exile looks increasingly childish as the self-important rhetoric continues.
    It is my understanding that the only way we can move forward as a student body striving for community is by making real efforts to build community. Seeing as many a movement has fallen on account of egotistical leadership and inability to compromise, it would be stupid of us to split into factions so quickly. We have work to do.

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  8. I am reading these comments and crying.

    I am disgusted
    I am hurt

    what's the point of even arguing with these people? if it doesn't fit into their dogmatic ideologies its not legitimate.

    jenneufille,
    The RSU never blocked anything. Some members brought up concerns at the meeting but almost all of us wanted to do an occupation--just not Tuesday night.

    I'm not going to comment on all your other points because its honestly a worthless waste of my time. I can't begin to articulate how disgusted and betrayed I feel by you people.

    If you have something to say to me then say it my face.

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  9. I think all these debates are good, but i wish people weren't so harsh to each other.

    Meaghan, i hope you continue to do whatever you do to make this world a better place. Don't give up yet!

    Everyone else, if you talk so much, i hope you act on your ideas and not just criticize others.

    Bickering is ok, but when it counts, we should transfer our rage to the authorities and fight them!

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  10. We in the Polytechnic at Athens read your petty-bourgeois bickering and simpering with disgust. You who initially gave us so much hope, hope of solidarity in a growing worldwide revolutionary explosion, emerged as pseudo-revolutionaries, infantile clowns who barricaded yourselves in a room without toilets and then negotiated lollypop concessions from the neoglobal facists, like access to the men's room. Clowns! Return to your mommies now, eat your fat Christmas turkeys. I, Aristophanes Polytripas, and my brothers and sisters will continue the fight on the streets of Athens without you. TRAITORS!

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  11. Obarbas, come on. You have autonomy from the police in your universities, we don't! BIG Difference. Please, don't forget that. If we had that, i'm sure we would all still be there right now.

    Traitors? No! You write like an internet troll. When we were stopping the cops and blocking security who are surrounding us on all sides, and also when we fight each other inside, then i think we are pretty strong, no matter the arguments. When everything hit the fan, everyone came together, building barricades and staying together. i'm real proud of it all and you should be too!

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  12. The pride of a neophyte. Fly to Athens and prove your commitment to the struggle against neoglobal-fascistic oppression. Amateurs!

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  14. Obarbas is cleary a fake poster, he spelled "aristophanes" two different ways and his AIM ID name is "obarbasNYC"
    just ignore

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  15. Meaghan, my comments were not directed towards you, but to the Men who repeatedly spoke for (and acted in the name of) the RSU. I should know; I used to be in the RSU.

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  16. I heard an interview on the radio - 820AM - w/ a graduate student identidied as the "media Liason" for the students having the sit in. When asked what their issue with school president Bob Kerry was two basic answers were given. First this student went into specifics - Kerry's support of the Iraq war, then a mention of vietnam and his service which included Special Forces and a mention of war crimes - no details regarding the specifics of these alleged crimes. Then the student launched into a missive about democracy and progressive values. Finally he ended w/ what he considered concrete complaints retaining to the running of the school: that Kerry makes unilateral decisions and the students are demanding more of a voice. The student did not elaborate, nor did the interviewer press him for examples.
    I'm confused on 2 ends. When did we become the former Soviet Union where 1) a man is pressured to give up his position as president of a school because of an unpopular opinion regarding a war. 2) When you make an accusation of war crimes, you back it up - smearing someone w/ such an accusation is meant only to deligitimize them, take away there voice, make them an umperson, and is the favorite weapon of those who wish to crush dissent, and not those who wish to promote it.
    Finally, regarding Kerry and his unilateral decisions. True it is important for students to have a voice in the school, but not everything is a democracy. In the end certain decisions are left to individuals, who are then held accountable to them. If this student has a complaint regarding those decisions, that is fine. But then he should have listed those complaints. However, his personal feelings on a war has nothing to do with the running of the school. When their are people who complain about the "leftist" politics among the faculty at many schools, their complaints are not with these teachers personal beliefs, but when they try to force them on there students. As long as Bob Kerry is not forcing his own opinion on the war down other peoples throat, then the last I looked, we live in a free country, which thrives on different personal opinions. If, however, their are complaints regarding the running of the school, then lets hear specifics - and judge the man on that.

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  17. hp,

    before you claim that Mr. Kerrey is not forcing his political beliefs onto students, read up on the invitation of his buddy John McCain as a keynote speaker for the university graduation ceremony in 2006. As far as I know, the graduating class was not consulted on whether they wanted this man to address them during what was, by all rights, THEIR moment. Picking a hawkish politician gearing up for a presidential campaign to address people at a left-wing university is a blatant instance of impinging his own views on the student body.

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  18. Listen to me and pay close attention, Aryan Volk, alias ANDY FOLK

    To the United States I am obarbasNYC, to the Germans I am transliterated as GER, to the Italians I am IT, to the Russians I am RUS. And to me, you are a FOOL.

    Why do I devote an instant to you? Because my brothers and sisters have entrusted me with the task of Internet stimulus to anti neo-global fascistic oppression. And the banner on your window expressing solidarity with us, well, tears were wept in gratitude and not from the tear gas engulfing us.

    I have misspelled my name? In whose language? In yours, English, which is my second language, and over which I exercise a command far greater than yours of my mother tongue, Greek. I learned English in Britain. I assure you, in Greek I will sign my name always the same.

    My disappointment with your 'incident' is acute, and my patience with you wears thin. Do not dabble in what you call 'revolution' by barricading yourselves in a room without a toilet and chasing a one-legged man down the street hurling tomatoes. This is not revolution. This is theatre of the absurd.

    Feast on your turkeys.

    ARISTOPHANES POLYTRIPAS

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  20. "Listen to me and pay close attention, Aryan Volk, alias ANDY FOLK"

    hahahahaha

    not buyin it, nice try though

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  21. a word of clarification, because sometimes i speak too quickly -

    my above comment, like those from another user on here, was really directed toward only a few men in particular in the rsu, and i should have specified this from the beginning. all the ladies in the house, no offense intended - ya'll are great.

    to meaghan especially: i am really sorry and i definitely was not talking to you. you are are total badass and it was a pleasure hangin with you.

    final word: i am very proud of our occupation and excited to push this type of action in the future. i learned a lot, and i hope everyone else did too.

    merry xmas, happy hanukka one and all!

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  23. The RSU and the New School occupation

    There has been some discussion on this blog about the role of the RSU (Radical Student Union, formerly New School SDS) in the New School occupation. Much of this discussion has been unproductive in so far as it has merely consisted in the voicing of various views as to the credibility of the RSU and the relative contribution of its members to the occupation in terms of competing interpretations of the occupation and political action in general. There is however an important issue of factual contention that has been raised in the discussion: did RSU activists initially try to “block” the occupation, preventing it from happening?

    Not being a member of RSU I cannot speak for what the organization’s agreed policy was regarding the occupation proposal, and I suspect it never had a clearly defined one given the speed of events, but I can speak to the behavior of several prominent members of the organization during the lead up to the occupation on Wednesday the 17th of December.

    In an RSU meeting on Monday the 15th of December in which the idea of an imminent occupation was discussed, some doubts were raised as to the viability of the idea, but the overall sentiment in the meeting was broadly supportive. Yet the next day a rally to publicly put forward the proposal was attended by about 8 RSU activists who argued loudly against occupying that day. As people have already pointed out, some of the RSU voices in this meeting were arguing that an occupation could be called for the following Thursday, but it must be stressed that as many if not more voices from the RSU seemed to be either against an occupation per se, or for putting it off until the Spring.

    Moreover, some questions need to be raised as to the nature of the proposal to delay the occupation. I don’t doubt that those who made this proposal were sincere, but not only did it not appear to come from any consensus position in the organization, it was voiced late in the meeting and was not followed by any serious discussion of practicalities. On the contrary the meeting ended without any commitment by RSU members to follow through on this proposal, and with some members indicating that they would not support any occupation carried out by others beforehand. At the end of that meeting a vocal RSU activist also complained that the RSU had not been sufficiently consulted about the proposal to occupy, leading some to suppose that he opposed the proposal at least partly because it hadn’t come from the RSU, and thus threatened the ability of the RSU to present itself as the face of student radicalism at the New School.

    In the event all the RSU members who had opposed the idea of an occupation or argued for its delay till Thursday came to the occupation on Wednesday, including those who had indicated that they wouldn’t support it. Their support was welcomed by other participants and antagonisms that surfaced later only concerned individual RSU members, as the group itself did not tend to act as a unified body within the occupation (e.g. some members supported and others opposed direct actions taken to preserve and extend the occupation).

    In conclusion it must be said that while some of the accusations that have been leveled against the RSU are unfairly generalizing from the behavior of a few, it is true that a significant number of RSU members were initially opposed or highly doubtful about the idea of an occupation at the New School, and seemed to only join it once it was clear that it would happen anyway, with or without their support. Thus while I think it is hyperbolic to speak of RSU members trying to “block” the occupation, it is nonetheless clear to me that had their arguments been headed by others there would have been no occupation. However, all who participated in the occupation should celebrate the fact that they did join it in the end, and recognize that their dedication of their time, energy and personal safety was essential to its success.

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  24. "it is true that a significant number of RSU members were initially opposed or highly doubtful about the idea of an occupation at the New School, and seemed to only join it once it was clear that it would happen anyway, with or without their support."

    You are simply wrong. None of us were opposed or doubtful to the idea of an occupation in general. A few of us thought that it wouldn't work on Tuesday--I STILL BELIVE IT WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN AS SUCCESSFUL ON TUESDAY. And I'm glad we waited till Wednesday when more people could commit (remember when only 12 raised their hands to stay on Tuesday night?). And there were ALSO several RSU members there, perhaps less vocal, that were totally ready to throw down on Tuesday.

    Some people didn't feel comfortable putting their bodies on the line without any clear demands, strategy, or planning--they should not be looked down on for feeling so. I was told that the meeting on Tuesday was going to be an open discussion about planning an occupation...instead it was "We've already decided we're going to occupy tonight, join us or not." Which is fine, but don't pretend it was a planning meeting.

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