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Re: <nettime> thedemands.org: list student protest demands (last
t byfield on Wed, 25 Nov 2015 07:06:42 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> thedemands.org: list student protest demands (last


On 23 Nov 2015, at 23:48, John Hopkins wrote:

It's Amurika, so if the students can post a letter-writing
animation on Vine it will be deemed a massive strategic success ...
clicktivism-clacktivism ... demands for everything from a Gaussian
grade distribution skewed hard to A+ A A- to classroom-branding to
corporately-determined curricula...

One thing I learned in fifteen years of teaching was to mistrust a certain kind of generational discourse that presents itself as a double-bind: 'Well, kids, we fucked everything up -- and/but it's up to you to save it!' But even that double-bind at least has the virtue of being half optimistic -- your remarks above are just negative. And not negative in the superficial sense of harshing someone's mellow. The subject of what you wrote seems to be 'students,' but they just appear as objects, automatons, empty vessels, and screens. Where's the subject in what you wrote? Muttering cynical fatalism from some 'outside,' AFAICT. And *that* is your contribution on the subject of a resurgence of student activism?

I spent a while earlier today working on a response to Dave Mandl's remarks, which I think are spot on, but I found it hard to organize my thoughts. Maybe not a bad thing, since in less than a day since, hmmm, let's see... More details came out about the thuggish attack on Mercutio Southall at a Trump rally. Five Black Lives Matter activists were shot in Minneapolis who were protesting, what for it, a police shooting of a young African-American man -- who, murky video suggests, may have been handcuffed at the time. And the city of Chicago released the dashcam video of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. And that's just the national news -- don't even get me started on how it related to the international news.

On a happier note, some amazing photos were floating around of a grizzled Bernie Sanders, who's still a major presidential candidate, sitting in a diner booth and enjoying lunch with 'Killer Mike,' an African-American rapper and activist several times his size. It's a scene straight out of Norman Rockwell, if only he were still alive to help us through these times. But, seriously, find the video of Killer Mike's speech introducing Sanders in Atlanta, and listen to the fabric of what he says and how he says it. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of different voices woven together in his voice, like he's seen and heard *too much*: too much pain, anger, sorrow, despair, loss, struggle, oppression.

Like I said, I found it hard to organize my thoughts because they orbit around a basic contradiction. On the one hand, the racist violence I've noted above isn't new, in fact it's a pillar of American culture; on the other hand, it *is* new. It's new that the lead GOP presidential candidate would deliver angry explicitly fascist tirades, and it's new that the kinds of armed white 'supremacist' losers who skulk around the edges of demonstrations they oppose would actually start shooting. Not unprecedented by any means, but really shocking and frightening.

But that contradiction can be unraveled a bit if we acknowledge just how deeply racism in America relies on 'delegating' exclusion and oppression to institutions. This allows notionally 'normal' white people to believe that *they* aren't racist while nevertheless reaping the benefits of racism.

This is important for understanding the activism sweeping US colleges now. As I clicked through page after page of student demands, I was struck by how *bureaucratic* many of them are. They're overwhelmingly concerned with the internal micropolitics of educational institutions. There's a lot of talk about things like 'campus climate,' and lots more about funding student organizations, initiatives, CDOs -- Chief Diversity Officers, of course. Many of the statements make precise demands about percentages, procedures, organizational structures, and dealdines -- so much so that the demand in one that an apology has to be hand-written barely sticks out. On the other hand, only a few of them even mention the macropolitical place of higher ed in the US, and when they do it's in mostly obligatory posturing like 'We demand free tuition!'

That seems strange, because I'd think -- in fact I *know* -- just how central finance is to every aspect of higher education. People talk about its financialization, but I think few realize just how completely it already has reshaped every structure, every procedure, every allocation, every evaluation, and of course the *expectations* of a few generations of academics. But the fact that it seems strange suggests that maybe it's time to rethink some basic assumptions.

The detailed administrative demands the demonstrators make can be seen in different ways. If we wanted to be cynical, we could read them in defeatist terms, as diminished horizons and an acceptance (even affirmation) of the clericalization of education. More harshly, we could say that some of it has the feel of rearranging deck chairs, though not on the Titanic. Or, if we want to be more optimistic, we can read them as savvy, tactical, and pragmatic -- evidence of how much progress students have made toward bridging the supposedly unbridgeable cultural divide that separated earlier generations of activists from faculty, administrators, and (often and wrongly forgotten) staff. I think it's a bit of both (and many other things), but one thing it's *not* is evidence of what you/John wrote. If anything, I think it's proof of how bankrupt those complaints are.

One other thing worth noting: It seems like most of the talk about 'citizen journalism' and speculation about 'technology' faded away when the subject turned to racial violence. Similarly, when #Occupy was all the rage there was lots of discussion about consensus, inclusion, diversity, horizontalism, infrastructure, etc -- but now that #BlackLivesMatter is front and center there's little or no interest in that Yankee-Latino/a melange of deliberate sociality and intentional communities. These discontinuities suggest just how deep, or maybe just how extensive, racial discrimination is in American culture. I say 'racial discrimination' rather than 'racism' in this context because I think it offers a useful distinction. 'Racism' suggests a conscious and probably articulate act; 'racial discrimination' seems more neutral or ambiguous in that respect, more open to impersonal or procedural processes.

Of all the ~groups we could accuse of racism in the US, the Occupy movement has got to be just about last on the list. It was far from perfect, but at times it set an dauntingly high standard for trying to come to grips with these kinds of issues -- and, though it's fallen way of out fashion, we should acknowledge the rich vocabulary it left us with. It's really a pity that there's been so effort to think through the relationship between Occupy and Black Lives Matter -- not so that Occupy can 'take credit' but, instead, because it would challenge us to treat everyone from the Ferguson demonstrators to the Mizzou *football team* as individuals with their own unique stories and heterogeneous relationships. Who led that strike? What other tactics were debated? Who made diplomatic concessions to keep the momentum going? What methods did they used to arrive at a consensus on such an unprecedented action? Who did they consult? Questions like that are vitally important, because the process of asking and answering them could help to disseminate those ideas and approaches. And you know what would be really revolutionary, and could decisively change how <cough>academia</cough> works? A political movement spreading through collegiate athletics. But the reason a scenario like that sound surreal is simple: racial discrimination.

Thinking about this all, it's a goddamn wonder that these student activists have been able to channel their experiences and their legitimate rage into demands. I disagree with a lot of what they say and how they say it, and I know firsthand from the last wave of occupations how easily student unrest can be hijacked by microfascists, subjectivist authoritarians, and nihilistic theory-poseurs. But that's all the more reason to listen and think about what they're saying and how they're saying it. It's hard to imagine a worse betrayal of the role of the teacher than to find yet another way -- on top of indentured servitude, say -- to steal the future from students.

Cheers,
T


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