Next Generation

Next Generation


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Students for Quality Education Decolonize the University

Students for Quality Education Banner

More than 40 years after the struggles for free speech and ethnic studies at the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco State, students on the 23 campuses of the California State University (CSU) system are forging a new form for this generation’s protest movement.

Students for Quality Education (SQE) belongs to this new wave of organizations rising to protest cuts in the budget for higher education, increases in tuition, fees, and class sizes, reductions in available courses, and irresponsible salary increases for top administrators.

Nyala Wright, SQE, California State University East Bay
In my view, students are a definite part of the broader struggles of the 99% because we face the possibility of not being able to survive in an ever-growing economic downturn, despite getting an education. We carry some of the biggest debt in the country.  This debt and its increase over time due to loans are directly related to increased tuition and fees. Both will squeeze out people of lower-income backgrounds and thereby prevent any real success.
The driving force behind the efforts to privatize public higher education is the rich few who want to marginalize and push out lower income people, who are predominantly people of color. Behind privatization is a system that puts money towards prisons that are filled up with a majority of African Americans and Latinos. Our country spends billions of dollars on Afghanistan, yet there is no similar amount of money put towards the education system.  This continuing misallocation of funds to wars, prisons and other areas will lend itself to the collapse of our society and the people within it.
As far as Occupy is concerned, I would say that a more inclusive attitude is necessary in order to build community and actually have a more valuable effect on particular issues. I definitely feel that the Occupy movement needs to be more inclusive so others feel comfortable in taking part in making decisions and taking any actions thereafter. 

 These new groups differ from previous student organizing in their commitment to creating alliances with the community, eschewing the traditional privilege and presumed vanguard status of the educated class, and redefining university students as workers subject to the dictates of contemporary neoliberalism.
SQE’s specific demands grow out of this reframing. The group focuses on the growing debt burden that working class students are shouldering as public education is privatized. Its members actively engage other workers and activists in dialogue to build community.

But even more important than SQE’s connection to the wider community is its inclusionary practice, rooted in its conscious understanding of racial, gender and sexual identity differences. In this it surpasses its predecessors (such as the Free Speech Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, SNCC, and the Third World Liberation Front) as well as its contemporary allies in Occupy, who remain at a stage of debating and theorizing the deconstruction of white male privilege.
Abigail Andrade, SQE, California State University East Bay
As a first-time college student and Chicana single mother, I come from a low-income household and had always been told that college would be my ‘ticket’ to success. However, student debt and the current job market make me feel I’ll continue to be ‘stuck’ in an economic struggle for some time.
Although we are ‘student-activists’ and many of our actions involve issues in higher education, we’re constantly trying to connect with other social movements. We’ve held several SQE meetings at Occupy Oakland, we’ve gone as a group to the general strikes and p
ort shut-downs, and some members have been arrested at some of the actions.
Our actions have specific demands: Roll back student fees; fund higher education by taxing corporations; put decision-making power in the hands of students, faculty and staff; and democratize the Board of Trustees. Our demands are linked with Occupy Education, where we demand that California make education at all levels a priority and provide quality education in grades K-12, as well as in higher education.
On March 1, SQE organized “People’s University: Liberate Education.” Students conducted teach-ins on topics, such as radical theory, democratizing the Board of T
rustees, fee hikes, access to higher education, free speech, and faculty solidarity. This was all in an effort to educate our student body on issues that affect all of us within  CSU, and on ways we can organize to reclaim our universities.
In SQE we have women of color, transgender, undocumented, radical, and not-so-radical folks. Yet, we all vibe together in a way that is extremely hard to describe. We always seem to point out who seems to hold leadership positions. The majority of folks at Occupy Oakland are white males or white women, and after making a lot of connections with them, most seem to be college-educated. People of color have been disproportionately affected by the issues that the Occup
y Movement has called attention to, yet the organizers and ‘decision makers’ have been primarily white. In a discussion with Dr. [Luz] Calvo [in Ethnic Studies, CSU East Bay], we talked about how some occupiers are ready for a confrontational action on May Day. However, undocumented Americans also want to participate in the May Day actions, and it’s unfair to put people who have more to lose at such a risk. Once again, I think it all comes back to checking our privilege.

Given the CSU system’s long history of embracing diverse communities of working class students, it provides an ideal base for SQE, even as its commitment to its traditional population is in jeopardy.

SQE may reasonably claim varying degrees of credit for the California State Senate’s denial of reappointment to former CSU Trustee Herb Carter, limitations on executive salary increases, and State Assembly Speaker John Perez’ Middle Class Scholarship bill, which aims to substantially lower CSU and UC tuition and fees for students from families earning less than $150,000 per year.

Several state tax measures supported by SQE that will appear on the November 2012 ballot may also help to stem the tide of rising fees and shrinking services: the Molly Munger initiative, the Millionaires Tax, the Tax on Oil to Fund Education Initiative, and the California Income Tax for Multistate Businesses.

In the end, SQE may be judged by its effectiveness at limiting the ravages of privatization in state education—but its ideology and practice of radical inclusivity and 99% discourse will forever alter the future of university protest.

Nicholas L. Baham III is an associate professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University East Bay.


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Privatizing Public Education: The Neoliberal Model


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed with bipartisan support during the Bush presidency and despite many attempts to repeal it, it’s still the law of the land. Its rhetorical promise, like the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program, is that the federal government will hold public schools accountable for their failure to educate poor and working class Hispanic and African American students.But the purported aim of increasing educational opportunity masks the real intent of these so-called education reformers to create a privatized system of public education that has a narrow, vocational curriculum enforced through standardized tests.


The “reform” rhetoric is enormously seductive to parents and low-income communities whose children attend poorly funded, poorly functioning schools. In predominantly Hispanic and African American neighborhoods, schools are often incapable of providing children with more than the rudiments of literacy because they cannot afford to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of teachers. Schools that serve large concentrations of recent immigrants are usually so underfunded and overwhelmed by the number of students that they are compelled to use bathrooms and closets as classrooms.

Education “reforms” like NCLB and Race to the Top, however, presume that if children do not succeed at school, the responsibility rests solely with the school. Such an approach destroys the structure and organization of a publicly-funded and presumably publicly-controlled system of education begun more than a century ago. In fact, NCLB closely resembles the blueprint developed in ultra right-wing think tanks for replacing locally controlled, state-funded school systems with a collection of privatized services governed by the market. What NCLB chiefly adds to the original “free market” framework is standardized curricula and testing and the Christian Right’s “faith-based” interventions.

Applying the Skewed Logic of Free Markets to Schools
The free market underpinning to education pretends that schools can compensate for the array of savage economic and social problems created or abetted by government policies. Under such flawed reasoning, public funding for low-cost housing is reduced or eliminated because the “market” is best at regulating housing costs and availability. However, when markets fail, resulting in soaring rates of homelessness, schools are told that it is not an acceptable excuse for a child’s poor performance. If there is sufficient political furor over the schools’ inability to cope with this crisis, the government creates a discrete token allocation for educational services for the homeless. But the allocation often is too small relative to the enormity of the problem to be meaningful. Just tracking the whereabouts of children who move from one shelter to another, let alone providing them with appropriate services, is beyond the capacity of most urban school systems, which would have to interact with numerous bureaucratic, under-resourced and dysfunctional agencies in the process.
A program to advance educational opportunity has to be undertaken as part of a larger project to end inequality, including de facto school segregation. To argue that schools have a limited capacity to ameliorate economic and social inequality is not to diminish the moral or political importance of the struggle to improve education. Any progressive movement deserving of the name will demand that public schools provide all students with an education that will allow them to be well-rounded, productive citizens, capable of competing for well-paying jobs. Improving schools for the poor and working class can make a difference in the lives of some children and for that reason alone, progressive school reform deserves our attention. Improving schools for all children is of critical political significance because it demands that American democracy make good on its pledge of equality. However, we also need to be cognizant of the limitations of school reform as a policy vehicle for making society more equitable. As the authors1 of Choosing Equality: The Case for Democratic Schooling note, education can challenge the tyranny of the labor market—but cannot eliminate it. As neoliberal policies tighten their grip on governments and capitalism’s assault on the living conditions of working people intensifies, schooling becomes an ever weakening lever for improving the economic well-being of individuals even as it remains a critical arena for political struggle.

Any agenda for progressive social change, which includes improving education, must address what historian David Hogan calls “the silent compulsion of economic relations,” i.e. the nexus of racial segregation in schools and housing and the funding of schools with local property taxes. Segregation in housing has become the pretext for abandoning the challenge of racially integrating schools, which in turn has seriously weakened the forces that can challenge funding inequities. Some African American activists and researchers advocate dropping the demand for integrating schools, arguing that African American children would be better served in segregated schools staffed by African American teachers. Although the despair that underlies such thinking is understandable,2 the reality is that racially segregated schools and school systems are more isolated politically and, thus, more vulnerable in funding battles with state legislatures. The urgency for making schools better is undeniable, but so is the necessity for mounting a political and legal challenge to de facto school segregation and the use of local property taxes to fund schools.

NCLB and Capital’s Global Agenda for Education
The endurance of NCLB is a dismal indication of the level of disorientation about education’s role in a democracy and the contradiction of privatizing this essential civic function.
Underlying the bipartisan endorsement of  “school reform” is a shared ideological support for a neoliberal global capitalist economy and neoliberal view of education. In both industrialized and developing nations, neoliberal reforms are promoted as rationalizing and equalizing delivery of social services. Even the World Bank demands curricular and structural changes in education when it provides loans as outlined in its draft “World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People,” which describes education’s purpose solely in terms of preparing workers for jobs in a global economy where capitalism can move jobs wherever it wishes—that is, to countries where profits trump working conditions and salaries. The draft was later modified in negotiations with governments and non-governmental organizations, but the original is a declaration of war, especially on public education and independent teachers unions.

Public education remains the largest piece of public expenditure, highly unionized and not yet privatized. The draft report identifies unions, especially teachers unions, as one of the greatest threats to global prosperity, arguing that they have “captured governments,” holding poor people hostage to demands for more pay and suggests that teachers should be fired wholesale when they strike or resist demands for reduced pay. The report also calls for privatizing services, greatly reducing public funding, devolving control of schools to neighborhoods, and increasing user fees. The World Bank has implemented many elements of the draft report by making loans and aid contingent upon “restructuring,” which is to say, destroying public funding and control of educational systems. The results, writes University of Buenos Aires Professor Adriana Puiggros, have been devastating to literacy rates and the Bank’s promise of equality.[3]

A key element of the program is limiting access to higher education through the imposition of higher tuition and reduced government support to institutions and individual students. Meanwhile, lower education is charged only with preparing students for jobs requiring basic skills, which the multinationals aim to move from one country to another. Schools that train workers for jobs requiring limited literacy is all we can realistically expect for poor people in poor countries, says the report, and they do not require well-educated or skilled teachers. Teachers with significant education are a liability because they are costly to employ and the largest expense of any school system, the report argues, whereas minimally educated workers require only teachers who are themselves minimally educated.

Most of NCLB’s elements for reorganizing education in the U.S. are straight out of the World Bank draft report: Charter schools and vouchers to be used in private schools fragment oversight and control; testing requirements and increasingly punitive measures for low scores pressure schools to limit what is taught so that the tests become the curriculum; privatization of school services, such as tutoring and professional development for teachers tied to raising test scores, undercuts union influence and membership.

Teachers Unions Fight Neoliberal Downscaling
The Bush administration was quite open about the explicit linkage between a deskilled teaching force and a narrow curriculum as evidenced by the statements of Grover Whitehurst, an undersecretary in the Department of Education agency responsible for education research. Public investment in research about teacher education is unnecessary, he maintained, because the government is required to provide only a basic education that will prepare students for entry-level jobs; therefore, government funds are better spent creating materials for teaching basic skills that teachers with little or no expertise can use. This is precisely the strategy promoted in the draft report, which lauds programs that briefly train 15 year old peasant girls, who then teach literacy skills in rural areas.

One way to limit access is to charge fees to attend school at all levels. We see the former strategy in underdeveloped countries, where families must often pay for schooling that was once available for free. In fact, a World Bank condition for loans explicitly prohibited free education until a movement by liberals in the U.S. Congress, informed and inspired by global justice activists, challenged it.

Access to learning is also limited by curriculum. Larry Kuehn, research director of the British Columbia Teachers Federation, has traced this trend to the Reagan administration, circa 1987, when the U.S. began promoting the development of “education indicators” to guide curricula and testing at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD consists of the 29 most industrialized countries and some rapidly industrializing ones, such as Korea and Mexico. In the early discussions, the OECD planned the development of uniform curricula with “culture-free” materials appropriate for the new “information economy.” Kuehn’s work illuminates not only the anti-intellectual and anti-humanistic assumptions of these curricula, but also how existing expectations about what students should learn had to be “downscaled.”

Teachers in the Global North have avoided the full force of neoliberalism’s assault on education for decades. It is only in the past few years that they have started to realize that their profession and the ideals that brought them into classrooms may be destroyed. Many are frightened, but they are also angry. Growing numbers realize that teachers and their unions have to reach out to communities and parents, forming mutually respectful alliances. And now discussions about the global context now seem relevant.[4]

The universal experience of privatization, increasing tuition, enormous student debt, and ever less support for public education has awakened the unions. Yet, missing still in the work of teacher unions, their leaders and ranks, is an understanding that to defend public education in this country, teachers and their unions must help develop an international response to neoliberalism—one that puts justice and equity at the forefront of the union’s program for education and develops alliances across national borders.

Lois Weiner, Ed.D. is a professor of elementary and secondary education at New Jersey City University. She is the author of Social Justice and Teachers Unions: Reversing the Assault on our Schools (Haymarket Press), forthcoming October 2012. This article is adapted from one previously published by New Politics ( more information on resistance of teachers to neoliberal reforms, go to

1.    Ann Bastian, Norm Fruchter, Marilyn Gittell, Kenneth Haskins, and Colin Greer, foreword by James P. Comer. Temple University Press. 1986.
2.    African American and Hispanic youth are frequently tracked into classes that offer low-level materials and poor instruction rather than college preparatory work, even in well funded school districts.
3.    <>
4.    Lois Weiner, “Teacher Unionism Reborn.” New Politics, Winter 2012, Vol:XIII-4,

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"Most of No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) elements for reorganizing education in the U.S. are straight out of the World Bank draft report..."

Occupying the Future, Starting at the Roots

Occupied Urban Farmland in the Bay Area Highlights Privatization of Public
Universities and Corporatization of Public Trust

On Earth Day—April 22, 2012—about 200 people, accompanied by children in strollers, dogs, rabbits, chickens, and carrying hundreds of pounds of compost and at least 10,000 seedlings entered a 14-acre piece of land containing the  last Class I agricultural soil in the East Bay. Located on the Albany-Berkeley border in the Bay Area, the plot is owned by the University of California Berkeley. By the end of the day, they had weeded, tilled, and successfully cultivated about an acre of the land. By May 14, when 100 University of California riot police surrounded the tract and began arresting the farmers, Occupy the Farm had cultivated around two acres of the plot known as the Gill Tract.

The Occupy farmers have laid out footpaths around cultivated plots, created wildlife corridors, riparian zones, and protected areas for native grasses and a wild turkey nest, and set up a library and a kitchen. They have planted thousands of seedlings of corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, broccoli, herbs, and strawberries, including heirloom varieties from a local seed bank. Other plots have been reserved for agro-ecological research. There’s also a permaculture garden for kids on the other side of a gazebo of woven branches where wind chimes tinkle in the breeze.“As a mother, I was nervous about
taking my daughters into a land
occupation. But I also feel an
enormous responsibility to stand up
against a global economic system
that puts profit over people.”
—Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan

Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation, says that the vision for the farm is the “practice and promotion of sustainable urban agriculture with a commitment to food justice and food sovereignty.” He is a father, activist, and member of what he calls the “new urban peasantry.” Food grown on the farm will be distributed—for free—through existing food justice networks in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On April 24, the University shut off the water supply and threatened the farmers with eviction. University administration has gone on a media offensive, attempting to pit researchers against the Occupy farmers[1] and according to some reports, preventing them from negotiating with the farmers. Some faculty members have published statements[2] in support of the farmers, arguing that the goals of the farm are aligned with the public policy goals of the state and the U.C. mission.[3] If transforming a student’s life is part of that mission, U.C. Berkeley student Lesley Haddock has certainly experienced it working on the farm. “Before our project began, I had never planted a seed,” she admits. “But in the past two weeks, I have become a farmer!”[4]

Public Good—Private Gain at the Gill Tract
One of the Occupy farmers, Ashoka Finley is a program assistant with Urban Tilth and runs an organic farm in collaboration with students at Richmond High School, in Richmond, California. A political economy graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Finley believes that the farm is redefining and reclaiming the role of the public university, just as the Occupy movement is redefining and reclaiming public space.
“The history of the Gill Tract is [about] public subsidization of private research that [profits] the corporate industrial complex; not research for the public good,” he says.

It was not always this way. The 104-acre plot was sold to the University in 1928 by the Gill family with the condition that it be used as an agricultural research station. Under the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, part of the University’s mission as a land grant institution is to promote community involvement and initiatives in agriculture.

From the 1940s through the 1990s, research conducted at the Gill Tract laid the groundwork for successful, non-chemical and non-petroleum-based methods for controlling numerous major insect pests on several California crops, and for the integration of biological, chemical, and cultural methods of pest control.5 The innovative methods developed, shared, and refined at the International Center for Biological Control included intercropping6 and using bugs to control pests in addition to or in place of pesticides, and means to reduce overall chemical dependency and prevent the development of superbugs in industrial and community agriculture worldwide.“Farmland is for farming.”
—Gopal Dayaneni

The turning point came in 1998, when Novartis gave $25 million to the Plant and Microbial Biology department to conduct genetic research on the land. “They kicked off the local organic pest management project to do gene research,” says Ulan McKnight of the Albany Farm Alliance. “What was here before directly benefitted the people of California; now what they do here directly benefits biotechnology companies. Instead of doing things that can help people, they are doing things that benefit the one percent.”
Among the projects closed down at the time was a seed bank of rare heirloom varieties of many important food crops, and a state-of-the-art drip irrigation system from a student-run urban sustainable agriculture demonstration plot. Until the water was cut off at the Tract, the Occupy farmers were planning to start using those irrigation tubes again.

Privatization Leaves U.C. System Impoverished
The trend of privatizing the research and knowledge produced at public institutions is systemic, according to Julie Sze, associate professor of American Studies at U.C. Davis. A long-time supporter of social justice and student movements, Sze attributes her activism to her student days at U.C. Berkeley, where she took courses with the likes of RP&E founder Carl Anthony. She credits the university with being the “social justice innovation lab” that produced so many of the environmental justice leaders of today and argues that corporatization is an impoverishment of the U.C. system and a betrayal of the system’s legacy for California.

It is worth noting that the number of people graduating from UCLA annually exceeds the total number of people graduating from all private colleges in the state. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to say that whatever happens with the U.C. system affects the future of California.

Universities have a special role to encourage ways of thinking that go beyond the corporate workplace, says Sze. People who have fought to work with communities on the side of racial and economic justice are an important legacy of the university. People like Paul Taylor, who in the 1930s, promoted the idea of the agricultural job ladder (where farm workers could eventually become family farmers) over the agribusiness model, which depended on seasonal workers. The university is a place to explore and imagine different possibilities and different futures, which is why student activism is a global force and so deeply threatening to the existing order.

Sze believes that the move towards corporate funding of research, coupled with increasing student debt, has curtailed the ability and desire of students to participate in the creative and innovative social justice thinking and activity that is so important to the common good.
David Naguib Pellow, another movement scholar-activist and a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, observes, “Every [public] university I’ve worked at, professors are encouraged to secure external funding for their research to alleviate state budget constraints. This often involves seeking resources from corporations and foundations that have little or no accountability to the public, which amounts to the privatization of ideas, knowledge, and the commons, and is a dangerous trend if we desire to live in a democratic society.”

The tuition hikes and the cuts in programs that do not have a corporate/profit bent are a direct result of the bias towards education in the service of corporations, according to Finley, and needs to be countered by the training of people in the service of people.

Occupy the Future—Take It, Make It, Shape It
In an email sent out in early May, Adbusters urges recipients to “occupy the future;” that is, “to describe, build and sustain the post-capitalist future we want to live in.”

Dayaneni concurs with that sentiment. “People ask me what they can do to support. I say, take more land. Occupy a library, a clinic, whatever, plan it right and [re-launch] it appropriately and at scale. We need to prove that we have the ability to self govern. This is the new moment of occupy, not tit for tat, not cat-and-mouse games with cops, but full-scale intervention. Occupy the Farm is one of the first to-scale interventions.”

Projects like Occupy the Farm also create a sort of sovereignty and allow a space for larger political expression where people can articulate their demand for a more egalitarian, just society through work done with their own hands, argues Finley.

“In the first world, we have been fed a false sense of security that is imploding,” says Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, recounting her family’s experience with the militant experiment in collective governance and self-sufficiency. “On Earth Day, our families were a part of manifesting a collective vision for a better way forward—that the land be a community educational center. We have planted strawberries in the children’s garden and feed the chickens with snails that we collect from our own garden. My partner, a cook, brings us food regularly. We are making that vision real.”

Not everybody, however, sees Occupy the Farm in the same light and on the same terms, Finley points out. For many communities of color, farmwork is both a practice of material and cultural survival and self-sufficiency, and, at the same time, deeply tied to racialized exploitation in the United States. For African Americans, farming is related to slavery and sharecropping. For recent immigrants from Latin America, farming is about the bankruptcy brought on by the dumping of subsidized monoculture products in their countries. And for Southeast Asian immigrants, farming is associated with a bloody countryside strewn with unexploded ordnance and other detritus from U.S. wars. At the same time, like other forced immigrants before them, these people have also brought with them a knowledge and identity that is wrapped up in the cultivation and ceremony of working the land.

Subsistence through the production of one’s own food is one of the most effective forms of resistance.  But the action at Gill Tract also points toward the broader challenges at the University. 

The arena of struggle revealed by Occupy the Farm is not just organic farming, food justice, and food sovereignty. The classrooms, the libraries, and the research agenda of the university are being shaped to meet the needs of corporate sponsors. Groundbreaking areas in scholarship that were pioneered in the University of California, such as Ethnic Studies, Women and Gender Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, were won by student-led protest and strikes (and occupations) in the early 1970s. They now face devastating cuts against which students are mobilizing. Battles against tuition hikes, student debt, and democratizing University governance will be key to shifting the overall direction of the university and the society.

Amilcar Cabral, the African revolutionary and agricultural engineer once said: “Culture contains the seed of resistance, which blossoms into the flower of liberation.” At the Gill Tract we can see seeds of resistance that have been planted—but it is clear that in order to blossom, they will need watering.

Diana Pei Wu is a frequent contributor to RP&E. She is a researcher, activist, organizer, and trainer with the Ruckus Society and various media
justice strategy and training organizations, as well a member of the boards of smartMeme and the Vietnamese American Young Leaders
Association of New Orleans. She has a Ph.D. from the department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management at U.C. Berkeley.

6.    The practice of planting two or more crops together or in close proximity. Benefits include structural support for climbing plants (beans and squash growing on corn), increased yields (from legumes enriching soils), natural pest repellents  (marigolds, for example), and climate control for shade loving plants (coffee grown under shade-producing trees, such as Erythrina or Jacaranda).

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“As a mother, I was nervous about taking my daughters into a land occupation. But I also feel an enormous responsibility to stand up against a global economic system that puts profit over people.” —Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan

From the Camps to the Neighborhoods

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Occupy the Farm The Gill Tract Albany, California. cc. 2012 occupyoakland.orgA Conversation with Movement Generation
Interview by Ellen Choy

The transformation of the Occupy moment into power for movements that can actually challenge entrenched economic interests will be a complex process. Movement Generation activists recently gathered to reflect on what it will take to make this happen.


Ellen Choy: Why  are you committed to the Occupy movement?
Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan: We think Occupy’s critical because we believe that mass movements are a vital ingredient to shifting the public debate and  moving us closer to transforming the economy and the political system. This is not just about making demands on the state, but also about reclaiming our right to meet our own needs directly, in community—to restore our resilience, our ability to support one another, to look after each other, to have the means to do that collectively. I think Occupy is presenting a really important model for how people can work together to set priorities and make decisions about how to best meet each others’ needs in a way that’s responsive and responsible to the place where they live.  

Carla Perez: Movement Generation is trying to flesh out and articulate a concept around an organizing model. This model organizes people around the direct decision-making process and physical work in meeting a need at hand. Whether it’s needing to grow our own food because of the discriminatory land-use processes that haven't allowed for fresh produce in our neighborhood (at least, not without highly gentrifying our historically black, Latino, working class, diverse community); or putting people back in their homes by repairing them and making them accessible; or building our own schools. And doing it in a way that forces a right-to-govern question. You know there’s some legal or other kind of barrier that you’re going to hit up against. They’re going to say, “You can’t use tax money to do that!” Or, “You’re exceeding the amount of food that’s permissible on a lot of this size in an area that’s zoned in this way!” That gives us the opportunity to say, “Who are you to say that we can’t do this when you have made political decisions that take these essential resources out of our community?”

Resilience-based organizing. That’s what Occupy is doing, too. It’s learning how to self-govern and self-manage and bring people together to get directly involved in that process at multiple levels.

Gopal Dayaneni: We don’t think that a movement is going to emerge solely out of the long, hard slogging organizing of 501(c)3 organizations. It’s going to need those sparks and those pushes of mass momentum. All of those things need to be in relationship to each other. And we do not have time to miss opportunities. It is okay for us to jump onto an opportunity like Occupy to try and create a psychic break with the system, to spark a shift away from the dominant culture. It’s okay for us to try that and to be unsuccessful. But it’s not okay for us to miss the boat. Because for us to be committed to the long haul, something has to change very soon, or the long haul will not be pleasant. Communities in Oakland will have a much harder fight if things don’t change really quickly, very soon. It’s going to be a hard road regardless, but we have the opportunity to set up transformations in our relationships to each other that will make it better. That, for us, is another reason why the movement can’t be missed.

Choy: The reclamation of land and housing has become a pinnacle battleground for Occupy.  Interestingly enough, this directly overlaps with Movement Generation’s commitment to a strategy where land reclamation is central. How did land and housing  become an Occupy fight?  And why is this critical?
Mascarenhas-Swan: One is the obvious plight of many of our families after this [real estate] bubble burst. The financial sector had duped a lot of families of color and working class people into deep debt based on this bubble and then ended up putting folks out on the street—foreclosing on family homes. That’s obviously one way the land reclamation [issue] has come to bear. People recognize that housing and access to land is a basic human right. No one should be out on the street at any time. People need shelter; and not only shelter, but a stable and safe place to call home. When so many millions have had their families impacted by this foreclosure crisis—it’s a clear call to reclaim what we believe is a basic right.

Occupy the Farm The Gill Tract Albany, California. cc. 2012 occupyoakland.orgDayaneni: This idea that we need to fundamentally change the tenure relationship to land and housing in this country, to take soil out of the market, to restore the commons—all of these ideas share a common history. What’s interesting for us right now is that there is an opportunity to take the tactic of claiming space and connecting it with real political projects that can transform people’s relationship to place. One of the ways that we think about the ongoing and ever-escalating food crisis in the City of Oakland is: “What huge plots of land can we take to do urban agriculture?” That’s important, but from our perspective, it’s almost more important to have small lots that half-a-dozen or dozen families around a neighborhood can share control of and grow food on, together. Not because it will meet all of their needs, but because it changes their relationship to the community, to the place. That’s where the transformative work happens.

The idea of people actually laboring in their own interests, as a form of organizing, is what’s transformative, instead of door-knocking to convince people that they should work together to take a plot of land where they can have a community garden. The idea of the action as an organizing opportunity in and of itself that the people model, join in, and can have control of—that’s what ultimately butts up against the rules. The rules of the city or the rules of the developer. And as we all know, the rules are made by the rulers. Until we are the rulers, the rules don’t serve us, they serve the rulers. So, the idea of us actually doing the work and using the actions to organize people is an exciting possibility.

Mateo Nube: The part that connects to Movement Generation’s interpretation of both our societal crisis and the solution to it, is that our profit-based, pollution-based economy sees land as a commodity. The next step to seeing land as a commodity is to disrespect land and disrespect everything that depends on that land—all species and ecosystems. That’s a mismanagement of [our] home. Many members of our species have forgotten what it means to take good care of our home and take good care of each other. So then, land reclamation becomes an expression of: “We, the people who live in this neighborhood,” or “We, who’ve been here for a long time, are the best keepers of this place.” We need to re-learn what being keepers of a place is and to have ownership over that keeping. Land reclamation, I think, is a really logical, healthy, proactive, generative way of calling the question: Will big corporations and capitalists determine how we manage where we live? Or will those of us who live here, or who deserve to live here, or have historically lived here, be the ones to manage that space and make the decisions.


Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, Carla Perez, Mateo Nube, and Ellen Choy are members of Movement Generation. Ellen Choy is also a producer on KPFA radio’s Apex Express.

New Political Spaces | Vol. 19, No. 1 – 2012 | Credits

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