Spread the word!

occupy wall street

Make $38k Using this One Weird Trick: Pepper Spray Students

Former UC Davis cop John Pike, made infamous when cameras captured him casually pepper spraying dozens of peaceful protesters, is now receiving a big pay day from the university:

The campus police officer shown in a viral video pepper-spraying Occupy UC Davis protesters will receive workers’ compensation totaling $38,059.

John Pike, 40, of Roseville, reportedly suffered depression and anxiety brought on by death threats to him and his family that followed the Nov. 18, 2011, confrontation at an encampment on the Quad.

First off, funny how the act of walking up to a bunch of students sitting on the sidewalk and assaulting them is described as a "confrontation," implying two aggressors. But it gets worse: before he was ultimately fired, Pike was on paid leave for 8 months. Given his $121,680 salary, that means he received an additional $81,120 for doing zero work. That's a hell of a severance. On top of that, he'll also be receiving his pension from working 11 years at UC Davis.

Not even UC's public task force could hide what an idiot move his pepper spraying was:

A public task force, led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, faulted both police and administrators. It found that Pike did not need to use the pepper spray, used a spray not sanctioned for use by the department and used it at too close a range.

That's right: an 11-year veteran of the UC Davis police department made what by all accounts was a rookie move.

So how did the students fare?

Pike will receive an almost identical settlement amount as many of those he pepper-sprayed.

In January, UCD settled a federal lawsuit by agreeing to pay protesters $1 million. Twenty-one plaintiffs who were sprayed or arrested were to receive $30,000 each. Another 15 who came forward later had claims approved. They were to be paid $6,666 apiece.

What's worse? Being a victim of police abuse, or having basically everybody hate you for committing police abuse? According to these UC settlements, the latter. To add insult to injury, given that these were UC students their tuition dollars essentially subidized their attacker's payday. But most worrisome is the message it sends to other capsacin-happy cops:

Bernie Goldsmith, a Davis attorney supportive of the student protesters, said the settlement “sends a clear message to the next officer nervously facing off with a group of passive, unarmed students: Go on ahead. Brutalize them. Trample their rights. You will be well taken care of.”

While we wave Officer Pike into the sunset (he's still angling to get his job back — not bloody likely), let's reminisce with some of the best Pepper Spraying Cop memes:

Pepper Spraying Cop

Pepper Spraying Cop

Pepper Spraying Cop

Pepper Spraying Cop

Pepper Spraying Cop

Janet Napolitano: a militarized president for a militarized university

The Department of Homeland Security is a cabinet-level department with a budget in the tens of billions of dollars, and fills the role of the Defense Department's domestic counterpart: while DoD sends tanks and guns to Baghdad, Kabul, Tel Aviv, and Seoul, DHS sends tanks and guns to Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. One of DHS' primary roles is the militarization of police departments across the country, through a combination of terrorism-related training programs and cheap military surplus hardware (everything from high-powered rifles to armored personnel carriers and tanks).

This militarization has resulted in more deaths and injuries at the hands of police as response to crimes and disturbances escalates dramatically. It has also meant a windfall for defense contractors as they expand their range of domestic offerings, including unmanned aerial drones.

Today we learned that current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will be tapped as the new President of the University of California system. In many ways, the UC red carpet has long been rolled out for her: the militarization of campuses against their own students (which has reached a new crescendo since OccupyCA, OWS, and the infamous pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis) the expansion of government and military contracts, and the ever-growing size of the administrative bureaucracy means that she'll likely find her new digs pretty familiar. As the LA Times put it:

Napolitano’s nomination by a committee of UC regents came after a secretive process that insiders said focused on her early as a high-profile, although untraditional, candidate who has led large public agencies and shown a strong interest in improving education.

UC officials believe that her Cabinet experiences –- which include helping to lead responses to hurricanes and tornadoes and overseeing some anti-terrorism measures -- will help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas.

What the Times doesn't mention is that some of those federal agency dollars are coming right from DHS itself.

We can't glean much about Napolitano's educational priorities beyond her tenure as governor of Arizona from 2003-2009.

During her time as governor, tuition at ASU went up 58%, much higher than the average 4-year public university's increase of 19% over that same period. (That being said, once Secretary of State Jan Brewer took over after Napolitano's DHS apppointment, tuition increases only got worse.)

While her appointments to the Arizona Board of Regents include the first Native American to the Board (LuAnn Leonard), they also include Dennis Deconcini and Anne Mariucci. Deconcini is a high-powered lobbyist, whose firm has the distinction (aside from representing such good citizens as Monsanto, Eli-Lilly, Pfizer, and the MPAA) of owning the domain LobbyCongress.com. Mariucci was head of Del Webb Corporation, a giant firm that builds retirement homes across the country, and later got into the private equity business. In 2011 she joined the Board of Directors of the Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, naturally, has spent millions lobbying DHS.

As Democratic governor in a state with a solidly Republican legislature and little worry about having to sign actual progressive legislation, Napolitano certainly talked a decent game. In 2008 she said she wanted to freeze tuition for in-state students, and guarantee a free ride to any Arizona student with at least a B average through high school (and a clean disciplinary record — problematic due to the racist and abelist discipline systems in most public high schools).

While Mark Yudof's tenure as current UC President is thankfully very nearly over, Napolitano's selection reinforces how tough the road ahead will be for student organizers. Her selection is in some ways a defensive response by the Regents against the pressures they face, both from Sacramento and from the very people who make up the University of California — the students, faculty, and staff. If she can manage to on the one hand get the legislature to widen the gates of privatization, and on the other squash insurgent activism on UC campuses, it will be a dream come true for the Regents. Thankfully, there are plenty of committed and organized Californians who stand in their way.

EDIT: Updated to reflect her position as President, not Chancellor. Thanks katminka!

From Student Debt to Student Power

I recently sat down with The Daily Agenda to chat about student loan debt and how it relates to larger activist movements on- and off-campus.

Patrick St. John is a graphic designer by trade and student organizer by love. Patrick has been organizing and agitating since high school; as an undergraduate at Moravian College, he continued to agitate for student rights and power as both Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper and later as student government president (where he advocated abolishing the position).

Like so many other young Americans, he left school thousands of dollars in debt. During his off hours Patrick is still organizing and writing a book on student power. He blogs at forstudentpower.org.

We interview Patrick about the state of student debt and the prospects of breathing new life into the student movement.

DA: As student debt has now climbed to over a trillion dollars, who exactly benefits from having so many students owing so much money?

Patrick St. John: It’s always important to ask that question, because it’s certainly not the students and it’s clearly not the faculty. However one winner is the administration, including the Board of Trustees. The size of university administrations have soared over the past 40 years, far outpacing the regular growth of faculty and support staff.

There has been an increasing emphasis on running the university like a business. As a result you get a ton of administrative overhead and you get administrators who are more interested in growing the bottom line than in education. Right now a lot of campuses, especially the higher profile universities, hire President’s that have no experience in the classroom. They come from business backgrounds, or sometimes from the military or politics.

Often times funding decisions are not based on the consideration of the students or even the professors, but either the university in its quest for prestige or the vanity of big donors. You see this dynamic where trustees and other wealthy donors make donations that go into physical projects like new buildings, new facilities, or new sports stadiums. You can’t bolt a plaque onto a scholarship; but you can bolt a plaque onto a building. In the University of California system, the Regents have made it quite clear that they prefer tuition dollars over state-issued dollars, because they have much freer range in their use — so we see on campuses across the state massive physical projects, either completed and unused, or frozen in mid-construction. It’s yet another predictable result of the people most affected by university decisions having the least amount of say in making those decisions.

You also predictably see an increase in official corruption, with Trustee boards often including the heads of the very businesses the college contracts with (usually banks and construction firms).

DA: Do you detect any sort of change in what is being taught in our universities because of the increased role of private corporations in higher education?

PSJ: It’s a funny kind of feedback loop. On one end, as parents and students see rising increasing tuition combined with a sluggish economy, you see an emphasis on the “career ready majors”: the majors that are guaranteed to get a good-paying job above all else. Students begin asking themselves, “why am I taking this literature class when I could be taking another economics class?” It has that sort of effect.

On the other end of the feedback loop, universities are trying to attract more — and wealthier — students by touting the fact that “if you go here, we’re sure that you will get a job after you graduate.” There is actually an interesting case where a woman who attended a for-profit school went through school and of course racked up a ton of debt. When she graduated she sued the school because the school had essentially promised, through their advertising materials, that she would get a job. Her lawsuit failed, but the point she made is here to stay.

DA: Student loan debt rates are set to double in 8 days if Congress (at the time of this interview. It now appears that Congress will freeze student loan rates for one year). How meaningful are the Democrats’ proposals to stop this from happening?

PSJ: It’s a smart political move for Obama because he might be able to re-energize many of his supporters on his left flank. But we all need to be clear: this is not a fight between progressive and conservative policy positions. This is a fight between conservative and very conservative policy positions.

The interest rate on student loans is already too high, even at the current rate. For comparison, it’s roughly 450% more than the rate the Fed loans money to banks. The President is trying to spin this so that he can attach it to his “usual hope and change” mantra, when in reality it’s just a holding position. It’s keeping the conservative status quo intact in the face of something even more conservative and more corporate.

But there is a lot that he could do. He could lobby and push to allow student loan debt to be dischargeable in bankruptcy court. This could actually energize lots of students and alumni, those who are most pro-Obama but least likely to vote. There are many Democratic Senators and Congresspeople who are more progressive than Obama on this. So it’s not like this is something out of nowhere. It doesn’t tackle the systemic problem of why higher education is so unaffordable, but consumer-side student debt reform would be a step in the right direction.

DA: Among the four demands put out by the Occupy Student Debt movement was “a one-time debt forgiveness, or “jubilee.” What would this entail?

PSJ: Wiping away all current student debt would be wonderful, and not just because I’m saddled with it myself. It’d be a huge boon for the economy, and it’s a much more helpful use of government funds than throwing trillions at banks. While it has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening, it’s still a useful demand to organize around, for two reasons. First, it engages students in a concrete way and encourages them to start thinking outside the box in terms of what is possible. Second, the act of pushing and agitating for a debt jubilee allows you to change the tone of the conversation. And it’s always a plus when you can tell conservatives that the thing you’re agitating for is right there in the Bible!

In America’s fragmented and decentralized system of higher ed, students may actually find more success tackling this issue at private colleges and state university networks. If you can establish, one way or another, a certain slice of the student population who can have their debt eliminated by the university, such as those with low-incomes, who do public service, and so on, that’s a foothold, or fulcrum, that can potentially be used to widen that slice until it encompasses all students.

But in terms of the big picture, if the person on the street or your local representative rejects the idea, you already have them talking about student debt. You can change the conversation, which is I think one of the lasting legacies of the Occupy movement: changing the political narrative not necessarily to get some 12-point plan through, but to create openings for individuals and groups to push for actual change.

DA: In an article that you wrote for ForStudentPower.org, you say that:“when electoral democracy is this broken, it's never that straightforward, and we are demobilized by thinking it is. We need to throw out the old playbook and pick up a new one (or two).”
What is the new playbook and what does it have to say about building a more vibrant democracy?

PSJ: Right. So if the framing of the problem is that the laws on the books are simply incorrect, by either mistake or malice, and that the solution is simply to correct the laws, then our paths of organizing are pretty limited. We have a sort of knee-jerk deference to people in power that often comes along with a very warped idea of how change comes about. Hopefully the protests in Québec right now will disabuse students of that deference. Québec tuition has been consistently among the lowest in the Western world for decades now, the only reason being that students and allies took to the streets in mass numbers and prevented every attempted increase, even minimal ones.

It’s also about changing the facts on the ground until elites catch up. If you look at the labor movement, workers didn’t wait until the Wagner Act in 1935 to actually start organizing unions. Everything from basic union recognition to the 8 hour work day, those were examples of Congress catching up with the facts on the ground. Huge swaths of the American workforce had fought for and won an 8 hour work day by the time Congress made it law. Many African-Americans didn’t wait until the Civil Rights Acts to eat at whichever lunch counter they wanted, or sit wherever they wanted on the bus. Through radical, direct action to change the facts on the ground, everyday people were able to spur sweeping historical changes.

All the wonderful things liberals like about the New Deal and Great Society got done by a Democratic President because he had immense pressure from his left flank in the form of more progressive Democrats, socialists, communists, and anarchists — with youth in the mix in all these groups.

Unfortunately, through the fog of history, a lot of liberals think that you do not need a far left to get liberal reform done. You absolutely do. Change doesn’t come about by voting for a specific person, change comes about when whoever happens to be in office is pressured by the people to do what’s right. Obama famously told bankers in a private meeting in 2009 that he was the only one standing between them and the pitchforks. Given the state of things, and the track record of both the banks and Obama in the years since, it seems clear to me that we need a hell of a lot more people with pitchforks.

For people wanting to get involved in this fight, one of the most exciting developments is the upcoming National Student Power Convergence this August in Ohio. Students and youth from across the country will be there, and it’s where we may get a glimpse of the future of student organizing.

Read the rest of the interview at The Daily Agenda! >

Malcolm Gladwell's Soft Authoritarianism

Malcolm Gladwell has folks in a bit of a tizzy over his latest New Yorker essay, "Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted." A lot of excellent writing has come out as a result. Zeynep Tufekci makes a whole slew of good points, especially with her analysis of strong and weak ties. My friend Angus Johnston over at Student Activism offers a corrective to Gladwell's narrow understanding of 1960s history and expands the notion of "social networking" to come to more interesting conclusions about activist organizing, past and present. There's also a great discussion going on in the comments section of thisAtlantic review of the essay.

In the interests of not reinventing the wheel, I'd like to do my part by taking a crack at one aspect of the essay I haven't yet seen anyone specifically take on, and it goes to the core of many of his assumptions about the nature of humanity and society.

In "Small Change," Gladwell presents us with a classic logical fallacy: the false dilemma. Inside the historical picture he paints, we can only choose:

  1. Decentralized networks, which are only good at tinkering with the system, or

  2. Top-down, hierarchical structures, which are all that can work if you want fundamental social change.

This, sadly, is all too expected for a writer like Gladwell, who cut his chops in large newspapers covering business news. (Imagine if this topic was written about by someone whose 10,000 hours were actually in social change organizing.) He constantly switches between critiquing social media and critiquing decentralized organizing, conflating them: he talks about Twitter in one moment and the PLO in the next. This allows him to construct some straw men that actually look like very convincing arguments, buttressing an altogether shaky proposition:

The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn't interested in systemic change—if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it doesn't need to think strategically. But if you're taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy. [...]

Because networks don't have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can't think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?

Gladwell meant for that question to be a rhetorical one, but it's a question that gets answered every day by activists and organizers across the globe. It's a question I've had the privilege of answering with a dozen friends and comrades in cramped church basements, in huge meeting halls with hundreds of people, over email lists, and via phone.

Examples abound of powerful and often successful social movements that rely on decentralized and non-hierarchical structures. Stretching back in history:

  • The 2001 revolts in Argentina, which resulted in the toppling of three governments in as many weeks and the popular seizure and takeover of factories by their workers;
  • The 1999 Seattle WTO protests, which were successful by just about any measure (they shut down the WTO meeting and landed the first serious blow against the Washington Consensus);
  • The Zapatista revolution in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994, which was fundamentally opposed to hierarchical models both in the society they desired and in the groups they used to fight for it;
  • The massive, nationwide strikes and protests in France, May 1968, which caught all the hierarchical standard bearers of social change by surprise (the French Communist Party and the trade unions), and used the social media of the time (broadsheet newspapers and short-range radio) to coordinate the actions of tens of thousands at a time;
  • The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s, which, unlike King's SCLC, made decisions democratically among its members, using consensus process;
  • The early labor movement, which won great victories without any large institutional foundations or centralized leadership; and
  • The Underground Railroad, perhaps the best and most iconic counter-argument to Gladwell's insistence on the easy infiltration and defeat of decentralized networks.

Not only are there examples of democratic, decentralized social movements that succeeded, there are many counter-examples to Gladwell's paean to hierarchy. Just sticking to the Civil Rights movement: the Black Panther Party, which grew out of SNCC, was easily infiltrated and undermined in large part because of its rigid internal hierarchy and the secrecy among group elites that came with it. Gladwell's insistence that top-down is the only way to go has implications that reach far beyond the immediate subject of his essay. If the only functional organizations we encounter and participate in are hierarchical, then it's no surprise that we think such a model is a prerequisite for getting anything done. However history has also shown that anti-democratic means rarely result in democratic ends. How we organize is just as important as what we're organizing for, and thankfully we have plenty of more liberatory and empowering options than taking orders from the top.

I think Gladwell gets it right when he says that the revolution will not be tweeted. He is spot on when pointing out the media fabrication of the recent "Twitter revolts" in Iran and Moldova. Twitter and Facebook are tools that activists can use to supplement the tried-and-true tactics and strategies that have won victories for social movements in the past. They are a phenomenal way to access and augment the myriad weak ties that connect each of us to so many others. Any successful social movement will use these tools.

The revolution may not be tweeted, but I'm sure we'll get at least a few clever hashtags for it.

x-posted all over.

Syndicate content