Bay Area Student/Activist Conference

Random Notes From May 6, 2012, Bay Area Activist/Student Conference

About 20 students and supporters in a cooperative event space in the Mission. Breakfast of donated pastries, peanut butter, and celery. Grew to 25-30 students by mid-day.

Activist panel: apocalyptic ecological scenarios, how to move past hopelessness, stop infighting, arguing over whose ideology is the best, each person contributes in their own way, solidarity, making compromises and sacrifices, collective ideal of utopian future, use that to decide when to compromise, revolutionaries need a clear collective purpose and focus to make decisions in a rational manner. Concept of a culture of resistance, normalize radical actions in the daily sphere of humans on the planet, a way to reduce risk as we escalate tactics. How do cultures of resistance relate to mass movements? How to get people involved? People’s privilege in the U.S. will have to be threatened until they don’t have a choice or is it a myth that people are too well off? That identifies the U.S. with white middle-class America. Different perspectives on privilege. But in history the struggles come from communities of color and those who have suffered oppression. Where is the force for change going to come from in the U.S.? When organizing is divorced from working class movements of color, then it won’t be as effective. We live in the greatest terrorist state that the world has ever seen, founded on the genocide of the native people who lived here. Privilege is corruption… it’s a matter of dismantling privilege. Many people see political organizing as ineffective, so how to get them to see their efforts as effective. When people with privilege ally with those who don’t have privilege, then it turns the system upside down. It confuses the police and the media. Concept of ally very important. Occupy using old tropes, rehashing old tactics, symbolic one-day marches and protests, think outside of the box. Lots of small actions in individual communities that are creative and involve people. People need to see a successful struggle. Sometimes that happens by models outside the US or movements within the US. Need to win enough struggles for people to have confidence in the struggle. Build base. Take context into account and think strategically about how we tailor our tactics to our goals, which requires identifying our goals in the first place. Mass demonstrations do activate people and make connections. But protest and demonstrations also perpetuate the idea that we live in a pluralistic, tolerant, democracy. One person said need to have a highly trained cadre to attack infrastructure. Another person responded about the farm, trespassing on land, don’t need Whole Foods, can grow your own food with people you just met, something hopeful to look at, not just symbolic. If mass underground action is happening, then the Occupations won’t seem radical anymore. What is the difference between an activist and an organizer? Core organizers vs. people who are just getting involved.

what are the strategies and tactics that can hit the 1% at their achilles heel in a way that the 99% can understand and support what we’re doing? level of paralysis that you can get by withholding labor, study what happened in Egypt and Tunisia recently, tactic of strikes, French labor strike in October, production-consumption capitalist based economy.

History of Student Activism


– privilege
– nonviolence v violence, every tool in the tool box, diversity of tactics
– institutional vs cultural change

* images of history like image of Malcolm X at SFSU Student Center
* living history: Black Panther visiting the campus
* 68 strike at State
* SNCC, wrote the book on nonviolent direct action
* free speech movement at UC Berkeley
* Latino walkout
* Chile, France, Quebec

* Kent State Massacre
* Jackson State

Kent State students joined by locals in doing some “smashy smashy”
National Guard ordered in when ROTC building burnt. Lockdown of campus, not allowed on campus if not student, created a culture of fear and idea that they couldn’t resist, but they resisted anyway. People part of different resistance movements came together. No one expected the National Guard to fire, but they panicked, said rocks were thrown at them. They marched away to a field that was surrounded by a fence. Guards say they were not ordered, but 27 shot 67 rounds and killed 2 women and 2 men. After that, 4 million students went on strike, stepping away from campuses. Students had been organizing for the prior decade so networks were ready to be activated. Also had to do with the draft. Students exempt as long as they were in good standing. Constant state of fear over losing privilege and getting shipped to possible death in Vietnam.

Student privileges:

* Wealth of information at your disposal

* People in close proximity with infrastructure to form a community of resistance

Student disprivileges:

* Limited to when you are a student at university, transitory, temporary

* Isolated from labor, different views and experiences, issues of larger society

* Very busy, especially if also working to raise funds (in the 60s, public universities were practically free)

* Curriculum can be narrowly defined, limits on class offerings

* KONY 2012 style activism

* Student debt

History of SNCC, started nonviolent, opened to violent tactics
Did Freedom Rides in the South, despite facing lynchings, bombings, etc.
Once they started talking about black power, they started losing black power
Got rid of white folks in the organization, lost funding
They dropped out of school after the sit-ins in the 60s

Black Panthers
founded at Oakland City College (now known as Laney College)
using principles from Malcom X
moved into communities in Oakland
first open carry of guns at protest, self-defense stance
now illegal to have a gun within 100 feet of a university
providing useful infrastructure, feeding people
had most clearly articulated ideology: 10 point program starting with “we want freedom”
police and local authorities had shoot-outs
COINTELPRO hit them hard, disinformation
lessons: free breakfast program brought community together
lot of participants were agents provacateurs who gathered information and helped prosecute them afterwards
turn rage into something constructive
cultural change beyond political change

Weather Underground broke with SDS because they were militant
bomb attacks (see list on wikipedia)
used college education to navigate oppressive system
armed propaganda (only one person killed while putting together a bomb)
one captured of estimated 500 members
militant direct action

effect of student debt:
– atomizes students, “my debt”, have to get a job to pay for it
– brings people to point of being fed up, affects them directly
– can’t go into bankruptcy to get rid of it
– antithetical to the educational mission… a financial investment rather than a quest for knowledge and skills
– corporatization of universities
– what is the purpose of education in our society? just for diploma to get a job or for personal and societal fulfillment?
– US has highest cost for personal education in the world
– academic freedom

Key Components of Effective Social Movements

* Identifying the problem
* Building infrastructure
* Personal relationships and community building
* Development of local leadership
* Research
* Effective communication
* Creating coalitions
* Strategic use of the arts
* Strategic use of nonviolence
* Dealing with contradictions within the movement
* Being in the right historical moment

* use of murals: Diego Rivera and muralismo
* Bernal Library mural to be replaced in June
* chanting, short-lived, tiring, ugly, angry — replace it with singing, can sign all day long, beautiful
* administrators using structure to keep students from organizing, including even building architecture

Occupy critique:
– how to remain nonviolent, “violence” discredits what we’re trying to accomplish
– most of communication is non-verbal
– Occupy identified the problem that we have no control of our own lives
– camps example of taking control of our lives, participate in society that we want to live in
– take the public sphere back, return the commons to the people
– camps built personal relationships, community and coalition building
– got tied up in occupation of space, maintain as a tactic but not the only tactic
– strategy in a world that’s being privatized
– civil rights movement able to build a sense of solidarity and comradery with the people
– some people coming to Occupy sometimes don’t get a feeling of true community
– we are all occupying stolen land, unless you are native american
– creating 1% vs 99% meme
– horizontal model and consensus system very effective in demonstrating type of change people want to work for

Great panel on Privilege and Self-Oppression facilitated by Ramses.

Info on wheat pasting… it’s so easy!

San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Freedom Band Camp at Cazadero

I had a blast with the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Freedom Band campers who went to Cazadero this past weekend. Here are the pictures!

Please let me know if you want a hi-res version of one of the pictures or if you want your picture removed from this page. Also, please RSVP for the Performance Salon on Saturday, May 22, at

Memory Lane: Arrests at Yale University Conference

After barely graduating in 1985 with a degree in Writing and Computer Science from MIT due to my activism there, I hightailed it back to the San Francisco Bay Area where I was hired at Sun Microsystems as a technical writer. The guy who hired me was an anarchist and one of the reasons I got hired was because of my nonviolent anarchist philosophy and activism.

I led a dual life as a well-compensated corporate worker and as an activist for a variety of causes. After the release of a computer called the SPARCstation 1, for which I had worked outrageous hours producing a new set of manuals that made it possible for non-technical users to use the machine, management rewarded me by proposing a paid leave of absence so I could relax and recuperate. When they mentioned the possibility to me, I was overjoyed and requested a year’s sabbatical to travel around the world. When I told my manager this, she gulped and said she’d check to see if it was possible. After checking with her boss, she came back and told me that if I insisted — which I had by telling them I was planning to leave the company if they didn’t grant me the time away — then they would give me a few months paid leave and would try to rehire me upon my return if a position was available.

So, off I went. My first stop on the trip was in October 1989 at Yale University for the Third Gay and Lesbian Studies Conference, organized primarily by a Yale history professor and department head known as John Boswell, author of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality and of Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe.

The conference was rather unique in that quite a few activists — queer activists — attended, including myself. It was the heyday of Queer Nation and its in-your-face direct action tactics for queer activism.

At at the conference, I met the likes of John Boswell, Vito Russo, Larry Kramer, Jonathan Katz (well, I already knew him from activist circles in San Francisco), and a host of others.

The conference was well-run and had the excitement of a groundbreaking moment in history. The sessions were well-attended and provoked fascinating dialogues that lasted long into the night.

At one plenary session, someone ran into the room and yelled that the Yale police were arresting one of the conference attendees. Naturally, this shocked the crowd. The surprising reaction of the crowd was to relocate en masse to the scene of the arrest. Apparently, the Yale police were upset with an activist from a group called Arms Akimbo who was posting somewhat provocative flyers around the university campus.

They were quite surprised when a crowd of dozens of conference attendees arrived at the scene. Once it became clear what had happened, the crowd surrounded the police vehicle and requested the release of the activist in police custody. The police refused, and in the ensuing melee, a half-dozen more activists were arrested for lying down in front of the police car to block its progress. I was one of those arrested. We were taken in a police wagon to the jail in New Haven and I remember being excited and not at all scared. (Even previously on my first of many arrests for civil disobedience, the rush of it all kept me from being truly frightened.) We talked amongst ourselves, reassured each other, and developed a sense of solidarity that we would not budge until all of us were released. Not anticipating an arrest, most of us had identification on us, so it was not a question of whether we would be identified.

Meanwhile, John Boswell had contacted the president of Yale University and was negotiating for our release. Apparently the president of Yale got on the horn with the chief of New Haven police. I can only speculate that he applied pressure to avoid the embarrassment of the conference arrests becoming widely publicized by urging the chief to release us rapidly. Somehow, we were processed within hours and released with orders to appear in court on a later date. If my memory is correct, they released us without us signing any promise to appear, although I may have that part wrong. The reason I think that is that I was scheduled to continue on my trip around the world. So I wrote a letter to the judge, which I left with one of my fellow arrestees. In the letter, I explained that my pressing responsibilities for this trip prevented me from making a court appearance what I consider to be a spurious arrest that compromised the free-speech rights of the conference participant. I went merrily on my way with my travels and, to this day, I’m not sure how my case was resolved in the court. My memory is that the others had their cases dropped with no further penalty. But who knows, I may still have an outstanding warrant for my arrest in New Haven.