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The Battle to Take Back the New School

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  • Charles Rachlis
    By  occupying and defending them we can SAVE OUR SCHOOLS!  It is not too late for the West Contra Costa School District. -Charles RachlisApril 22, 2009
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2009
      By  occupying and defending them we can SAVE OUR SCHOOLS!  It is not too late for the West Contra Costa School District. 

      -Charles RachlisApril 22, 2009

      "Occupy Everything"
      The Battle to Take Back the New School

      to pending legal issues, as well as continuing intimidation from school
      administration towards student organizers, all the New School students
      are quoted anonymously in this article, at their request. CB. 

      occupied a university building, workers in Chicago occupied their
      factory, people facing foreclosures have refused to leave their homes.
      Occupation is not merely a tactic to get some demands met; it is a
      practical strategy for taking our lives back into our own hands. Let's
      occupy everything until everything is ours.” – a student at the New
      School for Social Research, NY

      On Friday, April 10, in the
      first lights of a cool Manhattan dawn, banging could be heard up to a
      block away from the four-story New School building at 65 5th Ave, and
      the sound of chains scraping against metal permeated the silent morning.

      school security arrived the entire building, which takes up a city
      block steps away from bustling Union Square, had been barricaded by
      students inside. A huge banner appeared hanging from the roof: “The New
      School is now re-Occupied.”

      only lasting four hours before a brutal eviction by NYPD, the bold
      occupation has once again raised the stakes in the young student
      movement in New York City. But more importantly, the politics that have
      been bought forth from within recent occupations at NYC universities
      challenge reformist solutions to atomized “issues,” and now more than
      ever gone beyond focusing solely on student demands. Students are
      proposing direct action, and specifically occupation, as a natural
      response to the financial crisis, with a distinct anti-capitalist

      New School’s problems are symptomatic of the larger economic crisis in
      whish we live, the crisis which is being dealt with by service cuts,
      foreclosures, bank bailouts, mass unemployment, and layoffs,” said a
      student inside the barricaded school. “We reject these false solutions.
      To really fight the crisis means to take over the spaces in which we
      live and work, and make them our own. And that is what we are doing.”

      An escalating resistance to commodification

      April 10 occupation stepped up an already active scene of dissent at
      the New School, a movement whose contagious energy continues to spread
      to other universities. On December 17, New School students occupied a
      large area of the same building at 65th 5th ave for three days, and
      fights with authorities for the space broke out both inside and outside
      the building. Among their demands was the resignation of President Bob
      Kerrey and Vice-President James Murtha, as well as the Board of
      Trustees Treasurer James B. Millard. Early in the month, faculty had
      voted no-confidence for Bob Kerrey. The occupation ended after
      negotiations with the school, but only small concessions to the demands
      were made, and the administration remained.

      a plethora of concerns, the students cite a lack of financial
      transparency and political centralization as their primary grievances
      with the New School administration. They say Kerrey is making the
      school into a corporate entity that disregards student and faculty

      don’t have a library, the school has spent millions on a new logo, and
      Kerrey is only concerned with making the school profitable,” a student
      has said. “Our school is a progressive front for the corporate,
      commodification of education.”

      administration themselves are shadowy characters. Kerrey, a former
      Nebraska senator, is considered a war criminal for leading a massacre
      on a village of unarmed civilians during his tour of duty as lieutenant
      in Vietnam. According to reports, civilians including women and
      children were executed outside their homes and others were stabbed.

      sits on the board of L3 communications, a large war contractor whose
      subsidiary in Iraq, a company called Titan, was sued in May 2008 for
      abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib.

      winter break the movement continued. In February, NYU students, with
      support from their New School counterparts, occupied Kimmel Hall for
      three days, requesting that the school release a report of the annual
      operating budget and grant 15 scholarships to students from Gaza.  The
      NYU occupation ended when police lifted the barricades at Kimmel Hall.
      Students were photographed and suspended.

      there was an obvious lack of any serious changes occurring at New
      School after the December occupation. A socially responsible investing
      committee was to be set up, but Kerrey called it merely advisory.
      Wearing ski-masks, a student group called New School in Exile held a
      February 10 press conference to announce an ultimatum:  President
      Kerrey must be out by April 1 or else the students will shut down the
      school. Any concessions made by the school after the occupation were
      considered irrelevant if the current administration remained.

      only escalated further from there. More student groups signed onto the
      ultimatum. Frequent meetings were held and at one point Kerrey’s house
      was vandalized.  A February teach-in on the history of student
      resistance at the New School was disrupted by school security that
      threatened to arrest and suspend students if they continued the
      teach-in. A second teach-in was similarly disrupted in March. Using
      intimidation, administration showed a flagrant disregard for freedom of
      academic and political expression at the school, and tensions rose.  

      1 came and went and Kerrey remained. A heightened security detail at
      the school slackened its  efforts, but the students had not forgotten
      their ultimatum.  

      “Occupy Everything”

      the morning of April 10 crowds of student supporters and pedestrians
      gathered around the occupied building. Kerrey, who labeled the
      occupation illegal and refused to recognize it as a political
      demonstration, summoned the police in force. The demands had expanded
      since the passing of the April 1st deadline:  the resignation of the
      Kerrey administration, and full control over the otherwise
      underutilized building at 65 5th Ave. At the same time, those
      barricaded within the building used the occupation as a call to action
      to other students and non-students and as a model of resistance.

      are two aspects of our struggle,” said a student inside the occupation.
      “The first revolves around the crisis at our university, which is
      symbolized by the corrupt and authoritarian President Bob Kerrey. The
      second, and more important aspect is rooted in the general struggle
      against capital, as well against all hierarchical power relations.  The
      solution we propose is a means without end. Our occupation of 65 5th
      Avenue is a small model of our proposal, which is for workers,
      students, and dispossessed of all kinds to collectively occupy the
      places where they live, work and circulate through.”

      Huge banners were dropped from the roof of the school: “Occupy Everything.”

      morning pedestrians began to swarm the sidewalks outside the building,
      wondering what was happening, people fell silent and heads turned
      upwards toward the roof, where a dozen occupiers appeared masked and
      waving a black and red flag. The scene was striking- against the
      backdrop of a grey sky, the masked occupiers began to read a communiqué
      from a bullhorn. “…When we delve below the surface appearance of
      everyday life, it becomes clear that a generalized critique of society
      based on the twin logics of capitalist accumulation and hierarchical
      domination has everything to do with our struggle to redefine our

      students went on to critique capital and the commodity form to the
      constantly swelling gathering of press, police, pedestrians, and
      student supporters below.

      President sicks NYPD on students 

      after the occupiers disappeared back into the building, NYPD appeared
      in their place on the roof, and began a calculated operation to remove
      the student occupation and hinder outside support by barricading the
      perimeter of the school and shutting down over a block of 5th Ave.. In a
      move that would later be heavily criticized by both faculty and
      students, Kerry gave the go-ahead to the NYPD to remove the occupiers,
      without offering negotiation from the administration.

      an absurd reaction to the occupation, Kerry actually went as far as to
      compare the students to Al-Qaida, saying, “Some of us still remember
      9/11 around here.”  Kerrey, who at one time termed his students as
      “customers”, later called the students who occupied “terrorists”.

      the late morning, the occupiers attempted to leave the building through
      a side door. When the door opened, police reached inside and heavily
      pepper sprayed the students, and then closed the door, preventing them
      from peacefully retreating from the occupation. Outside the door,
      police attacked supporters, arresting three and leaving one student
      with a concussion and scrapes and bruises across his face. The NYPD
      denied the use of pepper spray on the students until a video surfaced
      on the Internet clearly showing the brutality at the side door.

      occupation ended when scores of police sawed through the front
      entrance. Inside, occupiers unlocked the second door and sat in three
      lines and 19 people were arrested without resistance.

      by president Kerrey’s response that led to the incidents of police
      brutality at the occupation that day, an angry crowd of 200 masked
      students from various schools descended on Kerrey’s house in Greenwich
      Village late at night.  They shouted his name and broke some car
      windows while barricading the street from approaching police.

      have heavily criticized President Kerry’s calling in of the NYPD as an
      executive unilateral decision reflecting his general lack of
      accountability to other existing powers at the New School community.
      Historically, school administrations hesitate to use police to settle
      student demonstrations on campus.  It was no small deal in the 60s when
      Columbia University sent the police in to evict an occupation, and
      after words, several faculty members resigned in protest.

      can see no justification for the administration’s resort to police
      force against the occupiers of 65 Fifth Avenue…in our view, (Kerrey’s)
      statements evince no understanding of longstanding traditions of
      university autonomy vis-à-vis state power and protection from
      apparatuses of repression.” wrote two prominent professors, Nancy
      Fraser and Eli Zaretsky. “His action appears to have been taken in
      ignorance of the specificity of academic life, its values, traditions,
      and historic rights.” 

      A Global Context for Unrelenting Students

      Kerry should consider himself lucky that New School students are only
      going after buildings. A few days before the latest New School
      occupation, students in Orleans, France, held their school president
      hostage, with a motto that reflects sentiments of students in New York:
      “education is not merchandise.” 

      the December occupation was greatly inspired by the insurrection in
      Greece and the wave of occupations there, students in New York continue
      to connect their experiences with others across the globe, specifically
      in Europe where students are concerned with an unstable job market and
      university reforms that serve capitalist interests. Since December,
      letters of solidarity from student occupations from Greece to Italy and
      Spain have been pouring into New York, and students scour the web for
      communiqués from their anti-capitalist “comrades” overseas..  Clashes
      between police and students have swept Italy and France for months.

      the administration’s continued efforts to repress dissent through
      threats of expulsion and disciplinary action, the students at New
      School continue to organize and escalate: holding assemblies,
      encouraging direct action, and writing intelligent communiqués to
      articulate their every move and counter naïve charges that they are
      merely “political thugs,” or that occupation is an act of violence.
      Students from schools around the city have come out in support of the
      New School demonstrations, and are planning actions at their own
      schools. Pressure from faculty led the to the temporary lifting of
      suspensions on students involved with the recent occupation.

      week, Kerrey’s house was visited once again by a mob of students
      reminding him that they want him to leave, and Fifth avenue was
      blockaded in front of the school. “Occupy again!” The crowd shouted.

      students are determined,” said a student yesterday. “The school cannot
      continue doing this, because we wont back down. Occupation is a
      powerful experience- to take back space and make it your own. Now that
      we have had a taste, we know what is possible.”

      Barucha Calamity Peller
      is a writer and photojournalist, high school dropout, and rebel-rouser.
      For years she has worked within and reported on social movements from
      Mexico to Europe. She can be reached by email at macheteyamor@...



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