The Battle to Take Back the New School
- 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
The Battle to Take Back the New School
By BARUCHA CALAMITY PELLER
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
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@...
ACAN mailing list
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]