Quiet riot

Neal Lawrence_online

Let me begin from a place of weakness. I am afraid to engage in this conversation publicly. I have dear friends who are passionately involved in this movement. I obviously agree that the current space allotted to QARC and bridges Multicultural Resource Center in the basement of Eshleman Hall prevents these groups from providing necessary services to vulnerable and marginalized groups of students. The cramped basement spaces don’t even get reliable cell reception. I stand in qualified solidarity.

But solidarity shouldn’t mean absolute, unquestioning support. I have reservations about the tone, goals and tactics of Fight4Spaces. I do not support their current demands for the Cal Student Store and the fifth floor of Eshleman, their inability or unwillingness to change their demands or their public protest mechanisms.

In an article last Sunday, Student Union Board member Kena Hazelwood-Carter said converting the Student Store would cost $750,000 just in payments to the private vendor … plus potential renovation costs, plus a potential lawsuit for breach of contract. No vendor or contract occupies Eshleman, but moving student government would take time and organization and resources that can all be better spent actually providing services to queer students and students of color.

Fight4Spaces has rejected proposed relocation spaces ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet in MLK, Anna Head Alumni Hall and Hearst Field Annex A. They’ve dug their trenches, not moving, not giving an inch. If I recall AP Euro, all trench warfare produces is wasted artillery and casualties.

Even though I largely support this movement’s goals and politics, I’m afraid to criticize it. Anything short of complete agreement with current demands gets you skewered by a very angry, very organized group of people. A recent op-ed by representatives of the Student Union in ideological support of Fight4Spaces drew vicious criticism from movement leaders, who will take nothing less than turning over the fifth floor of Eshleman and the Student Store.

I’m a queer, trans student on this campus. I lived in housing that had QARC representation. I have a stake in how my identity is perceived and represented in campus politics. I am uncomfortable with the idea that being radical means being rigid, uncompromising and dogmatic.

I do not mean that demonstrators are too angry or confrontational. To tell anyone to be less angry would be obnoxious and hypocritical. I wake up angry. Anger is one of the most powerful tools in a radical toolbox. If anything, the demonstrations could stand to be more disruptive.

Protesting effectively at UC Berkeley is an uphill battle. Our campus’s culture dilutes the power of standard protest mechanisms — the short-term occupation of space, the chanting, the carrying signs and banners and blocking of one end of Sproul or another. On this campus, the standard student views a protest as an inconvenience or attraction, not a political action. Having to take an alternate route to class feels about as political as getting stuck in traffic because of a marathon.

Protests here are a dime a dozen. What does resistance look like on a campus where we have a café named for a protest movement?

Recall Occupy Wheeler, 2014’s administration-tolerated sleepover, where I and dozens of other idealistic young people felt like we were making a difference. We sat in Wheeler Auditorium and argued about how much was too much Marxism and the movement’s stance on graffiti. Meanwhile, UCPD patrolled the unoccupied upper floors.

We never occupied Wheeler. We were temporarily permitted to stay.

During Occupy Wheeler, the power dynamics between students and university only shifted once: when we blockaded California Hall. That afternoon apparently spooked them enough to install an escape route from the chancellor’s office, lest students ever again lay siege to the administration.

Any protest that wants to achieve something bigger than shade on the Free and For Sale Facebook page or derisive, reductive Fox News coverage has to find a way to turn the tables on an apathetic student body and an administration that’s been through this rodeo over and over.

In good faith, I can’t give my full opinion on the tactics and message of Fight4Spaces until the movement is older. I don’t know how long it will last or what kind of long-term impact it will have. At this point in time we could be looking at the high water mark, or the initial groundswell of a future stable force in campus politics.

I hope QARC and bridges can find a resolution quickly. I hope they can be relocated into spaces where they can resume their main purpose: serving, representing, and advocating for their communities.

I hope the next time we are called upon to fight, we have a better battle plan.

Neil Lawrence writes the Friday column deconstructing gender and sexuality. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @tronsgender.