Alejandro Lara-Briseno Interview Transcript

MATT JACOBSON: OK. Great. Just as a start, so that the people who are transcribing this don't lose track of who's who, can you say and spell your name please? ALEJANDRO LARA-BRISENO: Alejandro Lara-Briseno. That's spelled A L E J A N D R O. Last name, Lara-Briseno. L A R A dash B as in boy, R I S E N O. MJ: Great. Thank you. OK. So let's start. If you could just give me a kind of thumbnail sketch of your own biography, and you can be as elaborate or not as you'd like. But just kind of where you're from, where you grew up, what you've done, what you're doing now. ALB: OK. So my family immigrated illegally in 1978. My father actually had been escaping reprisals for attempts to organize a union and organize fellow workers for better benefits. That I did not actually know until the middle of much of my activism. But essentially-- MJ: And what kind of union was that? ALB: He worked for the bus drivers in Guadalajara, Mexico. And my family essentially came to the U.S., risked a lot in order to pursue the American dream. And about the time I was a teen my family actually went back to Mexico for the first time after 11, 12 years of a lot of hard work trying to save anything that they could. And during that trip my father was actually attempting to buy a small piece of property in Puerto Vallarta in order to have a vacation home some day. It really seemed as though his American dream was happening. He was actually murdered by individuals involved in real estate in Puerto Vallarta at the time. 1989, it was still not the tourist paradise it is now. A lot of the corporations were trying to buy up the beachfront property for hotels. So that kind of always stuck in my mind, that he was murdered because people just wanted more money. Then I pretty much-- MJ: Let's go back to this. You were born in this country? ALB: Oh, no. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was a year old, and as some of my friends say, I was imported along with a lot of other stuff. It wasn't a decision for me, it was my parents' decision to immigrate. But that has always remained somewhat in my mind; that though I am an immigrant it isn't the same narrative or the myth around many people who immigrate to the U.S. If you're a child you have no choice. You just come along. So after my father's death I pretty much was, given that I'd come from a patriarchal family, I was the lone remaining male in the family. So I was given a lot of burden, too much freedom, and ultimately I had no guidance so I had to provide my own guidance. I tried to go to college right after high school. I had a very difficult time with accepting privilege that was being handed to me. At the time, affirmative action was legal and I could have gone straight to university, but I didn't feel comfortable. I didn't understand, didn't know the history of struggle, really, for people of color, or communities of color, in America. So that was difficult for me. I started going to school not really understanding why. My mother got injured at work, and so for the next few years I kind of floated around trying to do school but not really. Trying to work. Ultimately it was 10 years before I actually fully came back to school and attempted all of this. MJ: How many sisters do you have? ALB: I have four sisters. MJ: And all born in Mexico, or-- ALB: One was born here in 1986 when we already had our legal residency at the time. It was following Ronald Reagan's general amnesty that he granted. And after that we all pursued everything we could in order to become legal. MJ: OK. So differences in citizenship status has never created its own kind of strange dynamic within the family. You've all kind of always been on the same-- ALB: Yeah. And we were fortunate to avoid that awkwardness. I mean my little sister, by the time she was cognizant of what citizenship was, we were already either permanent residents or becoming citizens ourselves. My own story regarding citizenship was rather interesting, because I was part of the first group that took the oath of citizenship following 9/11. It happened October 2001. This was always in the back of my mind, this awareness of the discourse of the other and becoming an American, becoming the us. MJ: Right. There are a couple things. I want to backtrack just for a second to kind of fill out the story here. So first of all, what was the work that your mother was doing when she was injured? ALB: She worked at the time-- she was transitioned from working as a nurse's assistant at a convalescent home. And she was at the time-- I mean it had been very physically stressful to do all that lifting, but she had transitioned to a company called Technicolor that processed all the VHS production for a lot of the Hollywood movie studios like Disney. So it was just assembly line stuff, working with thousands of VCRs at the time. Later on DVDs. Eventually due to the injuries she suffered to her shoulders, she had surgery. She lost movement in her arms; in her wrists. She eventually was transferred to the degaussing machine, which is a very large magnet that erases tapes. And then we were always concerned about the health repercussions of that. But due to the injuries she really labored on and on trying to continue to work, because it was a one income family at the time. So it was necessary for me to work, for one of my sisters to work. We always had to just pitch in. And that made just going to school that much more difficult, because there's no guidance really explaining why I should be doing this. And on top of it without that guidance there's very little motivation. MJ: Do you remember, if you go back to those years or that period, how you were thinking about school? I mean I understand what you're saying about the kind of, maybe the vagueness of it. But you did keep going, and you did go to school. So what kind of space was that occupying in your own sense of what you were wanting to do? ALB: It didn't really define my perception of being an American. The narrative that was handed down to me from my eldest sister who had-- she had actually been accepted with a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton, but at the time she was a temporary resident. And in order to receive financial aid you need to be a permanent resident. So the opportunity for her to go to full time university and do the way that most people consider going to university, that didn't happen. She ended up working and attending school part-time at night. So this became the narrative, is that it was going to take a very long time to get a degree. The entirety of university for me was a very amorphous concept. It didn't really occupy very much consciousness to me. It was something that you did because you were told to do it. I had a very economic definition in my mind as to why to pursue this, was you get your degree you get a better paying job. And about the same time I saw my sisters getting paid OK money, slightly larger salaries than normal and comparable to, if not more than, college graduates. Because they had put in those four years of just working, working, working, and earning the trust of their employers. So that on top of just not really having a narrative behind the university really undermined the importance of college for me. And it wasn't until 2004-- I had my own company at the time-- I ran into an ex-girlfriend of mine who was attending Boalt Law School here at UC Berkeley, and also doing her masters here. And she dragged me along to a constitutional law class, and I was expecting to be overwhelmed. You know this is Boalt Law School, one of the top. And not to take anything away from them, or to say I'm arrogant or anything, but the professor, Ian Haney Lopez-- brilliant-- but when I was in the class I understood everything. And I suddenly thought I could do this. And she just kept telling me why, you're wasting your time, you need to be in academia. This is who you are. You need to pursue your degree. This is something you can do and it's easy. So she told me the steps, and suddenly it became real to me. I had had a misconception that it would take me about a decade, even if I went full time, to get a bachelor's degree. I didn't understand the degree system. So when I finally just put away the company, lived off of some of the money I had for a few years. Really my family assisted me a lot because they knew I was now dedicated to this. I went to a junior college. I spent more time than I should have there, just because I had made a commitment to the speech and debate team that I would spend two years with them. I could have transferred after a year and a half. So I spent two and a half years there. MJ: Where was that? ALB: Moorpark Community Colleges in Ventura County, 45 minutes north of Los Angeles. And they have the top speech and debate program in the country. I thought there was a lot of rewards in doing that program. I learned a lot about research in order to compete at the national level. And parliamentary debate, you have to really, really study a lot and know a lot about social, economic and political policies worldwide. I eventually won a national championship, so that to me said, yes you did right. And then it also made me feel that I was up to the challenge of coming to UC Berkeley, which I'd been told by counselors not to apply to Berkeley because-- MJ: Counselors at the community college? ALB: Yeah. And it had to do with my first 10 years, between 1995 and 2004 or 2005. During that time I had sporadically taken courses. I didn't know the importance of withdrawing. And work would've got in the way and I would just stop going to class, so my transcript reads like F, F, F, F, F, F, F, W's. I'd have an A or B's here and there, but it was really just problematic. And I understood their concern. But upon returning full time to school, I had a 3.9 GPA. So I acknowledged their suggestion and politely ignored it. MJ: That's kind of amazing, though. So that was really just coming from your own sense of yourself, and what you were capable of. To buck all of the advice that you were getting from the system itself. ALB: Yeah. And I only applied to two schools, that was UCLA and UC Berkeley. I honestly didn't believe that I had a chance to get accepted into an Ivy League school. It's very difficult to apply from a junior college to an Ivy League. The following year after I had actually been accepted to Berkeley, two of the students in the program, the debate program, they took the chance and applied to Columbia for-- they have a special program for transfer students, I wasn't aware of it-- it's Columbia's general studies. And they both got accepted, so now suddenly there were students in the program who think, wait. We can apply to the top tier schools. It is possible. So coming to Berkeley was a very unique experience. MJ: Yeah. Can you say a bit about the transition, both in terms of from the two-year college to Berkeley, but also from Southern California to Northern California? ALB: Well, first with the cultural shock. I had my business for several years, it led me all over the Western United States-- Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon. And I had been up to the Bay Area, and I had noticed there's a different friendliness. There's a different level of attention given to your social-economic status-- with rare exception. I mean if I'm in Tiburon or Marin it's clear that they're upper class and I'm not. No matter how nice I dress my suit never costs the $5,000, $10,000 that their suit costs. And they could tell and I could tell. They're just obvious, and they would look at me. But coming to Berkeley itself, the community's a lot more friendly, a lot more open. Southern California to me seemed very superficial, materialistic. There was a lack of genuineness in the way that individuals would engage. A reluctance, actually, to really make connections with a stranger. Whereas in Berkeley I came here and it was no difficulties whatsoever in making connections with new students, different backgrounds. It was fortunate that UC Berkeley has a transfer center where a lot of-- Berkeley has a lot of different students who transfer in from junior colleges, individuals from military backgrounds, or just older students. And that kind of gave us a space where we could connect with others. When I first came I still had this perception of what the university experience was. A little bit more of the, you know, college, rah, rah, rah sports team. So I kind of got involved in that. Got a little carried away with the whole sports at Berkeley. But it was unfulfilling for me, so at the time I was trying to nail down the program that I was going to study. And I ran into a lecturer at the time. She's a friend, mentor of mine-- Francesca Giovannini. I met her at an event called Invisible Children, about the effect of the wars in Uganda and Rwanda upon the children, essentially. So during that time I realized this is what I've been studying the entire time for debate was the socio-economic oppression of populations around the world. And it really connected to my own personal family's narrative about the struggle of immigration and how the economic policies, anti-labor policies of the state of Mexico, how that was impacting my family. Had it not happened, had they been more friendly towards giving individuals better working conditions and better benefits, I would be in Mexico right now. So all of this was somehow connecting in my mind, and I entered the Peace and Conflict Studies department here at Berkeley, which unfortunately has a little-- I mean you say the word "peace" and people think, oh you're one of those peace and love hippies. And honestly, I studied more about conflict there than peace, because the sad reality is there's no peace in this world. You're kind of given this discourse of peace, but in reality it's everything is contextualized within the framework of conflicts around the world. And around this time is when the university was trying to shift around the program. And I don't understand the reasoning behind the chancellor, the executive vice chancellor and provost in the university, why they were trying to get rid of our dean. Why they successfully got rid of our dean. So we were suddenly multiple programs under the International and Area Studies without a dean. So that was really disconcerting, given that the dean is ultimately the one who signs off on your petitions to extend. All sorts of conditions the dean is there, but we had no dean. So this led to the beginning of student protests, because we deemed this to be unfair. It seemed to be somewhat politically oriented, but ultimately we don't know-- MJ: And what year is this, that that reorganization takes place? ALB: The reorganization began in 2008, 2009. MJ: So it's right around the same time as the economic collapse. ALB: Oh, it was right at the same time. MJ: So it's one layer of a bigger story, I guess, about what's happening in the university. ALB: I was in Professor Ananya Roy's course on global poverty when the economic collapse was happening. And so I'm watching all of this, and I also had friends who were graduate students, and they were warning me about things on the horizon, warning me about what was happening with International and Area Studies. The professor came up, spoke to the class, and let us all know. And suddenly it became very real that the economic crisis was being used to justify budget cuts at a time when there was no need for them, because we still didn't know what the impact was going to be upon the budget. And so they're shifting things around, there's protests. MJ: So the initial protests that you were involved in were specifically about your program and the dean. Is that right? ALB: Yes. MJ: And then that fed into your activism in other parts of other student protests? Or how did that work? ALB: It did. What had happened was the protests, it turned out almost 2,000 students just over the International and Area students. And then there was difficulty in how to continue this process. And I remember seeing some activists on the outskirts of this not really understanding what was going on or why this sudden issue with the International and Area Studies programs led to students suddenly having a political consciousness of some sort. And toward the end I started, it just died out. You know, individuals have to go to their finals and then they have summer. And things just kind of went by the wayside. And then at the time during that summer groups started forming or there was talk about these other groups forming things, alliances. Facebook groups like Berkeley Students Against the Cuts. We started becoming slowly aware of what was happening politically within the university-- the struggles. How they were going to pass budget cuts on individuals. And then a letter came out from a group called SAVE, which is a coalition of professors at UC Berkeley, with respect to the budget cuts that were coming. I mean, there were activists involved with that, but they hadn't connected to the students who were involved with IAS. Eventually the IAS protests died down. And I slipped right into, the protest week was on the September 24th, is when there were 5,000 students protesting. And then I hadn't been involved in the actual organizing around that. It was primarily the professors who, with their words, with their being able to speak from the pulpit in their classrooms, they drove that turnout. MJ: Can you tell me a little bit about-- let's talk about September 24th for a second. First of all, how important were things like Facebook in the kind of political communications among students? How much does the kind of new media matter in terms of the kinds of protests that you've been taking part in here at Berkeley? And then more generally, kind of can you just tell me your experience of that? It sounds like an extraordinary day from everything I've heard about it-- the September 24th. ALB: The social networks, primarily Facebook. Sad to say, Twitter hasn't had really any manifestations in terms of student activism. MJ: Sad to say, because you see some potential there that's untapped? ALB: Yeah. Twitter has the potential. I mean, Facebook similarly with the Facebook status. But the difficulty with Facebook status is that you can upload your status but it doesn't immediately send out a message to individuals. But if you're logged in and following somebody's Twitter, if you have that set up on your phone you get the message that somebody just posted something on Twitter. So you would find out that much faster that someone's being beaten or what have you, which later actually became the case. But at the time Facebook was actually very important, because you had students who were listening to the professors. Then you had them going back to their actual circle of friends and speaking in those spaces. But Facebook was a tool for coordination. A tool for spreading a general message so that individuals all understood, but whether individuals correctly or incorrectly spread out word of why the protests were happening. In Facebook you could just log on and you see, here's the event. And it explains to you all the conditions. And if you went to your personal Facebook groups and groups of friends, they would have slightly different discourses but still towing the line as to what is occurring. So it was a very important tool just to remind people to keep them up to date, because with the five second attention span Facebook is actually a very tremendous tool to be able to maintain people's attention when needed. They just access Facebook, look at their events and there it is. Facebook statuses function similarly. You just see the statuses popping up on your news feed and it reminds you, oh I need to be out there. MJ: Right. You were talking about the beatings, which we'll get to, but were students consciously or conscientiously documenting those kinds of things with cell phones, too, at the same time? ALB: Some of it was actually with cell phones. Actually, the majority of it was with cell phones. Not everybody had a camera during the beatings on November 20th. But there were interesting things, which I'm not sure if you're aware of, on September 24th. There was an intention for a lot of people to get together and have discussions about what to do. And originally they had planned to go from upper Sproul to lower Sproul. The speaker system that they had reserved, curiously, went missing. So everybody moved to Wheeler Auditorium. And then this is something that most people don't know about. A small anarchist group on campus appeared covered completely in black, and they started chaining the doors. And there was a lot of panic because suddenly you have hundreds of students, well over 500 students, in Wheeler Auditorium. And you start hearing murmurs about the doors are being chained and you can't get out, and this is an occupation. And this discourse was really upsetting. It really hurt the student movement, because this one group who-- I don't know the individuals, but I'm pretty sure that my discourse has gotten to them through time. Nobody's ever identified them. For good reason. It's out of protection for their identities, but also because I'd like to have a word with them about what they did. They only left one door open. But there was a lot of panicking that happened that scared hundreds of students away from being involved and organizing. That really hurt. And then that eventually led to the October 24th. The few remaining students called for the conference on October 24th. MJ: Were you in Wheeler on the 24th? ALB: On September 24? No, I had actually been right outside. I had seen everybody go in, and I tried to open the door and it was locked. So I'm sitting on the outside of this really curious incident, hearing this loud murmur inside, noticing the doors are locked, and then finally seeing students stream out and some of them have these really scared look on their faces. It was a disaster what those few students had wreaked upon everybody by not having an open dialogue with individuals about what they wanted to do. Eventually the conference was held on October 24th. And then that called for-- MJ: And this was a conference of different student groups, or students and professors? ALB: Universities. It was just a general conference that was called for-- you had students from multiple universities in the Bay Area, from LA, come out. From Central Valley. There were professors. There were many student groups. It was a really disorganized general assembly. I mean, most general assemblies happen to be that way because it's not hierarchical. Completely horizontal structure. Individuals trying to work out how to deal with each other, how to deal with their political disagreements, because you have Marxists, socialists, liberals, Democrats, a few, but very few, Republicans. Very few conservatives. But you have all of these differing opinions, and what did happen was it managed to alienate the minority community. Because they entered originally into the multicultural center in Berkeley, and that space has been fought for by communities of color on this campus with a hunger strike in the '60s, with repeated struggles through the years. And here was a by and large Caucasian dominated middle class group coming into the space and saying, this is the struggle. Join us. And the minority communities stood back and said, how can you ignore it? Do you even know your history to be telling this to us? It alienated the minorities immediately, and suddenly you saw this massive drop in turnout from many marginalized communities. In November you had the three day strikes from the 17th through the 19th. I had actually gone to UCLA with-- a union had actually taken many students over. I'd gone down there, one, because I was wanting to be present. But there was also the four hour gap where I could go home, see my family, contact the local community college and see if they were working on my transcripts. As it turned out, the budget cuts actually hit home, personally, and delayed my application process. I had faxed in a request over the weekend, and it turned out that due to budget cuts they were turning off their faxes during the weekends. MJ: So they didn't get it. ALB: So they never got my transcript request. This is the end of November. It takes them two weeks to get it in. The deadlines are December 3. I suddenly couldn't apply to graduate school. So I was a little bit upset. It gave me more motivation for when I went out to UCLA. I'm protesting. It really hit home suddenly the way that this was happening. And I go there and I arrive to find out that students had been tasered, pepper sprayed, beaten. MJ: On the UCLA campus. ALB: On the UCLA campus, because they were surrounding and protesting around the regents meeting. It escalated quickly. There was a sit-down preventing the regents from getting out through the parking lot. The solidarity at UCLA was primarily the minority students that were doing this. But it was a large coalition of just different groups. It was shocking to find out what had been happening. And I wanted to stay with the students during the sit-in, so I got on the last bus coming back to Berkeley. And I had received a message via Gmail, but also I had seen it on Facebook, about this meeting that was being held at Berkeley. And it was going to be really late night. Some students were dissatisfied with the strike-- well the picket lines and what had happened. I was exhausted when I got home and I didn't go to the meeting. I went home. And I start getting messages at 5:00, 6:00, 7:00. I am tired. But getting these messages and just my phone's going off and off. And I finally get up at around 10:30 and I start reading that there's an occupation coming to campus. I arrive at campus and it's raining and there's thousands of students surrounding Wheeler Hall. And there's the police barricade that is surrounding initially. But the police haven't fully deployed. I maneuvered myself to the north side of Wheeler Auditorium-- or actually, that would be the east side of Wheeler Auditorium near the Campanile. And I had heard that earlier when the police were putting down barricades that they had been using them to beat students, and like hit them with the barricades. So at the time the police had tried to get in two, three trucks with barricades. And the students had blocked it, so they're trying to turn them around. And I start telling students, we have to stop these barricades because they're going to use them as a tool of violence. And I have a commitment to nonviolence and civil disobedience. So I had a theoretical commitment and that day it became a very real commitment. I started laying down in front of the vehicles and the police were driving away. And other students, they're just coming onto the scene and they see like what's going on and they're like, oh this is how it's going down. Like this is the level of confrontation. And so other students started laying down. They're dragging us back, and as they drag a few away a few of us would go back. Some would just stand in front of the vehicle. The police would charge and just hit students and like throw them over. So I had all these like scrapes on my body. My white Berkeley sweater was covered in mud, because it was raining. It was a bit shocking to see how the police had originally responded to just hitting people with batons, and like moving them over and pushing them violently. And then to me it was a natural response to try to prevent it. But what had happened was I stood in front of the vehicle, and I realized they're just going to throw me aside so I knelt down. And I'm just looking at the driver of the truck and he's shocked, because now he sees a student kneel down. And then I realize now that they can still grab me, so at that point I just sat down and laid down. And then all the students just froze around just not having seen this before. And then the draggings happened, and everybody got-- we were successful for about 40 minutes, but eventually the vehicles got through. And as I had predicted, they got the barricades in and they started using them as weapons to hit back students. I have a lot of friends who were beaten severely just so that the Alameda County sheriffs could drop the barricade five inches further than where they could have had they just dropped it in the first place. And I was very upset, even like being on one side of the gap that the police had created and seeing friends beaten really badly. And then I'm on the east side of Wheeler when they started putting up barricades as well. There's chanting. The Alameda County sheriffs deploys in front of us, and they start hitting us. I mean, I know we're up on the barricades. We're being pushed from behind. They're saying stand back, but there's so much chanting that it's a ridiculous order to give to a massive crowd when you don't have a speaker system that can be heard several rows back. So while they're yelling to the front row, "Move back," the back rows are pushing us in. So we're just getting beat. And I'm turning my back so at least they hit like my back and not like my guts or like my stomach. But ultimately I realized that would hurt more had they hit my spine. But they were just hitting me in the shoulders and side-- the ribs. And then the shocking moment came when an Alameda County Sheriffs officer, or deputy sheriff, leaned over and took his pellet gun and violated all the rules that they cite for how they use it. He put it to the chest of a student named Otto Mastan and shot him point blank in the chest with the pellet gun. And that threw the student back. It completely shocked everybody. The crowd got angrier. And in order to de-escalate violence I started yelling. When the police would try to hit I would put my arm there and it would hit me instead of a student. And I'm started yelling, or chanting, beat me not him. And when they started hearing "beat me" suddenly the other students are looking at me like you're crazy. And the police are looking at me like I'm crazy. And it was successful because it shocked everybody into stopping, because they realized somebody was willing to sacrifice their body for the protection of others. It calmed down everything but there was still a lot of anger. It was very traumatic to be beaten by law enforcement. It was freezing. I mean we were just drenched. It's cold. And I felt all of the beatings later, like days later. And it was so traumatic to know that law enforcement was there not to protect human rights but to protect what we understand as property rights. MJ: It sounds like this wasn't a lesson that you needed. I mean you kind of already knew something about this. ALB: I knew it theoretically. It became very real that day. MJ: Yeah. No, that I can see. I imagine for a lot of students this was a completely radicalizing experience. Do you have a view of what other students went through in those moments or across those days? ALB: A lot of my friends who had been beaten were just standing there showing support for the students inside for the way that the University administration was unilaterally pushing cuts without any real shared governance, or any commitment to the principles of shared governance with the professors-- with the Academic Senate particularly. A lot of them were traumatized. I can say I was traumatized as well. There's moments where you see law enforcement and your body just cringes because you remember being beaten. It's difficult to stand in the presence of law enforcement knowing that they can snap at will, and that there's nothing you can do. That they can abuse their authority and the trust given to them by the people. So there was that side, and then there was the side who got really aggressive. Individuals who weren't violent suddenly were espousing a lot of violence. Like they don't care, they want to just fight back. Get into a scuffle with the police. Just wanted to hit back. And it's all understandable. Sometimes you want to like fight back. It really does rile up a lot of anger internally, but to me that manifestation of anger and violence is actually expected and manufactured by the State. It's that complete domination, monopoly over violence by the State, is something that when individuals try to take violence into their own hands that's accounted for by the State. It's actually expected so that you're playing into the hands of them. You're undermining your own discourse, your own movement, by being violent, because the majority don't want violence. The majority believe that the State has the monopoly over violence and should have the monopoly over violence, even though they wouldn't describe it as such. The idea of individuals taking violence into their own hands, that is rejected by society at large. And to me that has been discourse that I have repeated time and again with a lot of individuals. It took a long time to calm down a lot of the people. And they still have a lot of resentment towards the police department. The way that the UCPD shifts blame onto Alameda County Sheriffs. The Alameda County Sheriffs knows that the UCPD does this. That they just call in external law enforcement and expects them to beat students-- or, not beat students, but mistreat students while they can sit back and say it's not us. We have nothing to do with it. And the administration also plays off of that by calling them in. That being said, there has been committees that were formed to investigate the UC's and administration's involvement. And they reprimanded the University for doing this, because they saw right through to what they were doing. Following the November 20th protests there was a live week where we held an open occupation of Wheeler Auditorium during the force-furlough week, where staff has been laid off essentially for a week. And we had a lot of information, like booths. We had professors coming in and lecturing about violence, about nonviolence, about protesting, about the struggle, about budget cuts. It was really informative. And then on the last day while there's 66 students in Wheeler Auditorium at 4:00 in the morning still studying, the UCPD with the help of the Alameda County Sheriffs barricaded the doors, violating their own fire code principles of how they're supposed to conduct themselves. Snuck in through the bottom and did a mass arrest at 4:00 in the morning. I managed to not be there. I had been there at 3:00 in the morning speaking to law enforcement, trying to get them to back off in their threats and what have you. They hauled everybody away to the Alameda County prison, processed them, mistreated many of them, took away their socks, their sweaters and everything. Wouldn't let many students actually take anything other than how they were dressed, which many were just in their underwear because some had been sleeping in sleeping bags. And they just shuffled them off to Alameda County prison. Some of them were thrown into solitary. And then they turned down the temperature, so you had students freezing for eight hours. The verbal abuse, the physical abuse. It was just uncalled for. Again, it antagonized many more students. Then we had a change of tactics, not wanting to have that confrontation. Something called the Rolling University, where you had events being held during operating hours in different buildings on campus. Informational. It was a lot of fun. It reached out to a lot of the-- I call it the myth of the moderate majority, because I don't think the majority even cares enough to be called moderate. I wouldn't say majority, just there are students we want to reach out to but they seem to not care. We need to enter their spaces and have discourses with them. So we were doing that. And then on the last day there was-- this was the week before March 4-- there was a small little concert. Some community groups actually came to perform about the struggle of marginalized communities, communities of color, in Oakland. That really, we were trying to build bonds between the community and the students-- to the student community. That night there was advertised a concert that would happen at Sproul Plaza near the fountain, and it would start at 11:00 and it would go to whenever. This was a play off of the rhetoric of the University as to why they had arrested the 66 students on the fifth day, the Friday in December, which was supposedly because somebody had published a flyer that said that we were going to have a concert with Boots Riley from The Coup, who's a political hip hop artist who's been invited multiple times to the campus. MJ: Is he from here? ALB: He's from Oakland, I believe. So he was going to do this performance in Wheeler Auditorium, but it said we're going to have this party until the cops kick the doors down. So they used that as a rhetoric to justify what they did. However, later we found out through emails and private communiques that Jonathan Poullard, the dean of students, had actually -- I think he's the dean of students -- he had decided the first Monday that they would put off the arrest until Friday morning to prevent the live week occupation from moving to a different building. So it was a lie. However, we're playing off of that. And-- MJ: Is that the same Jonathan Pollard who writes about the Middle East? ALB: No, Poullard. P O U L L A R D. MJ: Got it. OK. ALB: So there's a different group. I'm reluctant to call them anarchists. I don't know what political position they had. But this group planned something without the consent of the students present. The concert starts moving because the speakers are on a bike, and suddenly they're in Durant Hall. And I'm standing outside Durant Hall, it was under construction. And all these students are going in and suddenly they're looking around thinking, wait a minute. Do we have permission to be here? And students are saying, no, this is an occupation. Again, students flood out. And I sympathize with them, like how dare this one small group manipulate this event for their political purposes. That night there was a riot. As they realized that they couldn't occupy this space and they didn't have the backing of students, they didn't have the numbers of students necessary to support something. They also had been told to stay away from March 4th, and to not try to impose their political views on March 4th. So they decide to do this the week before. And that's when-- you can check with the Daily Cal, they have a lot of images about this-- there was a little riot that took place on the corner of Durant and Telegraph. The windows of the subway was trashed, was broken. Trash cans on campus were being overturned. And me and a few other students were picking them up. This wasn't OK with us, how they were manipulating what was going on. As I later found out, they were self-called anarchists. I jokingly refer to them as manarchists, because they tend to be patriarchal. Vast majority males. That isn't to say that they're just all males, but the way that their meetings take place is a very patriarchal way that is not democratic in the way that they would assume. Because-- MJ: It's ironic to call themselves anarchists. ALB: Yeah. The way that they kind of impose the leadership of the loudest, of the most aggressive. And I'm committed to nonviolence, and I disagree with how that all manifests itself in the groups that conduct themselves that way. There are anarchist groups that don't function that way. They are more democratic and have respect to communities of color and issues of gender and sexuality. I just want to make sure there's a distinction between those groups. And suddenly you have a lot of students who were dressed in black. And someone in the Daily Cal was like, is this black bloc? And I said, black bloc isn't a group, it's a tactic. And no, I don't think that's it. And suddenly you have at 2:00 in the morning the bars emptying out from Kip's and from Raleigh's and from Blake's. So you have a lot of drunken individuals coming out, and they see people. There's a stereo system in the street and there are people in the street. And there's a police line. And suddenly you have 300, 400, 500 people out in the middle of the street. And the bodyguard from Blake's comes out and starts a fight. He was trying to give the police an excuse to be able to come in, because I think that was an off-duty police officer. And then some of these self-titled anarchists come out and they-- I don't where they keep finding these dumpsters-- find a dumpster, light it on fire. So the fire department comes in. That's when the police use that as an excuse to move on the students. And they really badly beat two of my friends, who they later charged with resisting arrest. And they had to charge them with a crime because if they don't charge them they concede all the equal ground to having violated their civil rights and beaten them. They actually broke my friend Marika Goodrich's nose with a baton. And when my friend Zak Solomon fell over her to protect her, they beat him pretty badly. They later arrested both of them that night. But that wasn't the end, the riot continued. There were posts being upturned, trash cans being lit on fire. The entire group was moving away from where the riot had been taking place. The police line was moving towards the students. And from the top of College and Durant, which is a rather steep hill, the self-titled anarchists come with a dumpster again. I don't know where they keep finding them. And they charged at the police line with this dumpster. It was really surreal. And around that time is when all the other law enforcement agencies-- Berkeley Police, Alameda County Sheriffs, the California Highway Patrol-- were able to gather their forces to respond to the request for assistance. And then they just charged at the students with, you know, three, four cop cars down every street. Sirens blasting. And everybody scattered. I remember walking into the center of that later on at like 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, and how surreal to see something smoking. You see all this going on. So I was really worried for March 4th. We had done a lot of outreach communities. Like I work with a group called The Third World Assembly, which was actively trying to bridge gaps between communities of color, groups who have gender politics, groups who are concerned with sexual discrimination. And trying to bridge the gap between the intersection of all these forms of oppression, of class, race, gender, and sexuality. There's a lot of energy and respect for this group because of what we were doing. And a member of the community, a teacher from Oakland, had come out to one of our meetings in December and had said, if you guys really mean what you're doing you would get out of the Berkeley bubble and reach out to the community at large. You would actually reach out to the individuals being oppressed in Oakland and Richmond. So we started going to high schools and speaking to students and saying that we're going to maintain this peacefully, but you need to go out there with your parents, with your teachers. This is about you, about them denying access to the University, to the American dream. It's being cut-- [LOUD NOISE AND TALKING IN BACKGROUND] [SIDE CONVERSATION] So what happened was there was so much energy and work going on that we were looking forward to the turn out, not knowing how it was going to turn out. There was a disagreement with professors at Berkeley who would say they thought it was time to take things to Sacramento. So they organized buses. They thought we were doing this-- that just reminded me. There was another protest that happened at the offices of the UC President in Oakland. Some charges were dropped against students at the Oakland courthouse. A march happened. It was mid-December that this happened. And it went to the office of the UC President. And what had occurred was the front door was blocked to this high-rise. We went in through the garage, and we were sneaking in through the back door. And the students were pouring in when I'm holding the door open. And a police officer, Oakland PD, realizes what's happening so he comes in, grabs me, throws me. And then I'm in shock at being thrown. He grabs the door and starts using it as a weapon to hit students. Eventually, he's closing it to the extent that students are getting their arms and legs just crushed between the door and the door jam. At that point, students had gone into the elevators but the elevators had been stopped. So they opened, students poured out. They saw what was happening. And a young female student and a young male student saw what was happening. They reached around the police officer and yanked the door open. He turns around in a rage, and he sees the girl so he's not going to do anything because he's sexist. So he goes after the male student. And I grab the male student, pin him up against the wall, and put my body around him. Faced off with the police officer and just said, I'm committed to nonviolence. I'm just letting you know you're not putting your hands on this student. I understand that you're trying to do your job, but in order for you to touch this student you're going to have to violate my humanity, violate my civil rights. I have nothing against you for what you're trying to do, I'm just telling you that this is what's going to happen. And he's just yelling in my face, I could arrest you. And I said, you're going to have to arrest me, but again to get your hands on him you're going to have to-- I just repeated it-- you have to violate my humanity. As this is happening, all the students formed a semicircle around us frozen, because they've never seen interposition happen. Interposition is something you hear about but you almost never see. So when this occurred, to me it seemed to happen over 10 minutes, but it probably happened over the span of about a minute and a half, two minutes. When the other students broke out of their shock, they started linking arms with me. And an activist went over to the police officer and said, you've lost this. We have this space. There's no point in pursuing this. Just let it go. We'll calm down. It's not violent. So the police officer backed off, reoccupied the lobby of this building. Had two individuals-- I forget their names now-- from the office of the UC President come down and speak to us. And eventually we just peacefully left with an escort of about 200 police officers in riot gear who were outside the building. As we were exiting I saw the police officer in an unmarked police cruiser. And I smiled at him and I couldn't help but do the peace sign at him. And he smiled back and I just thought it de-escalated violence. There was no need for him to have done what he wanted to do at the time. There's no need to arrest him. To me it seemed like it is possible to de-escalate violence. But again, it's still very traumatic to reflect at moments; to see officers and remember that they have this willingness to justify violence in the name of doing their job. And I have had moments where I have to stop and breathe, and I experience like grief over knowing this violence exists with individuals. Going to March 4th, we don't know what's happening. Because during that occupation of the lobby, I had on video challenged the office of the UC President and said, you have tremendous resources. You can organize a march on Sacramento. Why do you keep saying that we should organize it? Like you have resources, why don't you follow? If that is what you're committed to, then organize it. I was just challenging them. The office of the UC President took a video of this and posted it on their website. The professors at campus thought that we were organizing, because of this and because of other reasons, to march on Sacramento. But we weren't. Our intention was to connect the community to the student movement; to let different struggles combine and enjoin. So the professors took relatively empty buses from UC Santa Cruise and from UC Berkeley to Sacramento. It was a very small rally there. We had about 2,000 students show up. A pleasant surprise. At Berkeley we marched five miles to Oakland. As we marched, students from junior high schools and high schools came out and joined us under threat of suspension. But the schools all stopped. Their students came to see. Here's this march happening. It was tremendously empowering because to know that you have your voice but it's also a collective voice. It was really a beautiful thing to see. And when we got to Oakland there was a rally happening. And I had friends who were there and they would say the crowd would just roar when they would hear like Berkeley's almost here. They're an hour away, they're 40 minutes away, they're 20 minutes away, they're around the block. And they're just cheering and cheering. But as the march is happening suddenly these anarchists come out of nowhere and they take the front. They go to the front with their huge banner. I forgot what the banner actually said. But suddenly you have all these individuals dressed in black. And they didn't organize, they didn't help to-- well, they organized themselves, but they didn't help to organize this march. They didn't help to do this. And not to say that they should. I mean they have their political views, but in my opinion the way that they just took to the front is disingenuous because it attempts to define what's happening behind them as solely this. But we didn't have a disagreement, because ultimately I had heard rumors about what some individuals were planning for that day-- mainly the freeway action. Going onto the freeway and blocking traffic. I had brought many, many groups together, being that I'm respected by many groups, to discuss these issues of the manipulation of groups and the necessity for consent. So I challenged the discourse of many of the so-called anarchist groups and other groups and said, if this is what you believe then you will inform the people of what they're doing. Let them make their decision. Don't manipulate, don't do this without their consent. So many groups that would never have spoken suddenly were speaking. I still can't name them for reasons that may incriminate them because of what happened. But I don't know, like -- That being said, the Third World Assembly was not involved in that. But we did have discussions with people because we have concerns about if you take to the freeway, individuals who are middle class, Caucasian students or students, they're not going to be punished the same way that a Latino or African-American youth from the inner city and Oakland are going to be punished. You would have widely differing punishments. We said, you can't just take these students. Like yes, they have their will. We reject this discourse about minors not having political consciousness. So what happened was we arrive at the Oakland rally and the discussions are happening like during the rally. Very heated debates. So the rally ends and in the end they took the megaphone and said, the rally is officially done. If you want to continue your protest, if you do not believe your voice has been heard. There are those who believe their voices have not been heard, and they will be gathering out here on the street. And oddly enough, the Oakland Police Department helped to create what was happening, because they surrounded the group on three sides. And you had members of the community, teachers, members of teacher associations. Members of the teachers' union were present. You had high school students, parents, their children. And you had a lot of students from Berkley, from different universities, who were in this group that was being surrounded. So they start fleeing from the police. And there's a lot of friends of mine who are watching, who were being legal observers who are there from first aid concerns. And that actually came out of me bringing many groups together saying, you don't know what's going to happen. You need to have these things prepared for, because you don't know if they're going to beat you. This is the Oakland Police Department, they have done worse things. The rally's done. I see the group being chased. My friends and I get onto the BART to go to San Francisco to the rally there. And as we're on the BART and it's leaving the station, we look out the window and there are 120, 160 people taking to the freeway. They were chased onto the freeway. And some of them were just running from the police because it's scary. You see a wall of cops running at you. And there were individuals who were trying to get out, but they were being caught up and arrested. So you couldn't get out even if you wanted to. It wasn't as unsafe as people think, because as cars are slowing on the off-ramp they're already slowing down. And people weren't running at the car, they were running at the sides. So suddenly you have all these cars slowing down, backing up traffic. So by the time these people are getting onto the actual freeway proper, you already have traffic stopped behind them. And then they're on this area. The police cordoned off sections of the freeway. And then they go and arrest. And the way that they're arresting, dealing with students and members of the community, was so aggressive. And I mean I can kind of understand that's maybe internally they're thinking how they're going to be teased by their fellow officers because they weren't able to maintain order. Look, you let this happen on your watch. So I'm thinking that there's maybe some of this going on as to why they're being so aggressive. And it really scared one student who went and tried to jump off the freeway, off the overpass, and jump onto a-- not overpass, but off the freeway itself-- onto a tree. Two other students had managed to do that, but he missed, hit the branch, fell. Really badly injured. He was in the hospital for a long time. I haven't really had updates on what happened to him. But by and large, I deal with a lot of the issues of media pertaining to March 4th regionally and nationally. The message was heard, even the State's attempt to try to twist what happened on the freeway. Some of us were upset because you're impacting parents who are trying to get home. And that was upsetting, but at the same time these communities aren't aware that they're already being-- like, yes, they're being hurt at this moment, but they don't understand that they're being hurt by the State all the time and that their children are being denied their future. So I understand it can be a bit paternalistic, maternalistic, to do something out of concern for somebody else's children. But they don't have that ability, they're working from 9:00 to 5:00. So some of us have to risk our privilege as a student, as individuals. We gladly risk our privilege in order to defend the rights of others. And there was a lot of debate around this. And I injected the discourse of, and I think it carried the day with a lot of groups. Some of whom were trying to reject this and I said, look when-- to use their rhetoric of the State-- when the State lines up with their monopoly on violence with the police forces, look at who's at your side and that's who you're struggling with. Maybe you have a political disagreement with that Trotskyist or that self-titled socialist or Marxist. Or that liberal democrat, or that anarchist. Have your political difference, but don't forget that they're standing at your side in the collective struggle. That's who's with you, and you can't just throw them to wolves. In the way that, in my opinion the conservative rhetoric happens in America, is there's this attempt to emasculate movements, to emasculate political parties. And we see it all the time. When somebody within a party says something that's ridiculous or offensive, the other party immediately comes out and says, no, you have to divorce yourself from this. You have to separate and you have to condemn them immediately. That condemning divides movements. That condemning divides political parties. That condemning rips at the heart of unity. And the Third World Assembly and a lot of my activism is about unity, because from the '60s to now all of our struggles have bifurcated. We have the environmental, the anti-war, the social justice, the anti-police brutality, you have student movement. You have all these issues-- immigration-- and they're all different aspects of the same struggle to me. And there's been a lot of positive feedback from this, so we're beginning to really unite different movements. And that's scaring some individuals, which is fine. They're going to be scared when marginalized communities begin to unite and struggle. After March 4th there was a lot of attention to minority communities because of what was happening in Arizona. And I have family in Arizona who live in Maricopa County, the county where Joseph Arpaio is. MJ: I was just down there. ALB: Where Sheriff Arpaio is, who I hope will be going to prison for all of that mismanagement of public funds. Millions of dollars that, has come out, he was misusing for personal reasons. I'm hoping he goes to prison, personally, for the crime he committed. Although to me, he commits crimes of bigotry all the time using law enforcement as his own personal racist tool. Beyond that, there was a lot of discourse about immigration. And there's groups on campus who agitate for - well, one group, called By Any Means Necessary. Very aggressive sounding name, but they're a very liberal traditional group. You know, try to get students to vote, send letters to Congress. And they fight for something called the DREAM Act, which I and many activists call the Nightmare Act, because it's not a dream. It's a nightmare when the discourse is that you have two avenues to citizenship. One is through education-- MJ: Military. ALB: --and one is through militarization. As if the military doesn't already target minority communities. Here they're saying, yes you will become a legal citizen, you will be granted legality and legitimization in this country, if you join the military, get sent halfway across the world to go oppress other communities of color. That you get sent halfway across the world to go murder people in the name of wars over natural resources, which we know Iraq is about and we know that Afghanistan is about, given the geological survey that has been known about for well over a decade. But it suddenly came out that Afghanistan is ripe, like filled, with natural resources that the US would love to get its hands on, at least corporations, and US Government vis-a-vis the corporations. So all of this is occurring and our discourse is this is a nightmare if you're trying to tell us that you become legitimate as long as you participate in violence and oppression. And that's the wrong message to send to a community. And to further it, these communities, who are by and large marginalized, the poor. I mean, the soldiers in the military tend to be poor, white. They tend to be poor, urban minorities or rural minorities. Either way, it's a class and race that is being attacked, personally through the military. And these individuals are traumatized through the violence. They then are sent back home, taught to be violent, experiencing tremendous levels of violence. They'll bring this back to their personal families. They'll become violent at home, because they haven't been taught how to transform this anger and trauma into something beneficial to the community. So it further hurts communities by injecting violence, by injecting individuals who need lifelong mental health care. And we already know through the reports that the VA is really bad with mental health care. So you're in essence ripping at the heart of communities of color. You're ripping at the heart of the poor communities in the US who are, in my opinion, the vast majority. You can't do this. And when I bring this up to individual groups like B.A.N., or activists from the DREAM Act, they have nothing to say. They're so just desperate to have human rights extended to them that their judgment, to some extent, is clouded in their willingness to just sacrifice the future of some so that they can have their own future. And I can't stand by that. None of the anti-war activists can stand by that. And it's sad because anti-war activists really want to fight for the immigrant community. All these struggles-- environmentalists, the Justice for Oscar Grant, it's a manifestation of the anti-police brutality movement-- all these groups want to unite. But there's little things like this that divide. And groups are so insistent on this political division, on how they define their political activism, that they allow the divisions to occur while me and other groups are fighting for unity. This is a major barrier. Eventually with SP1070, and I think it was HR 2551, which was anti-ethnic studies. I mean there's a slew of different-- MJ: In Arizona, right. ALB: --anti-immigration, anti-minority-- particularly anti-minority-- legislation that happened in Arizona. This led many towards the end of the semester in May within the Raza community-- which Raza just means race, but it's the Spanish word for race. It doesn't mean nationalistic. Anything that's just saying we are a common ethnicity. And if you look at the census it says you're all Latinos. OK. So we're La Raza. So the heads of this group decided that something had to be done, so they called for a hunger strike. I was coming to campus and I started getting the texts, and that's where my heart was. To me this is one of the most pure acts of nonviolence that can occur. So I was spiritually ready for it, mentally ready for it, physically ready for it, and politically ready for this. I had reasons behind why to do this. 27 of us started, many of them thought that the administration would back down within two or three days. MJ: Well, what was the structure of the protest itself? How was this laid out? How was your position articulated? And how was the hunger strike as a kind of organized expression? ALB: There has been a common narrative within the struggles, and that's one of horizontalism. You have individuals from multiple backgrounds who just came together and there was no structure. We just got in there and we said, well we'll have a democratic voting. And this manifested itself initially when we selected the group of five people to represent us in front of the chancellor or before the administration. At the time it was to speak to the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer. What occurred was there was five individuals and many of them, like Gene, actually, they're very ethnic oriented groups, spiritually oriented groups. The Third World Assembly was there. Members of the student worker action team. La Raza. Different groups were there. And Hermanos y Amigos, y Hermanas u Amigas. It was primarily the Latino community but there were also a lot of allies from-- I hate to say allies. Just fellow activists from different communities who were supporting us in the collective struggle. And there were many demands about fighting against the racism in Arizona, fighting for the rights of the undocumented. Their rights to education, to not being persecuted. We were fighting for the rights of students to not be persecuted as well, because the University was also just arbitrarily applying and suspending the student conduct rules. We were fighting for the rights of workers to not be arbitrarily fired, just so that-- well, arbitrarily. Not to be fired so that the University could bust the unions and subcontract out their work to lower paid workers. There was a lot of unity of issues there. We all had a voice. When the five people were selected there were four men and one woman. And I raised my hand and said, I have a problem with the make-up of that group. I said, I know I speak a lot, I have a lot to say, but this is very important. More than half the people are women who are hunger striking, and that group is mostly male. And I cannot have that. It's offensive to me. We have individuals who are workers, we have individuals who are from the LGBTQIA community. We need proper representation there. This is offensive. And everybody stopped and looked at each other and said, you're right. So they changed the make-up. We had a worker on there. We had three women instead of five men. I mean we tried to settle issues because it was also not trying to force somebody from their individual communities to speak out. It was also like just reaching out to them. Like please speak if you feel like you can. But eventually that was settled. And we just voted for things democratically. If you ended the hunger strike because you just couldn't continue then you couldn't vote. I mean you could participate in the discourse, but if you were putting your body on the line there was an emphasis on that you had to vote. Because somebody else should not --I mean, others have their privilege that they're not risking, they should not be given that power to vote and put other people's body on the line. Slowly but surely it dwindled until there were seven of us. And of the seven of us, six of us were long-time activists. We had been involved with November 20 meeting-- well been meeting on November 20th -- with organizing throughout the year with March 4th, with the other events. And that was at the strength of what we were doing, I think. MJ: By the time it's down to the seven, how long had you been striking? ALB: Sorry. It was down to 13 around the eighth, ninth day. But by the 10th day when the University conceded to many things we were down to seven. And I had respectfully spoken to all of the supporters. There were 27 of us originally, but there were 50, 60, 80 people who were out there all the time supporting us. Keeping a watch over us at night, because the first night the UCPD had engaged in sleep deprivation and sound torture, I would characterize it as. They would circle us in motorcycles, revving their engines, flashing their police lights at us. So not only are we not eating, but we're also being subjected to this form of really inhuman treatment. And a lot of professors came out and called out the administration for allowing this to happen. They immediately ceased. But still we would be guarded at night by many people, because we would sleep right in front of California Hall. We wouldn't move. It was a bit stressful having some-- there were professors who were willing to support us because they understood how this is how we were voicing our political voice. But this was in the middle of finals. I had a professor who didn't want to give me any room, so I had to take a final in the middle of not eating, which was very difficult. So I had to write an extensive paper. And as I'm writing the paper I took 15 minutes out to send him a discourse about the way that he frames justice, essentially in the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, the first principle, of if he's going to be fair to me he must fair to somebody. So if I'm anti-1070 he would have to be fair to somebody who's pro-1070. And I said, I understand the way that you articulate that. I just feel that that is a misunderstanding of justice. Because to argue that way is to evacuate history, to ignore the history of communities of color who have been marginalized. And we don't have the same starting point. You may have middle class white students or wealthy white students or poor white students in your class, but we don't have the same starting point. And I had, as a person of color, to struggle through things that they did not. So for you to say that that would be fair, it's a miscarriage of justice. And I respect what you decided, that's why I'm writing the paper. And it will be 15 minutes late, because I took these 15 minutes out to write to you this because I think it's more important than the paper. And then I send it off. It was exhausting. It was an act of pure meditation to be able to write in the middle of this. But it was important to have had to face that. MJ: So at the time that you're writing this, you haven't eaten in how many days? ALB: I hadn't ate for six days at the time. And then on top of it, that day is when, as I'm writing the paper, my phone is going off because the UCPD had moved in on the encampment and had raided it and threatened arrests. So I have friends who were just panicking. It was a very emotionally disturbing time for many people. Ultimately, very, very stressful for me because of what was happening. In the end the University did concede to many things, promises, which I doubt they'll keep. But-- MJ: Well, I was going to ask about that, because I've heard this described as a kind of unambiguous victory. What's your feeling about it? ALB: So first. The discourse of accomplishments, I think, is wrong-- of effectiveness. That's how the discourse of neoliberalism and capitalism-- not just capitalism. But this discourse of how things are accomplished, whether or not you've done anything in life, I think is incorrect. Because this is part of a collection of different moments in time that will define something. But a hunger strike is an act of pure love, and it isn't done to change the mind of an individual. It is done out of love for community, love for other people, and sacrifice for them. So those individuals who thought that this was about trying to convince the chancellor to do something, it wasn't. This was about unity. And the best way to describe this was I was fighting for workers a lot, because my parents-- I did not know that my mother worked for a union or that my father was a union activist. I had no idea until the middle of the hunger strike. I'm speaking to my mother and she told me, this is really weird. This is what your dad did. This is what I worked for. And they just thought like they had never taught me about it. It just happened. But my parents were laborers, maintenance workers, factory workers. So to me fighting for the low-wage workers on campus is something near and dear to me. And there was discourse originally coming in about how we had to back off on the worker demands, because the first meeting that happened with the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Breslauer he said he refused to accept the solidarity between students and workers. And we said, you don't get to define our solidarity. This is ours, not yours for you to decide. Later on there was a professor, Nelson Maldonado-Torres who-- very activist-- however, I couldn't believe what he did. He came up to me one day. His graduate student who was with him, someone who was trying to convince me to back off on this. And I said no. So Professor came to me and said, you're risking everything. So for an hour he's talking to me about the need to back off and fight for other things, and other things are more-- I was just shocked that he was telling me this. And I said, you don't get this. This is the thing I am struggling for. It's about unity between workers and students. To me, this was an aspect of unity. But this is what I'm fighting for. And he said, no. I had, then, a member of the Labor Relations Council, a union bureaucrat, calling me to back off on this. And on the phone I said, I acknowledge your argument. I respect what you have to say. And I'm telling you, you don't understand what it is to fight for workers anymore. You throw money at the problem, but that's not how you fight. This is about unity. This is about sacrificing for them because they sacrifice for me every day that they work their butts off in order to clean, to keep things running. This is what the unity of struggle is. They were shocked. The rank and file union workers are very respectful towards me because of what I did. They couldn't believe that this is my commitment. And after everybody ended, the University promised additional funding for ethnic studies. They promised to hire back some individuals to get into discussions again with AFSCME, the union that we were working with who represents the low-wage workers, or some of them. So they conceded many, many things, but they couldn't publicly come out and say these things because it would be embarrassing. And there's a lot of very wealthy conservative donors who would tell them, no, no, you have to smash those unions-- and what have you. So the administration is very wary of the students of color, the communities of color on campus. Earlier on the African-American students on campus had had a blackout. A very moving experience. But we're trying to bridge across all these ethnic divides, and then bridge across all these different struggles from environmentalism to anti-war to the Justice for Oscar Grant, which later happened. Many of the acitivists are uniting with them. And what had happened is at the end of the struggle, you know, everybody's like breaking the fast with corn through spiritual ceremonies. And I stood there and people are watching me, and they want to know why I wasn't eating the corn. It was very difficult. I was surrounded by a lot of friends, and they were having a hard time breaking their fast knowing that I wasn't. And I told them, I began this speech act in the name of my family who lives in Maricopa County. They're the ones that will have to-- it's my sister who's afraid to go shopping. She's a citizen, but she's afraid to go with my nephews because they look Latino. Like she's always afraid about them going to work in the McDonald's. Like one of my nephews worked for McDonald's. He was 16 at the time. And she was afraid that he was going to get arrested because many McDonald's had been raided, and a citizen had been unlawfully arrested and detained for several hours. My nephew's a citizen, but it's just very frightening. I said this speech act is in their name, and I cannot end this until I ask them for permission to end it. And I'm not ending it until I go speak to them. I had already planned on the 17th or 18th to go to Mexico with my now ex-fiance. To go with her to Mexico and just destress from, like recuperate from all this activism. And from her academic year, she was a graduate student. So I entered Arizona. As I was there I spoke to my sister and asked them for permission-- and my nephews-- and they said, yes. You have permission to end the hunger strike. I then boarded the plane, and it took off. And as soon as we broke American airspace-- and I did it because I felt solidarity with any minority that's in Arizona having to deal with that. And I couldn't eat while in Arizona. So I still kind of maintain that. If I go to Arizona, I'm not going to eat. But I'm not in Arizona, so I can eat now. When the plane left Arizona airspace I ate like a cracker, basically. But I really broke the fast once I got to Mexico and had really delicious food. And then came back. Actually, even the experience in Mexico was really upsetting because of the classism and the racism that I saw there. It's just everywhere you go. I came back. I had been involved with the Justice for Oscar Grant. Really interesting discourse happening in the middle of a riot. People arguing about, you need to go home. Well, we don't have a voice. Well, you're risking our lives. And you had like middle class students sitting. These students were like rioting there-- or students, like members of the community. I mean, there was everybody's in there. They're risking our personal safety. And turning to them and saying, now you know what it is to be a minority in Oakland, because their safety is constantly threatened by law enforcement. Because they are the most feared gang in all of Oakland, this Oakland Police Department. They are an unaccountable gang that basically beats people up. They'll shoot some, execute them. And we're tired of that. We can't have members of our community being executed without repercussion for law enforcement. And just these real dialogues happening in the middle of a riot is surreal, honestly. To see things burning, see windows smashing, seeing things being thrown. And then just having this discussions in the middle of the riot. You have the members of the city council who are trying to calm things down, and their body guards are starting fights. And they're telling adult males, you need to go home. And one activist saying, I'm a grown man. And he goes, no, you're not. And I turn to that silly councilperson and I said, like I understand what you're saying, but at the same time this is an adult who's exercising his right to free speech and to free assembly. And he's responsible for the actions he takes on this night, whether to talk to you or to throw a brick through a window. It's his right to have this discourse. And this is the expression of his frustration with whatever may or may not be happening. But at the same time, I said, you're being paternalistic and you're being offensive, because he has that right. It's constitutionally protected not to throw stuff through a window, but I said at the same time you should be aware of this discourse of property rights. That property rights are being put above our human rights. And we flat out reject that discourse because that window isn't more important than Oscar Grant's life. It isn't more important than all of the hundred people who have been executed, in our opinion, by the Oakland Police Department. Like property rights are at the bottom. It's human rights that we are agitating for and that many of these people are furious about. Because you can't go through Oakland without fearing for your safety, because the Oakland Police Department is a very deadly group. It's the most deadly force in all of Oakland. In the moment that happened she then started calling back her bodyguards, her fellow workers, and just saying, we need to leave. And they left. And just seeing everything that happened that night. I mean this is kind of what our movement stands, is there's a lot of bridging of gaps of these divides. Trying to get people to understand the importance of coming out collectively. There is still a lot of upset over how things are happening at the University. There's been a 12% decrease in Latino population at Berkeley. A 13% decrease in residents from California, which that automatically decreases the numbers that we would have present. Because now you have much wealthier students from out of state with no solidarity over what's happening here. But the movement is moving forward slowly but surely. It will have, as I've told many people, the discourse of effectiveness is misleading. It's an unfair burden to place on any movement, because the discourse of, well don't do any action unless you achieve something, is ridiculous. If people had accepted that discourse during the civil rights movement or during women's suffrage, oh you would have stopped struggling day one, because your acts seemed to have no effect. But those struggles were 50, 60, 100 years in the making. And this is, as I've argued with people, the activism of the '60s, civil rights, kind of died down with the execution of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Malcolm X. But the discourse had begun to come out of Martin Luther King, Jr. about the economic and social rights. And this is a continuation of this. This is a manifestation of the very rights that he was beginning to engage the community with when he was assassinated. And this is one struggle. And it divided, but we're uniting again. And that's what we have to keep pushing for, is the unity of all of our struggles and keep struggling for those social and economic rights. Now even the United Nations has the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and we have to fight for those. And you have the indigenous community fighting for their Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights. And the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are some of the groups that refuse to sign. And there are rights whether the states acknowledge it or don't, and we have to just collectively keep fighting for these issues. And that's where we stand right now. MJ: Well thank you. I really appreciate your time and your commitment. ALB: Thank you.

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