Michael Cohen and Leigh Raiford Interview Transcript

MJ: --just so that people who are working with our transcript never lose sight of who you are, can you say and spell your name? MC: Sure. My name is Michael Cohen, Michael, M I C H A E L C O H E N. MJ: OK. And can you just give me a brief biographical sketch? Where you're from, who you were, what you've done, what you're doing now, and you can be as elaborate or not as you'd like. MC: Well, I'll be brief on this. But let's see. I grew up in Colorado, the child of two schoolteachers so I suppose I grew up with middle of the middle class last of the benefits of teachers' unions in public schools. Today I am a lecturer at UC Berkeley. I teach American studies and African American studies. And I am both an academic at Cal, and a teacher by profession, but I also organize for Solidarity Alliance, which is a movement of students, workers, and faculty at UC Berkeley trying to advocate for public schools. MJ: Can you talk a bit about your own political awakening? Or your own understanding of your political consciousness, when it first happened, how it happened, how you understand how it is that you are now doing the thing that you're doing. MC: It comes from multiple places, I suppose. I mean, on the one hand it goes all the way back. I got a good Cold War education in the southern suburbs of Colorado. And in part, because it was the Cold War, I had teachers that actually made us read the Communist Manifesto. And I remember being probably the only student in the entire building that really liked this, and would stand up and defend it, and thought that there were some good ideas in there. And it made any extremely unpopular and isolated, growing up in all-white suburban Colorado, and it is substantive. I grew up in a fully segregated school district. MJ: And where, say again what part? MC: The Cherry Creek school district, on the southern side of Denver. I mean, my high school was probably 95%, 98% white. And so I recall rather substantively, you know, the first Gulf War being, you know, 1991, being a senior in high school at that time, convinced that I was going to end up drafted, because this war was just going to go on and on and on. Turned out, of course, that it did, it just took a hiatus for, you know, the Clinton years. But really beginning to get involved in anti-war activism around the first Gulf War. I thought it was inevitable that it would be catastrophic. And then from there, I think things grew as I got more into pursuing an academic career. I have to say that personally, seeing Howard Zinn come to the University of Colorado and give a talk about Columbus was a rather transformative moment. I think it fed me with a sense that A, I should read this book, The People's History of the United States, and B, there's actually moral purpose to being an American historian. That there's substantitive political work, and that actually being a historian is a genuinely radical field. It may be one of last truly radical fields of, you know, uncovering and renarrating the past for purposes both of the present and illumination, politically. And Howard Zinn really convinced me of that, and followed it since. And then in graduate school-- well, I should say, in college, we went on hunger strike for an Ethnic Studies department at UC Boulder, when I was in college-- you know, and the University of Colorado at Boulder was also extremely white. Highly kind of lacking in diversity. And for whatever reason, it turned out that most of my friends were a lot of people color on campus, because I felt that our political sensibilities jibed with one another. And then this opportunity came, and there were movements, and it was starting to grow towards building Ethnic Studies. Ward Churchill was there. Rather explosive figure in his own right. And he and Evelyn Hu-DeHart, and a number of other people in the Ethnic Studies department, Manning Marable had actually left. He was there for a while and had just left, but the Ethnic Studies department was in a kind of dire situation. They were looking to cut it or to transform it in one way or another. And so a student movement arose, that I have found myself kind of involved in from rather early on, to demand departmental status for Ethnic Studies. And it sounds, you know, on one hand, it's very kind of internal academic politics. But it really was about multiculturalism. In the middle of the 1990s, the early '90s, that word was at the forefront of politics on campuses, and it had much more of a kind of radical edge to it than I think that it has since then. And so we were organizing rather aggressively towards a series of big actions around winning an Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado. And it turned out that a tenure case kind of exploded in Sociology around a Chicano sociologist, that the chair of the department said all these just ridiculously racist things, and the Chicano students on campus, UMAS and MEChA, so the groups came to us, and said, you know, we should join forces. We have a common interest here, we should join forces. And all of a sudden, our movement doubled in size in a single meeting, and it was really a terrific thing. And within a couple of weeks, we had shut a couple of regents meetings down, we were camping on the central quad, and then voted to go on a hunger strike. MJ: Tell me more about that. About the hunger strike, both the experience of doing that, but also the politics of it. How did that turn out, and in retrospect, what's your sense of that as a political decision? MC: That's a good question. I would say, personally, I was opposed to it. I did not want to go on a hunger strike. I thought that we should be doing something more aggressive. Honestly, I wanted to go occupy buildings. I wanted to take over buildings, and actually shut the campus down. I advocated for that position because I thought it would be stronger, that we would get more of a response, even a kind of police response, that I thought would draw the kind of attention that we needed. And I advocated for it in a very strong way, and I think a lot of the people who were originally attached to Ethnic Studies, and were frankly probably overly inspired by Ward Churchill and his ideas, well, we were simply outvoted. I think we had a big meeting, in which we, there were 40, 50, actually it was 60, 70 people sitting around in this huge room, trying to decide what we were going to do. And a lot of students representing UMAS and MEChA did not want to do that. They felt that it rendered them really vulnerable, that the chances that they would be expelled from the university was too high, that they did not want to be missing classes, and that we were threatening to be irresponsibly radical, and cause a police presence that they knew that they would face the brunt of. They put it to us very directly that when the cops come and start swinging, they're not going to hit you white boys. They're going to hit us. And they're right, and we heard that. And I did not want to go on a hunger strike, but I was not going to, having been a sort of leader on one side of the movement, I was certainly not going to walk away because we disagreed on tactics. And we argued very openly, and very directly, and we took a vote. And the hunger strike won. And it was a situation where it was clear that, we did have to decide, it was a procedural moment where we had to decide, well, how many of you are willing to on a hunger strike? OK, well, you know, it was a difficult thing to say, if you're going to vote, you have to be willing to go on the hunger strike. Because we can't have people voting for a hunger strike that are not going to do this. So I mean, it's a very kind of complex moment. You know, any kind of student movement-- and we were all just students-- so you know, we're really kind of reinventing the wheel as this goes on. And it's funny, because I've seen this conversation, I've seen meetings, I've seen these tactics, discussed in exactly the same way at Cal. MJ: Here, right? MC: Exactly the same way! The exact same scenarios, the same positions put forward, and it's one of those, I have to kind of hold my tongue and say, because I don't want to be the old man. We did this once! But it's still very kind of exciting. And we agreed, and there were 50 of us who started on a hunger strike. MJ: And so how long did this action go on, and what was it like? MC: Well, we had been active for about a month before that. We'd had a couple of rallies and marches, and put the demands forward of what we were demanding. And that was all quite well-elaborated. So this was clearly-- the movement existed, and was growing, and the decision to go on a hunger strike was a deliberate act of escalation. And it turned out to be relatively well-planned, as it was. It came in the proper upward swing of things. And so we had been camping out on the main quad, out in front of the library, and we were doing a number of direct action things. My favorite, which was hijacking campus tours. This is my sort of specialty, was that we would hijack campus tours, and people would come by, saying, you know, the University of Colorado, and point out all the beautiful buildings. And one of us would jump up on a rock, and start haranguing the crowd about the lack of diversity on campus, and how few students of color graduate, and that there's a real crisis on campus. And that got a lot of attention. They don't like it when you mess with their recruiting. It turned out to be a lot of fun, but we got in trouble for that. But then once we decided to go on a hunger strike, we had a march, we presented ourselves at sort of a large rally, and then we all camped out on Norlin Quad. And so we were a permanent presence at the center of campus. We didn't quite go for the whole South African shanty town thing. That was not where we were at at the time. But it turned out, it was very solid, very visible. And we were on a strike for five and a half, six days. And I mean, the funny story is that on our fourth day, all of a sudden, people started becoming very concerned, you know, four days of solid attention gathering. And the president of the university, the first woman president of the University of Colorado, called us and said, we want to have a meeting, we're going to negotiate this. OK, great, so who's our negotating committee? We didn't have one. And we had to compose a negotating committee out of people who had not eaten in four and a half, five days! And so when we met with the president, because I was on the negotiating committee when we met with president, we were snappy, belligerent, hallucinating, loopy, all the things that you're not supposed to be when you meet with president of your university to decide the fate of an Ethnic Studies department. But I think what ended up happening, was the president of the university was locked in a fight with right-wing forces that were coming down against her. Because I don't think they liked that there was a woman president of the University of Colorado who cares about things like diversity, and she-- MJ: Well, at some point she lost the faith of the faculty as well. Was that later, or was that part of the same thing? MC: That was later, that was after I left. I feel like it was part of the same thing. I think that it was part of the same trend, in the sense that she saw an active student body that shared her goals, I think, on a basic level of diversity, and you know-- clearly, if we had been occupying buildings, she would have been our enemy. But as the tactics that we took, that I disagreed with, but, you know, I was wrong, and I'm glad that I was wrong. She saw an active student body that would step up to defend her. And she was already under attack from a number of different angles, and so she saw an opportunity to do something that she already agreed with, that there was external pressure on behalf of, and she granted Ethnic Studies departmental status. And they then hired this guy from Sociology who was being denied tenure. MJ: Oh, so that became the way to save his career there. MC: Yeah. Because they loved him. His name was Estevan Flores, and he did research on Chicano and Chicana health, public health standards, and rates of cancer and other diseases in these communities, particularly in Denver, and was doing very kind of hands-on research and scholarship that had a kind of health advocacy angle. And I think the Sociology department was all very theory, and didn't want people out in the field, let alone doing racial politics. And so Ethnic Studies did want this. And everything kind of came together. We won. We won an Ethnic Studies department. The president congratulated us profusely, and thanked us. And then Ethnic Studies got its department, we all graduated, and the people who were defeated came back and crushed her, forced her out, they eventually fired Ward Churchill, and now there's a Chair of Conservative Thought and Practice at the University of Colorado, because presumably the rest of the faculty are a bunch of Leftist radicals. Which is not true. MJ: You didn't quite see it that way when you were striking-- MC: No, certainly not! MJ: How important was the whole experience in your own development, I guess, is what I'll say. As an activist, as an organizer, as someone who sees your intellectual work tied up very much with a kind of political work? MC: I felt that it was a practical historical laboratory. And campuses are beautiful places to do activism like this. Because to one degree, they're both self-contained, they are little worlds unto themselves with administrative capacities that can be influenced in one direction or another, based upon whatever pressure you're capable of bringing to bear on them. And so they are kind of heremetic spaces in which you can actually see the direct results of activism. But they're also connected to the wider world. We set examples for others to follow. We are connected to the community at large. There's a whole series of, you know, universities are good laboratories to do this kind of stuff in. But I was clearly inspired by what I had been reading and studying, in terms of the history of social movements. And I think that there was a real, I had a real desire then, as I do now, to deploy, to improve upon, the various tactics that I had been learning about, and seeing what will work, and what doesn't. How to talk to people to convince them that it's actually worth their time to engage in social justice activism. And part of that is a historical experience, to say, well, this is what's happened in the past, this is why you enjoy the certain rights that we do have, because of these movements that have happened in the past. And that we are capable of making our own history it just requires a tremendous amount of work. I mean, we can make our own history. We just have to do it together. None of us get to do it by ourselves. And I was certainly inspired by what I had learned, from Howard Zinn, from Ward Churchill, from a number of people as an undergraduate. And that's really only grown since then. I mean, I think it did push me clearly into, you know, the work I did as a graduate student, and that I do now, which is around social movements and culture, in particular. MJ: Right, yeah. Well, I want to jump ahead and talk about the situation, the recent situation at UC Berkeley, and especially in the wake of the collapse in '08. But let's give that a slightly broader horizon first. What year did you arrive here at Berkeley? LR: 2004. MC: 2004. MJ: Well, now that your voice is on the tape, you have to identify yourself. Can you just tell us your name, and briefly identify yourself? LR: I'm Leigh Raiford. [Leigh had initially asked not to be a participant in the interview, and had been coming and going as she attended to their children, etc.] I teach in the Department of African-American Studies at UC Berkeley, and I am Michael Cohen's wife. MJ: And can you spell your name? LR: L E I G H R A I F as in Frank, O R D. My mom would be proud. MJ: And then, you're welcome to kind of come and go in the conversation as you like. OK, so you came here, I'm sorry, '03? MC: 2004. MJ: '04, OK. So before we get into the kind of economics, and the politics around it, of the collapse, in California in general, and the UC system. Can you talk a little bit about your view of the kind of political scene here at Berkeley, among students and faculty, as the Bush years gave way to the Obama years? I mean, what did that period feel like here? MC: I think that, well, I'll put it this way. The election cycle, you know, in which Obama was elected, part of it is, I have to say, we got here in 2004, just in time for both Arnold Schwarzenegger to be elected governor and for John Kerry to get his ass kicked. And that was incredibly despairing. I mean, I think, you know, to arrive here and see John Kerry be so bad, but yet the Democrats, the Democratic Party in the state of California, just seeing no purpose for any of us, or our intelligence or use, other than our capacity or willingness to give them money. It was embarrassing. I mean, we lived in a certain neighborhood which is probably one of the top zip codes for the Democratic Party in California at the time. And there was a DNC, somebody knocking on our door every day. And I started to yell at them. And then they stopped coming. Because I would abuse them, when they would come. But I think that we do, the Bay Area is a kind of bubble to one degree or another. It's very powerfully controlled by Democratic Party influences. And in a certain sense, we looked at someone like Barbara Lee, who was our congressional representative, who voted against the Iraq war, who voted against the Patriot Act, you know, we can believe in, and we do like. But I think when we got here, things were really quite bad. People were disillusioned, disconnected, happy to be in their kind of bubble. And then with the Obama campaign, that period was incredibly exciting, and it was clearly one of the most exciting times to be a teacher, just in terms of talking about the election itself. And I think for me, that the election, the electioneering was really quite interesting. It was the first seriously competitive race we'd seen since 2000, obviously. And then the financial collapse happening simultaneously. There was just tremendous opportunity to teach students about what, you know, to say that voting here actually does make a difference. Students love it when you can tell them that, you know, voting is actually is going to make a difference. This is that time to really make a big difference with your voting. But also, there's something else going on here that's probably more important. That American capitalism is in crisis like it's never before, and to explain all that. And to me, I think those two things happened simultaneously. Historically, obviously, they did happen simultaneously, but they were kind of inseparable. That there's-- you know, it's a cliche that Marxist economists have successfully predicted 12 out of the last six recessions. That we're constantly begging for the economy to collapse, because that's what's going to galvanize the people into revolutionary action, right? Well, the Tea Party and others are proving how wrong that that notion is, on a much broader scale. But I think there was real belief that, you know, all of a sudden, the mechanisms of the capital system were really being quite barrenly exposed in all this. And those two things happening together were really enormously exciting. But of course, as Wall Street and the housing market, in particular, I think the collapse on Wall Street is of significance particularly to New Yorkers and the northeast, to the whole financial services industry. But we in California, actually, were the epicenter of the home mortgage collapse. Countrywide financial-- MJ: Which became visible when, in relation to-- well, in relation to Lehman Brothers and in relation to the election? LR: 2007, I think. MJ: So it was on the front edge of -- I mean, you were already seeing signs of-- LR: Absolutely. Places like Modesto, and Stockton, where already the foreclosure rates were high, and unemployment rates were increasingly, just, you know-- I mean, there was really kind of, I think, a sense of anxiety around 2007. But I also want to point out, too, that I think when we arrived, even as the state was clearly in transition, and in a kind of growing crisis, one of the things that really struck me when we arrived was how different Berkeley the town is from Berkeley the university, that the concerns that motivate residents of the city of Berkeley are not the concerns of the people on the hill at all. I think, we always refer to it as the progressive mystique of Berkeley, that it's an incredibly conservative campus, both kind of in terms of its scholarship, but I think also politically, to a certain extent. And for many faculty, an unwillingness to see that their work has ramifications or implications outside of the classroom, or outside of academic journals. Unless they're doing kind of, you know, maybe energy policy work, or, you know, Robert Reich, right? But I think that was, really, for me it was really frustrating to be in a place that has such a long history of activism, that is full of so many progressive folks, to find that our community of people-- the community that we really immersed ourselves in are full of many youth and environmental activists, but who aren't connected to the university, and the university is not really interested in being connected to them either. And so I think there was a-- I felt that that kind of, the kind of buildup to Obama, to the 2008 election, was-- and the kind of economic crisis, were often seen as, in some ways that we were insulated. We could remain insolated as the flagship institution of the University of California. And that we didn't-- and of course, isn't it great that we have, that there's this African-American, this black man running for president. But this-- and this is-- and we should congratulate ourselves for it even though the university does not reflect any of those kinds of, you know, racial hopes. So I guess I would just want to say that even as California was sort of falling apart from the time we got here, I feel like the university didn't get the memo until 2008. MJ: 2008, sure. And can you talk-- Oh, I'm sorry. I just want to follow up on-- so just to kind of sketch out, from the anxiety in '07 that you're describing up to now. Can you describe the different ways that you actually see the crisis here? If you're not reading the paper, if you're just walking around. What did you see in '07, what have you seen over the months? MC: I wanted just to, briefly, what I was going to say, when we first got here in 2004 was the peak of the housing bubble. And we're meeting all the parents of the kids that are, so our children started at the public schools when we got here, my daughter started in Kindergarten when we first arrived, and my son started preschool. All the other parents-- we called it the Cult of the Remodeled Kitchen. No one could talk about anything other than real estate. Buying, selling homes, cashing in the equity on your home to get whatever the hell kind of new countertop you wanted. And these are, you know, supposed to be progressive, forward-thinking Berkeley people who were absolutely obsessed with the irrational exuberance. And they hated me, because I would sit at all the potlucks and be like, you know, you're fucked. This is all going to come crashing down. You know that, right? Oh no, not at all. My adjustable-rate mortgage will never spike. So we saw that turn really quite dramatically. And this is one of those things where there's no honor in being right, because nobody wants to be like, ha ha, you're miserable, and being foreclosed on, and I told you so. That's not cool, and you know, I don't take any pride in that. But it's true. I mean like, we stood outside of that, having just arrived here, with a loan guarantee from the University. They attract new faculty here with a loan guarantee for, what was it, a half a million dollars? Half a million dollars was not going to buy you anything in Berkeley. LR: Coming from North Carolina, we thought we were flush. MC: Yeah. We were going to buy a McMansion, no problem, coming from North Carolina. But we got here, and we're priced out of the market within three, four weeks. Things were growing so rapidly. So I mean, in part, that conversation has completely changed. But the other is that, I mean, 2006, 2007, we started seeing students drop out of school, because their parents' homes were being foreclosed on. That they can't afford to be in college anymore. They have to leave and make money for their parents. And you try and say, you know, look, you're going to be worth that much more, a Berkeley degree is valuable, you'll be worth that much more if you finish, just stay and finish, and we lost most of those arguments with them. I mean, I've had that conversation with dozens of students. That, I have to drop out of university because my parents are being foreclosed on. And they overwhelmingly were students of color from the Central Valley. So in that sense, I mean, that's a practical thing. The upper middle class at Berkeley no longer brags about their countertops. But the working class students, the first generation college students at Cal-- MJ: Are gone. MC: Are gone, or disappearing very rapidly. MJ: So tell me, I mean, in one sense it's a very short span of time. But given the calamity that we've just lived through, or are living through, there's quite a distance between 2008 and 2010. Can you actually see a difference in the student body? MC: Absolutely. Now in order to explain that in detail would require a fair amount of background about what has actually happened at the university. Because in part, last year was a full confrontation with the fiscal crisis and the state of California. There was a certain amount of lag, but given, I don't know how much detail you want me to go in on at this point, but California has an incredibly unstable public financing system, because-- Look. Most people today think California is the left coast. We're a land of movie stars, Silicon Valley, and rich limousine liberals. And that is simply not true. I mean, as historians, we know there are three presidents that have come from California: Hoover, Nixon, and Reagan, and they were all right wing conservatives. So California has yet to elect a prominent liberal to any national office, but yet we still have this reputation. And it's undeserved. In the 1970s, after Ronald Reagan was governor, but before he became president, there was the income tax revolt in California. And the most important, and the longest legacy, was what passed in 1978 by Howard Jarvis, called Prop 13. Which undercut the property tax base for public schools and municipal services. It froze income tax rates, and then further subsequent tax revolt propositions made it almost impossible to raise taxes in the state of California. You need a two thirds majority. Often a two thirds majority by the voters of the state, let alone the state legislature, in order to raise taxes. Simple majority to lower taxes. Two thirds majority to raise them. And as a result, you have a situation in which minority parties in the state legislature, in this case Republicans, and they've been minorities for a long time, can hold the majority hostage. And the state of California in the 1970s had, you know, there was a Supreme Court ruling that said that public education had to be pooled and distributed equally in terms of funding, so that you wouldn't have rich schools and poor schools across neighborhoods, and the response to that, the court saying, we need equality in public schools, from interior to coast, north to south, and the response of the people of the state of California was to pass Prop 13, which meant there would be no income to share at all. So given that the taxation structure, the imbalance of the taxation structure in California, every time there's a recession in the state or in the country, the state of California goes broke and has to enter into severe austerity conditions. So this happened in the early 1980s in California, this happened in the early 1990s in California, it happened in 2000 after the dot com bubble burst, and it's happening now. And with each recovery, you get fewer and fewer jobs being created, less and less wealth being created, the stratification between the coast and the interior gets greater, and so we're in a condition in California where rich people and corporations pay very, very little tax, poor people pay very, very little tax, but people like myself, or others who are recently arrived here, or trying to be middle class, trying to send their kids to college, are just utterly squeezed. So that's the crisis of, not just us, as young faculty at the University of California, but the vast majority of our students, as well, who are being squeezed in this. So last year, austerity finally really descended upon the University of California. And the state legislature, which is broken in all kinds of ways-- California is, at this point, all but ungovernable-- the state legislature's broken in all sorts of ways. They cut $800 million out of public higher education financing. That's $600 million-- you know, and much of that came out of UC budget. And so the University of California has to decide what to do, and their first move, well, you know, among many, but one of their first moves was to grant the newly hired president of the university, Mark Yudof, who had previously been the austerity-generating president of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Minnesota, was then brought in by the UC regents to come to University of California, and the regents then voted him emergency powers. So the state of exception has been declared in California so that he can tackle the budget crisis. Shared governance, faculty senates and others that are supposed to have a say in the sovereignty of the university, is all thrown out. And the first thing that they inaugurated was mass round of layoffs for the lowest-wage workers on campus, janitors, food service people, maintenence staff, furloughs for faculty, so just a straight pay cut for faculty, and then a proposition of a 32% fee increase for undergraduates. LR: And just to clarify, the furlough was across the board. MJ: Every faculty. LR: It was faculty and staff. MC: Well, the difference was that the faculty-- the faculty at Berkeley in particular, this is true largely across the UCs, but Berkeley in particular, have no representation. They have no contract. They have no representation. The faculty at Santa Cruz has a union, so they did not face furloughs, and the other employees at UC, the janitors, the clerical-technical staff, librarians, lecturers, and others who actually have union contracts, could resist it, and fought back against some of those— LR: Some of them. MC: Some of the furloughs. Now, the furloughs then, university end up fighting with the unions, and they didn't face furloughs, they faced temporary layoffs. So they just say, you know, you don't work over Christmas, so we're not paying you. And so it ended being exactly the furloughs, so it turns out to be a contractual dispute, but the faculty don't have a contract with the university, so they couldn't contest it in any way. So faculty furloughs go across the board, right? LR: The other thing, too, is that while faculty are eligible for merit increases every couple of years, the majority of staff has not had any sort of merit increase in-- I know in our department, the staff haven't had merit increases for the last four or six years, as well. So they were also facing cuts on an already stagnant pay scale. MC: Yeah, I mean, it was very clear what was happening here. It was a direct act of impoverishing the employees of the University of California. And I mean, you couldn't make this up. Because every time the regents would vote to cut layoffs, or cut salaries or something, they would then vote to increase the salaries of UC's vast cadre of high-level administrators and others. The president of the University of California, Mark Yudof, makes $800,000 a year, lives in an $11 million home that is paid for by the university, and he's firing janitors who are already making minimum wage, right? And there were all kinds of research in the last thirty years at the University of California system, we're talking 10 campuses here, huge system, right? There have been faculty hires over the 30 years, the number of faculty has increased about 17%. In the same time, the rate of administrative growth has been 300%. Now, student fees have grown some 3000% in that time. You know, this is one of those things that I think has to be remembered, was that in the 1960s, California had the finest public education system in the world. It was the envy of the world. When Mario Savio and Bettina Aptheker were leading the free speech movement at the University of California at Berkeley, tuition was free. It was free. It was the finest university in the country, and it had no tuition. Now, we have so lost that. Today, Berkeley costs $12,000 a year in tuition, and then you've got to live in the city, so a lot of our students are paying essentially $30,000 a year to go to Berkeley. And it's utterly unsustainable for many of them. And we see, one of the great disappointments in Obama, is that he's out there touting the largest expansion of student loan programs in American history. Well, it's bollucks. Like, that's just another-- that's just a giveaway to banks. We don't need students going deeper and deeper into debt. So I mean, what do we see, you asked the question, was what have we seen from 2008 to 2010? We see despair setting in amongst the students. We see that every time they raise student fees-- and keep in mind, this 32% fee increase was what drove all of the kind of real radicalization on campus-- but what we see are every time student fees go up, students have to get outside jobs. I have students who work 40 hours a week, 50, 60 hours a week, in multiple jobs. And I know what that means. It means they're not doing their homework. They're not reading what I assign them. They do poorly on their tests. And they become less and less interested in things like history, literature, culture, and are more and more interested in whatever it is that they can do that is going to get them a job, so they can pay off $100,000 worth of loans. MJ: Right. And probably less and less convinced that the UC education is really going to get them anywhere. MC: You do see that. I think that there is, that's a harder, I feel like they hold on to that. That's a little bit harder to let go of. I think that they know that, as sick as it is to say, they know that Berkeley is a viable brand name, and that is will serve them well. And I tell them this, it's true, that you know, a Berkeley degree is valuable. And it hasn't necessarily diminished in value. The problem is that you're living in a state that is experiencing structural adjustment austerity program right now through a political crisis, not an economic one, a political crisis. I mean, the economic crisis is real, but this is a problem of politics. This state could raise taxes, and needs to raise taxes, and could still have the finest public education system in the world. Now we're actually, in pure per pupil spending, the state of California competes with Arkansas and Mississippi for bottom three spots. MJ: One of the things that's fascinating about this, I mean, it's painful, but fascinating from a historian's perspective, I mean, it was a good 12 or 13 years ago that George Lipsitz had a chapter in one of his books called, California is the new Missisippi. And that was in the late '90s. But he kind of saw this coming down the pike, I think, for the structural reasons that you were talking about a little while ago. I mean, the whole kind of post-Prop 13 era in California has been paving the way for this. MC: Yeah. I mean, taxes are bad, right? We must relieve people of the burden of taxes. What does taxation give us, what does taxation get us? You know, those kinds of arguments, Californians really pioneered that. I think that it's important to understand that with World War II, California became the center of the global economy. I mean, the state dwarfed the East Coast in terms of growth of industry, technology, education, and that the universities here, and that the industries in California really took center stage globally. And the wealth that was produced in California was just astronomical. You know, particularly in the coastal cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And that bred a particular kind of ruling class that was decidedly conservative. That was anti-statist. And the Reagan revolution comes out of California. And this belief that taxes give us nothing, we must be relieved of the burden of taxation. Well, which is, to me, painfully ironic. Because one need only look at the, I think, the most beautiful structure in all of the state of California, if not the entire country, the Golden Gate Bridge was built with state funds in the late 1930s. The Bay Bridge was built in the Great Depression, with state funds. And without the Bay Bridge, the Bay Area would not function. Most people couldn't get to work. Without the Golden Gate Bridge, you would have no access to Marin County, or things like that. And these bridges are all of a sudden, not being maintained. And we're in earthquake country. They could collapse on us, because of lack of maintenance. We can't maintain our own bridges, let alone our schools and education systems. So I mean, to a certain degree, it's frightening, but the ruling class in California is committing suicide. And they don't seem to care. They're perfectly willing to gut public education. Can Silicon Valley continue to innovate? Can Intel, and Oracle, and Apple continue to innovate with PhDs from India and China, though they live in a city that has inequality that rivals Guatemala? They clearly think they can. That California can maintain its technological edge without a tax base to provide for education of the future generations of high tech workers that they need. They clearly think they can. I think they're wrong. But, you know, you see it in the Central Valley, you see it in the city of San Francisco. I mean, the level of inequality that we're all facing is really enormous. And the evidence of it is, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, is that the great vehicle of class transformation in American life, public universities, are in such dire conditions. And this model, you know, high fees, high aid, as they call it-- they call it the high fee, high aid model-- so we charge, you know, Mark Yudof and others, the regents charge what they think is a competitive rate, right, because-- and what does a Yale education cost? It's like $35,000 a year, what is it? MJ: More, now. MC: So they figure that if Berkeley's peer institutions are, and this is a fantasy, I think, but this what they hold onto. Their peer institutions are Stanford, of course. But, you know, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, all of the top Ivy League schools are Berkeley's peers. And they look at that and say, OK, Berkeley's peers are charging $40,000, $50,000 dollars a year, some incredibly outrageous prices. So why can't we? We're a bargain. We're a good brand name. We should charge more. So we're going to push all of that up, attract rich people. And then when working class or middle class folks want to come in, then we'll give them aid. Or we'll give them access to loans. And it simply doesn't work. It squeezes too many people out. Particularly the sort of middle middle class. And so what we see is, yes, plenty of rich people can come, and a lot of low income people are actually being brought in, because there is aid to bring low income people in. And that's good. That must be maintained. Transfer students from community colleges. That has to be maintained. MJ: Are those rates still fairly high? People coming from two-year colleges? MC: Yes. Yes. LR: Yes. Especially for students of color. MC: It's the last most important vestage of actual democracy in the UC system. It's really very important. And I think I can say that my favorite students, most of them are transfer students. It's a fascinating thing. I wish they did it at any Ivy League. It's a really great thing. But what we see is that middle class just winnowing away, getting smaller and smaller and smaller. So every student comes to my office saying, I have to drop out because my parents are being foreclosed on, that's one more person falling out of the middle class and into the swelling rates of poverty in California. MJ: Right. Can you talk a bit about, then, the genesis of the activism on campus that came out of this crisis? MC: Yes. I mean, you know, the crisis was a long time coming, there had been much preparation for it. The unions on campus have had a long history here. But in terms of really talking a cycle, it's only been just over a year and a half now, but I think part of it, you know, at least, it's the big upsweep of a mass social movement started last year in the summertime, when Mark Yudof essentially seized emergency powers, and started making huge declarations of what was going to happen, layoffs, furloughs, fee increases. And the faculty actually got quite up in arms, both about being furloughed, but also what they saw, I think, as a kind of slight to their somewhat imaginary sovereignty powers through shared governance. There's a longer story about the actuality of power and shared governance, but let's just treat it as almost exclusively symbolic. It was a blow, though, because faculty senates on UC campuses, they think they're important, and in some cases, they really are. And this was just pushing them aside. Saying that this guy, the president, now has all of this power. And so the faculty got up in arms, and started getting angry. And started organizing, and writing, and talking to each other. And there came a moment in which a small group of faculty decided, you know, this group came together and they were going to call themselves Save the University. And these were, you know, two dozen of the kind of reliable, liberal left professors on campus. Really not a huge number. But from Social Sciences and Humanities, overwhelmingly. People like Dick Walker, Ananya Roy, Tim Clark, a number of other, Wendy Brown, a number of other really important people. And they began to organize. And a small subgroup decided that this is only going to work if we talk to people other than faculty. And so I join up with a number of other professors, in particular a poet named Lin Hejinian, who he teaches in the English department. And we had a meeting in which I met a lot of these folks. And I was asked by Colleen Lye, who was a kind of key figure in all this, very much a key figure in all this, to go see if I could talk to these people about how faculty and the unions could start having a conversation. Because that was I something I thought I could broker. And so we met and, you know, there were about eight or ten of us, and said, OK, so we're all going to have another meeting in which we all go out and talk to all these different groups, and we'll bring everybody together at this place and time. And so I said, OK, this is something I can do. And I spent the next two weeks, and I went to all of the UC Union Coalition meetings, I went to half a dozen student meetings, I went to lecturers' meetings, librarians' meetings, and I said, there's a faculty drive here to try and build something to oppose these cuts. And the response was just immediate. Like, my God, the faculty are awake? They're willing to do something? All right, great! Let's go. And so we brought all these people together, and our next meeting had 80 people in it. And not just individuals, but like, the heads of all of the campus unions and their professional staff. The heads of the largest three existing student movements, in particular the student political party, CalSERVE, which actually, they're a political party, they run for AACC offices, but they understand themselves as a the social justice movement, and they were born of the anti-apartheid struggle. So, I mean, we were looking for student leaders, we went straight to them. You all know what's going on. You're the multiracial student group here. We brought them on board, identified student leaders almost immediately. And we had a large group all of a sudden. So we declared ourselves the Solidarity Alliance, and we were a union of unions, faculty, and students, and that we were going to figure out what to do. We were going to talk to each other, and begin to guide ourselves towards either a strike or a big public protest. From there, things grew incredibly quickly. A faculty petition got circulated, demanding a walk-out for September 24, 2009. That turns out to have been something of a sham that got released when it wasn't supposed to, but we didn't really care. We saw this, jumped on it, and officially said, we're going to have a walk-out on the 24th of September. And we put this out there, and said, the Solidarity Allience is going to sponsor a walk-out on the 24th. And that just, you know, it exploded. More conversation. It was one of those cases where there's no such thing as bad press, right? Even if the faculty are talking about his because they hate it and think it's a terrible idea, it draws people out to step up and defend it, right? And so all of a sudden, it just starts to grow and starts to grow. And we're identifying more and more student leaders. They're slowly, because they had their agendas initially. And they start to turn those agendas around to the budget cut issues. There was a regents meeting somewhere in the middle, you know, right before classes started, in which they put on the docket, I mean, this is, when you have an enemy that really helps you organize, it's just a terrific thing. And Mark Yudof is the best possible enemy, he's just such a dufus. But they put on the docket, the regents put on the docket, that they were going to increase student fees 32%. And that they're going to debate it, and then they'll vote on approving it, and then there would be later a vote in November where they would actually vote to approve student fees. So it's like, this Sword of Damocles is hanging over all these students. A 32% fee increase. That's pretty easy to mobilize students around, you know? And so it grew and grew and grew. And then we called for this walk-out on September 24. Which, Berkeley is the only UC on the semester system, which hit us right in the middle of, it was essentially one full month in. Now, September 24 is the first day of class on all of the UCs with the quarter system. And the date was actually selected by [name withheld], who teaches at Davis. MJ: Oh, I know [name withheld]! That's funny. MC: Yeah. We'll talk about him when the tape's not on. He's huge, he was a big influence. He was very important. He pissed an incredible number of people off, but somebody had to. And he was very good at that role. I mean, he was great. I mean, part of the reason why, I mean, I worked with him, he was very difficult, but like, he was great. Without him, it would have been nowhere near what it needed to be. We organized, Solidarity Alliance then organized a rally for the 24th of September. And we organized a teach-in the night before, which was absolutely massive. Huge. Faculty put their best people forward. Brilliant talks really breaking down the nature of the crisis, really educating the students about what was going on. And then we had, the rally the next day was our job to plan. Solidarity Alliance planned it, we recruited the speakers, we got the venue. And it's one of those great things about being at the University of California at Berkeley. And the progressive mystique is real, you know, it's a very conservative faculty, particularly because it's so dominated by the sciences. But yet we have this legacy, and so we could occupy the Mario Savio steps of Sproul Hall, and have this incredible stage laid out for us. And so we raised funds, we got a big sound system, and there were 6,000, 7,000 thousand people on Sproul Plaza on that day. And it was it absolutely phenomenal. I don't think anyone expected it to be half that size. What's that? LR: You should mention Katherine Sherwood. MC: Well, I will, yeah, absolutely. I mean, part of what we, one of the great resources that we had was an artist, who's in Art Practice named Katherine Sherwood, who's been with us from the get-go. And she was determined to create the most stunning visual spectacle she could create. She really wanted this to be photograped well. And so made all of these amazing banners, suffragette banners on poles that hang, and then these four foot high letters, in orange and black, that said Save the University. And then got-- a bunch of her students snuck up onto the top of a building, completely illegally dangling off the side, and took all of these photographs, from the best possible position that they had practiced the night before. I mean, the level of set design and staging was really quite extraordinary. And it came off beautifully. The photographs were, we were on CNN, there were helicopters filming us, we were on the front page of the New York Times, it was amazing. The visual spectacle of it was incredible. And then the people that we got, I mean, Tim Clark, TJ Clark, was our lead speaker, and he was phenomenal. I mean, just this angry harangue that really set the tone, and got everyone incredibly energized. And then we marched through the streets of Berkeley, and it was really a beautiful thing. And I had an official role. I'm running the stage. You know, I'm working as fast as I can to just make sure that this thing comes off. It's like a theater job, practically. But once we started to march, and the level of planning from all sorts of students on every level, that had come together, through a few new organizations, a few established ones, to bring this thing together. It was really quite extraordinary. And this moment happened when the march stepped off the campus and onto the streets, and this pulse kind of came through this crowd, that by then was probably a half mile long, just of real excitement. And in that march, there were union people who has been doing this their whole lives, who had tears in their eyes. They'd never seen anything quite as moving. And they thought they would never see it again. Old '60s heads who thought they would never see anything like this again. And then there were just armies of students, who had never participated in any kind of collective action at all, had never protested anything, probably showed up on the steps of Sproul because they were trying to get to class, or because their class had been canceled, or because they figured, well, I went to Berkeley and this is what you're supposed to do, but in course of being in that march, really learned something, really felt something, that they had never seen or felt before. And I mean, it was a huge, huge success. It was the largest rally on the UC campus since the Vietnam War. MJ: So that's been just over a year ago. How would you describe the kind of before and after of that event, in terms of the politics? I mean, I know which way the state is going. But in terms of politics on campus, and the kinds of discussions that are possible-- MC: Yeah. Well, there's a lot in between. LR: Yeah, that's what I was going to say. I think it's really important to think of September 24th not as a culmination, but really as a beginning of what turned out to be a really intense political active year on campus, that, you know, a month later, there was a statewide conference on campus around pre-K through university educators. The following month, there was what we called Open University, which was a week of, you know, sort of don't close the university, open it up. Classes holding talks in various locations, and that week ended with the Wheeler occupation. MC: Well, there was a further three days strike. LR: Oh, further three day strike, right, and then the Wheeler occupation, which ended up, on Friday November 20th, brought out 1,000 students, and there were riots on campus. Then there were more-- MC: Police riots. LR: Police riots. And it was really so-- MC: It grew and grew and grew. LR: It just grew and grew. And so I think-- and the year ended with a hunger strike. I mean, there was so much activity in the course of the year that, you know, I think if anything, it really, September 24th really was a beginning, and it really opened up a set of possibilities for what students could do, for faculty efficacy, and I think the kind of real distinction is, the endpoint, what's happened since May, and the kind of energy that, you know, whether that energy has waned a little bit. MJ: Well, that's one of the things I wanted to ask about. Because one of the, one of the reasons, not the only reason, but one of the reasons why campuses tend to be kind of conservative in certain ways, is that between the constant student turnover on the one hand, and the three-month break that is always coming around the clock on the other, it's very hard to sustain anything from May to September. And I was curious how that works out in this instance. MC: Well, I think that with there's-- September 24th really did start things, and then it did escalate. And in part, I think we went through an entire political lifetime in one of the course of one academic year. I mean, the level of intensity, I don't think is anything that any of us really would be capable of reproducing, I think. Because mid-November rolls around, and we did a big event around Dia de los Muertos, because the president of the university was quoted in the New York Times saying that being president of the University of California's like managing a cemetery, there are a lot of people beneath you, and no one is listening. And that was published in the New York Times the day after the rally. The September 24th rally. So of course, if he's the manager of a cemetary, than what are we? We're the dead, so we did Day of the Dead. And then there was a three day strike. And part of what makes it September 24th work, and what made November work, is that actually one of the unions did go on strike. There were actual union picket lines. Professors refused to cross picket lines. So that gave us legal muscle. I mention that because the unions are exhausted now. They have been beaten into submission. People are quitting. They're being laid off in huge droves. The unions are incapable of fighting the layoffs. The energy, the willingness of the unions to go on strike, which was an absolutely necessary component of the success of last year, has been so severely and deliberately eroded by the university that that power is just barely holding on. They don't have any kind of aggressive potential now. They really just are defending themselves. LR: Which is why I think it's going to be really important to support the graduate students on strike. I think part of that loss of energy is that people don't-- it's easy to kind of fold the conditions, to naturalize them, right? And to say, well, this is just how it is, and we can pay the extra $1,200 a year, and we can work with fewer staff and fewer amenities. And I think what the graduate students, what a graduate student strike will demonstrate is how fundamentally dependent this university is on cheap labor, right? And so I think it's going to be really-- and I think, again, also for the undergraduates, for them to see how incredibly-- just that the 32% fee hike still doesn't get-- how little it actually gets them, in terms of services. MC: Yeah, that's true. Part of it is also, I think that there's, just to sort of narrate the story, student fee increases went up in November. We went on strike, it was the 18th, 19th, 20th of November, it was a three-day strike that I had a big role in. And we had another huge rally and a march on the first day. The second day, the campus was an armed camp. There were cops everywhere. We ran Open University, which was the free lecture series that we had done in occupied spaces. We were taking over spaces, running lectures in them. And then, in Los Angeles at that time, the regents were actually meeting at UCLA, and we had several hundred of our best students were down there, and they had actually barricaded the UC regents inside their meeting hall. They couldn't get out. They had to smuggle them out in ambulances. There were riots in Los Angeles of students opposing these student fee increases. But the vote happened. The fee increase was there. And so there was a decision taken that night that a bunch of students were going to occupy buildings. They occupied Wheeler Hall, which is a main student, one of the main classroom buildlings in central campus. There were 42 of them? 42 of them occupied, barricaded themselves inside classrooms, cops shut the place down, and I mean, I don't know if you want the whole story of that day or not, but by the end, we had several thousand people outside, surrounding the building so that the cops could get the students out of the room, but they couldn't get them out of the building. So we're there all day, downpours, everyone's cell phone dies, surrounding the building, you know, chanting, "We have the cops surrounded, we have the cops surrounded," right? And people are yelling at us from bullhorns out the window, the cops are coming, there's a steady escalation of police presence that was Berkeley Campus PD, and then Berkeley City PD, and then Alemeda County Sheriffs, and by the time it got dark, OPD. Like, Oakland cops. LR: In full riot gear. MC: In full riot gear. And those people know what a riot actually is. And you know, I'm a good labor historian. When they bring the Philadelphia constabulary to Pittsburgh, it means that they're there to shoot you. That they're there to hurt you. And these cops were clearly ready to do that. And we built barricades, they established them, the cops are beating students around the building all day long-- LR: I've never seen anything like that. I mean, I've never seen anything like that. MJ: And how long did that go on? LR: It was a full day. It was 12 hours. MC: Hours. It was all day long. We look up and there are helicopters at the campus! We knew exactly what was going on. LR: Actually, we did. We woke up and were like, what are the helicopters--? And then the phone rings. MC: And they're like, get up here, get up here now! Michael, Leigh, we need you up there, get up here, we need you! LR: And you had just taken the kids to school. So this is 8 o'clock in the morning, and it wasn't finished until 8 or 9 that night. MC: One of the longest days of my life. LR: I know it's naive to say, but I never imagined that I would work in a place where it would be militarized, that I would see violence like that. That I would see cops blugeoning students with police sticks. It was frankly, I do, I feel really a little traumatized by it. I think a lot of students feel really traumatized by that day. MJ: What was the immediate outcome of that day? MC: Well, our chancellor and executive vice chancellor hid, literally hid, locked themselves inside California Hall, which is the main administrative building, all day long. LR: And would not take phone calls. MC: Would not take phone calls, would not answer e-mails. And I was on the phone all day with faculty. I had many roles that day. One of them was, when faculty would show up, I'd be like, Hi, Judith Butler or Wendy Brown! Can you call the dean right now? You know, Hi, Ananya Roy! Can you call Richard Blum right now, and see if we could get any, you know, the cops are beating students here. We need this to stop. I certainly didn't do this single-handedly, but a group of us stopped at least two riots that day. At least two. There was a moment at 1 o'clock, which, word went around saying, we're going to rush the barricades at 1 o'clock. Like, who is giving this order? Who is telling-- and so I go to the front of the barricades, I'm like, do you know that there's a command to rush the barricades at 1 o'clock? They're like, no, we don't know anything about that. So where's this coming from, right? By the time it got dark, by the end of the night, every black bloc anarchist and crazy homeless person from People's Park to Dolores Park was on the Berkeley Campus, looking for violence. It was genuinely ugly. So by the time we got to that point, by the time the cops had actually gotten into the building and arrested the students, the doors of California Hall magically open. And a delegation of faculty goes in there, and they're like, we have them, but we don't know what to do with them. And the answer was like, you can't get them out of the building without causing a riot. So what are we going to do? So faculty went into the building, Ananya Roy and a couple of other people went into the building, talked to the students, and they let them go. They had to let them go. They had no choice. They were not going to be able to arrest them and take them out. It was just not going to happen. There would be a full-fledged riot on that campus. And it was powerful, because-- and again, I don't think I'll ever see anything like this again. I mean, the lights are on, flooding Wheeler Plaza, there are thousands of people at this one corner. And we could control the population of this one corner. I mean, it was really the-- LR: The Southwest corner. MC: Southwest corner. We really had that down. We knew the people who were there. We could control that corner. The others, there had been fights all day long. And the really angry people were on the far side. They were totally isolated. I had people-- everyone's cell phone died in the downpour. So I had people who was run to any corner, and bring me information and transmittings all day long, we're trying to orchestrate this. But then, the lights are on, there are floodlights everywhere, and they start marching out, two by two. And you know, I'm yelling through a bullhorn at the crowd, saying, "They're letting our people out, they're letting our people out, we need to just stay chill, they're coming." And all of a sudden I thought, well, what about the demands? We'd made demands. What about the demands? The demands. There was never a conversation about the demands. The recriminations, the anger that came out of that-- on the one hand, it was a spectacular success. By the time it got dark, we were very clear. It's like, we need to end this, we need this now, we need to end this peaceably, and get out and go home. And and make sure that these people are not arrested, they're not dragged out of here, that they still get to be students here, and if we can just end this and get out, that's the best we can hope for. But there were a lot of people who actually wanted the demands met. And they were very angry. And they blamed me, and the faculty, for having sold them out. The drama was extraordinary, as these students came out of the building. The drama was extraordinary. But the recriminations, and the, just I mean-- Josh Clover appropriately called it The Mindfuck. For weeks afterwards, was just really, really hard. I mean, I was not traumatized as much by the cops beating people, but just the level of stress and anger that came out of it all, was just huge. It was incredibly exhausting. LR: I think among a lot of students, there was a sense of what little value the administration actually held for their bodies, and how willing the administration was to push this group of students outside a protected category of students, right? So that they became, they were outside agitators, right? All of the kinds of things that happen, right, in social movements. But they weren't students, they were outside agitators. There was the debacle up at the President's House, or the Chancellor's House, of when some students broke some of his pots, his potted plants, up front-- MC: Oh this was the Chancellor's House, yeah. This was later, but yeah. LR: This was in December, but I think it really created, I mean, there was just kind of this language of you know, the need to protect university property, that here were these students who were fundamentally, and not just the people inside who were occupying Wheeler, right, but the students who were, the folks who were standing outside, even just trying to figure out what the hell was going on, right, that, kind of you'll take our money, but again, what do we get in return for this? We get beat over the head, we get-- A month later students were shipped, were arrested in the middle of the night, in what had been a sanctioned, a UC sanctioned, kind of occupation, were taken, not to downtown Berkeley police department, but were taken all the way to the edge of Alameda county— MC: To Santa Rita. LR: To Santa Rita. So I think part of the sense that I had among the students, I think, again, it makes absolute sense that the year ended with a hunger strike, was really pressing the university, pressing the chancellor and the executive vice chancellor, the provost, to clarify what their commitment is to students, and whether that came in the form of taking a stand against racial profiling in Arizona, or making a stronger statement against the budget crisis, and finding ways to reinstitute money for student of color recruitment, there were all these, 'cause there was also the blackout last year. MC: Yeah, that was the second semester. LR: That was second semester! Sorry. I can't even tell you, there was so much happening, and there was just this-- and I think those three days in November really just marked the beginnings of a really tense relationship with the administration. And I think the administration, we saw it in the sort of last rally that just happened, on October 7, the administrators having to really find a way in their public statements to support students, right? And support the activists on our campus. MC: Right. Well, I mean, but so too they have to thank us for a number of things. I mean, I think one key thing that-- so the November crisis was huge, and it lead to a circumstance where, on one hand, a cadre of really radical students came very much to the fore who wanted to engage in direct action, and that occupations were going to be the tactic. Because there had been other subsequent occupations between. There had been a library occupation, because they were closing libraries on Saturdays. So this was after September but before November. So in the middle there, in October, a bunch of students occupied libraries. And went about it in a very deliberate way, and occupied the anthropolgy library. They showed up at 4 o'clock on a Friday when it was supposed to close, and they spend the night there. And it had all been more or less sanctioned. It was all kind of agreed that it was going to happen, it was going to be ok. And by Monday, lo and behold, money has fallen out of the sky to keep the libraries open on Saturdays. Which is great! Direct action works. Students learned something from that, and they proceeded along those lines. Now after November, because of the beatings, and because of, there were arrests in some cases, that all of a sudden now, we're in a legal defense fund situation. That student conduct hearings are going to start, and they're going to, while they didn't take these kids to jail that night, they are determined to expel a few of them. And so the student conduct hearings begin, and that's an absurd process. But all of a sudden, we're in a legal defense situation, where we've got to try and bail people out of jail, we've got to defend people here, we've got to defend people there. And then the radicalism of it, of occupying buildings, turned off a lot of students. A lot of students who were politically apathetic, or you know, disinterested, became opposed. And the kind of anger against the movement starts to rise to one degree or another, right? You know, we we didn't close the building, Wheeler. The cops did. I mean, it's such an absurd circumstance. They could have had 75%, 80% of the classes in Wheeler that day. That cops could have just stood in front of the classroom. You know, this classroom's closed, you can't use this one, there's a bunch of people in there having a meeting. They could've just ignored it, but no. They responded with aggression, right? And as a result, it turned into this huge thing. But I think what's important is that when the semester came to an end, and it ended with the Open University. So a bunch of students tried to go into Wheeler, and just say, we're going to occupy Wheeler Hall. We're going to clean everything. We know all the janitors, we're going to work with them, we're going to leave this open as a study hall space. Because the library's open 24 hours a day, but it's packed. It's completely crammed. There's nowhere to study. So we're, the students are going to say, we're going to take responsibility for our own buildings, our own campus. It's reading week, right before exams. So they open Wheeler Hall and they kept it open. And the main lecture hall was great. I mean, you know how the students are, they're all high tech. So they're streaming video all the time, and there's all this great stuff going on. I got to give a talk in Wheeler Hall. They invited me and a couple of others to give talks. And I presented my academic work to them, you know, in an occupied classroom. It was a huge thrill, right? But, of course, it was a four-day thing, and been open for several days. By that point it's full of students who are not necessarily part of the movement, but just, hey I can sit in this classroom? And you know, they're incredibly resourceful, there's free coffee, free food that they get from, Food Not Bombs is feeding everybody, it's a great thing. And then 6 AM on that Friday, the cops roll up, you know, with their vans and their police. And arrest everyone in the building. Including students who were not in the movement, were not-- and cart them all off to Santa Rita. So we're getting calls at 6 o'clock in the morning, saying cops are raiding Wheeler Hall, arresting students who are studying. My best source in the student radical movement, probably one of the most dangerous radicals I'm meeting with on a regular basis, and he's calling me, saying, I just jumped out of a window, the cops are raiding this place. You've got to get down here. Because if they catch him, he's going to spend a long, he would be in huge trouble. So he jumps out of a window. I mean, so this is how the semester essentially ends. Now, two weeks later, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Chief of Staff, tells the New York Times, quote-- right, there are all these movement quotes you have in your head you'll never forget, like Yudof's line about a cemetary, but this is the other one-- Schwarzenegger's Chief of Staff told the New York Times, quote, "Those protests on the UC campus were the tipping point. Our universities will get the resources they deserve." And so they're in the budget negotiations for the next year, and Schwarzenegger is promising to fully restore all funding to the UC system. Because of us, right? I've never, in any social movement would you ever actually hear those who are supposed to be your enemy saying, you win. Good job. Never! I mean, victory for the left always feels like a loss, because your enemy does what you want them to, and then takes credit for it. Right? MJ: GESO. [The Graduate Employees and Students Organization, Yale]  MC: Exactly. That's exactly it! That's how it always works. You get what you want, but the people you hate and fought take credit for it. That's what victory on the left looks like. This wasn't that. This was, hey, guess what. Those protests on the UC campus were the tipping point. And now, I mean, there's all this stuff in between. And second semester took a different slant, I think largely because the students of color organizations really came to the fore, and so there were racist incidents at UC San Diego, and African American students at Berkeley-- MJ: I was down there for some of that. MC: Really? I'll want to hear more about that. MJ: But just by chance. But also, I was wondering-- I need to wrap up, actually, fairly soon. But did the Oscar Grant stuff feed into this in any meaningful way this fall, or--? MC: It is, yes and no. I think it has, I think that it mobilizes certain sectors on the UC campus, but I think that it's an Oakland thing, I think. And the Oscar Grant thing, and there's a lot of people who care back and forth. I think we're very wary in the movement on campus to attach ourselves to that, because I think we've been to too many events in the Bay Area where it's like-- the message is too scattered. I mean, it's a hugely important case, but in terms of advocating for public education, we kind of cordon ourselves off to that one issue. Now, individual activists are very, work back and forth, most certainly. And we have solidarity for them. But like, we don't-- nobody at our rallies stands up and starts talking about Oscar Grant, because it diffuses the message. LR: I think in the, like around the blackout, there were more specific connections made to Oscar Grant. So since 200 black students stood for, what, an hour and a half— MC: At Sather Gate. LR: At Sather Gate in silence, and part of the language, you know, sort of in the talk before and after were connecting racial profiling and a hostile racial climate to diminished numbers of students of color on campus. But again, just to reiterate, I don't think there was a lot of specific connectivity. MC: Yeah. And a lot of individual acts. And you know, there were riots in Oakland during the same sort of time period, around Oscar Grant. Actually, there have been connections facilitated between the Oscar Grant case and the unions, in particular. The ILWU is going to have an Oscar Grant protest on November 1. There'll be a big, like, they're going to shut down the Oakland Dockyards around the Oscar Grant issue. LR: And when and why was the highway shut down? MC: That was March 4th. LR: Right, that was March 4th. OK. MC: That was March 4th. So I mean, October 24th we had a huge conference at Berkeley that we mentioned that we organized. I didn't necessarily do it, but people that I worked with did. And we had 800 people come from all over the state, and we set March 4th as a statewide Day of Action. And so the spring semester was dedicated to that. We took, what, 300, 400 faculty to Sacramento, to protest in Sacramento. LR: Not just faculty but staff and students. There were like eight or ten buses. MC: Yeah, so we brought a lot of people up to Sacramento. And then on the Berkeley campus, students marched to downtown Oakland, where they met a bunch of other people, and then several hundred students, and others, I mean, anarchists, generally, is the way they were identified, but there were a number of students, as well. Got onto the 880 freeway. With flares. They were planning on doing this. They know what they were doing. And they shut down the 880 freeway for two and a half, three hours. It was absolutely amazing. I mean, it was a sublime moment, because it shows you how fragile everyday life actually is, you know? All that it takes is a handful of committed people, and you can absolutely bring the entire Bay Area to a screaming halt. And there were helicopters everywhere, film footage of it, all of a sudden this event, got huge play. Because a bunch of people stepped onto the freeway. I wasn't there. I was in Frank Hakagawa Plaza and I saw them marching towards it, but I, if I get arrested, she'll kill me. So I don't. So I don't get arrested, but you know, I saw this thing brewing, and it was, I mean, it was really kind of exhilarating. I mean, there's a lot of people who thought it was terrible, and it was a dumb idea, but like, I just thought it was magnificent. This city is so dependent on bridges, and traffic, and flyways, and a small number of people can just bring everything to a screaming halt. I thought it was really pretty amazing. And it was all over the television, and it was a big deal. So that was March, and then that's the way that sort of things ended. But I mean, what you said about it, the lag and where we are now, it's much harder now. MJ: This is a little bit backwards, but Leigh, we started with a little thumbnail sketch of Michael, kind of where he came from, his little biographical sketch. Since you ended up speaking so much, would you mind giving us the--? LR: I know I'm an academic, I can't sit and not talk. MJ: No, I'm very happy that you did. But would you might giving me just a thumbnail sketch, just where you're from, what you've done, what you're doing now? LR: OK, sure. So I actually was born in New Haven, Connecticut. My dad went to Yale. He was one of the first classes of African American students to come in to Yale in the '60s. And so I was born in New Haven, and then we lived in New York, and then Cambridge, because my dad went to Harvard Business School. And then in 1978, we moved back to New York, where I grew up in Harlem. I went to Weslyan University, back to Connecticut, and I was kind of there at the, let's say sort of the high water mark of diversity in the early '90s. It was kind ofa really good time to be a person of color in college. Weslyan had, something like, people of color numbered something between like 35% and 40% of the student body. So I think that really, both the kind of small liberal arts experience and also the idea that, you know, this is what a college campus can actually look like has really shaped my thinking about education. I was an African American Studies, Women's Studies double major. I think that's also really shaped me, because I've never actually been trained in a formal discipline, I guess. I went to graduate school at Yale. I spent a semester and a summer here at UC Berkeley as a graduate student, and was really excited by the sort of cultural and political vibrance of this place, and always hoped I would get back here. Kind of lucky. MC: You did the prison stuff. LR: Yeah, so I got very involved when I was out here in anti-prison organizing. I took a class with Angela Davis on social movements, and was part of the founding meetings of Critical Resistance, and their founding conference. And when I came back to New Haven, Robert Perkinson and I started Critical Resistance New Haven, and we saw it as a way to kind of be a kind of clearing house for all of the both police justice and prison justice work that was happening at the time. And so I did a lot of that, and then I got pregnant, and things changed a little bit. And then we were in New Haven, and then we moved to North Carolina for two years, and I was at Duke. And when I got the job here in 2003, moved here in 2004, it was really the first time I'd ever been in a public school. Even the high school, the elementary and high school that I went to in New York City, you know, it's public, ostensibly, but it's a specialized magnet school. It's Hunter College High School, is where I went to. So that doesn't really quite count as public. So coming to UC Berkeley, was the first time that I had really been in a place for any sustained period that was this big. You know, there's 32,000 students here, that had so many faculty, that already had limited resources. It became very clear to me-- you know, at Duke, there was just always money flowing, and always people coming in and out, and how that have actually creates conditions for people to produce certain kinds of work, innovative work. And also, I think, politically innovative work. Because people, in some ways, aren't always fearing where their paycheck's going to be cut, or where their funding's coming from. So coming here has been a little bit of a, I guess after seven years I should say it's not as much of a shock anymore. But it's definitely been a learning experience and a real shift. I don't know what else I should say. MC: No, it's true. Because we do get a lot of, from the faculty, just fear. MJ: Well, here's maybe— MC: Don't do this, they're watching. Don't do this. MJ: Here's the note to end on, I mean, because for me, this is where this project started. I was just kind of fascinated by the way-- and this really started in the runup to the 2008 election. But I just felt that we were at this really peculiar fork in the road in this country, where we seem to be either ready to deliver up the very best we have to offer or the very worst. And that the way that hope and despair were kind of sitting out there side by side has kind of characterized this whole period. So when you think about hope and despair, from your own kind of, your own heart and where you're standing right now, how would you describe your outlook right now? MC: I don't know. I mean, I feel like participating in all of this has been to feel both of those at really kind of almost unbearable extremes, either simultaneously or sequentially. I mean, it's clear that last year really did reap a pretty severe kind of emotional toll on both of us. It was very, very hard. I mean, part of it was my position in all of it, and I have this kind of odd position in all of it. But I really was just motivated by the possibility of turning a crisis into a real vehicle for social justice. And I felt that that was real. The possibility was there. And that the hope that had been generated by Obama was something that we could capitalize on, in the sense that we could make Obama be progressive. That he wasn't doing it on his own, he's not doing it on his own, and that we can make him. So it was very much motivated by this hope that we can, we have to continue. The movement to put Obama into office can't just be something that ends at the ballot box and dies on inauguration day. That it had to continue. But the other was really genuinely born of that pessimism of the intellect, which says that neoliberalism has gone so far, that there's so little left to privatize, that Berkeley, the steps of Sproul Plaza, may get to be, that's the last stand. To one degree or another. That this is the last stand, and that if we can't defend this institution from privatization, there will be nothing left. And so that comes from, you know, that position. And I think it's both true and it's rhetorically powerful. Because, you know, you tell students, and the students really want to believe that this is the finest public institution in the world. They hear that over and over and over again, and they want to believe that. But what is this public in the finest public institution? What does that mean? At what point does it cease to be public, and it becomes just a mediocre, overpriced, elite institution, right? And so the despair found in that, that we were once this great place, and now are being privatized and hollowed out from the interior, that the wrong values are now coming to dominate this place, I feel like I experience both, you know, in an almost unbearable equality. LR: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I think what sort of excited me a lot about Obama's election was that the hope was not about the fact that people voted for him. But I was really excited that he came out of a particular generational moment and a set of forces that created high numbers of people of color at many institutions, right? You know, when Obama was the head of the Harvard Law Review, I was an undergraduate at college. And the idea that our elite institutions could look and feel and embody a certain kind of progressive politics, that they could be racially diverse, they could be economically diverse. And I think the hope was that, wow. There's a kind of generational spirit out of which this person comes, and out of which so many of us have come to get to this point that has-- but the despair is that all of that's been foreclosed in so many ways, right? That I don't think our students necessarily have an idea that there was a time that looked like that. That institutions did look that way. And that's the despair for me. And I think also just that there is so-- I just fear that there's so little left to give our children. That we teach at the finest public institution in the world, and we have no clue how we're going to send our own children to college. MC: Yeah, we can't afford to send our own kids to the place we work at. LR: You know, the fear of like, this house has to stand, because this is the one thing that we do have to give our children to pass on. And that kind of, the constant whittling away of all of, you know, everything good that came out of the movements of the 1960s. And frankly, all the things good out of FDR's, you know-- MC: Well, let alone the Progressive era! LR: So that's the despair. And I think-- 2008 feels really far away. MC: Yeah. LR: Feels really far away. MJ: Well, thank you both.

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