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May 26, 22

Abolitionist Group Makes Dining Hall Free at UC Davis Where Nearly Half of Student Body is Food Insecure

A report from Cops off Campus at UC Davis on a recent action which opened up a dining hall to the wider student body and community for free, on a campus where reportedly half of the student body is food insecure.

The usual protocol for entering the dining commons at UC Davis requires students to swipe a card deducting from their meal plan while others pay cash or other method. On May 18th, during the midday rush, a banner hung from the outdoor balcony of the Latitude Dining Commons declared a FREE LUNCH PROGRAM. Though the administration often performs concern over the high measure of food insecurity among students, they did not arrange Wednesday’s free lunch. Rather, a group in solidarity with the police abolition movement gathered in front of the swipe station and invited everyone to eat for free. And eat they did. The action had support from other campus and community activists and groups committed to police abolition, mutual aid, and workers’ rights. A banner dropped from above the hall’s entrance demanded, FEED THE PEOPLE / COPS OFF CAMPUS.

What does free food have to do with cops? In the wake of the action, a small group of young Republicans pretended to be baffled by this matter. The shortest path to clarity might involve paraphrasing Kwame Ture: If someone wants me to go hungry, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to make me go hungry, that’s my problem. The police are the power to make people go hungry — when there is enough food to feed the campus, the city, the state, the planet with ease. But this is not what the institution wants. No matter what it says, its actions brook no confusion. And so, fully aware that deploying the pepperspray boys would be a bad look, they sent instead a small platoon of administrators to try to stop things. Everyone knew the police station was two blocks away. The situation was tense. “You can have a protest,” said the most cringing of the well-compensated snitches. “But you can’t say ‘Free Food.’ Can we find some sort of compromise?”

Yes, absolutely. The compromise was: free food but everyone would try not to laugh at the admin.

The students walked in, a few bemused, many relieved, some a combination of the two. As word got around, some non-students came as well. The university likes to call them “non-affiliates” and pretend they are a threat to the university community. We think they are people, as deserving of food as anyone.

As observers, we see in this event a model for transforming the university. It is an act of community care, egalitarian and open-hearted. But it is not an act of philanthropy, requiring the grace and largesse of donors much less of other poor people. Charity shifts the pieces on the board a little in order to keep the game fundamentally the same. Those who own much might be generous though it is those who own little who are asked to donate over and over. A university’s goal must be to own nothing. The abolitionist message of a dining hall takeover is that we want an entirely new and different structure, a making-free of the resources that should be — that are — ours in the first place. Swipe-free, tuition-free, police-free, we are not joking about a free university. Administrator-free too, just as a cherry on top.

But we recognize certain things about actions that take this form, that turn toward liberation rather than donations, free education rather than gofundmes. Acting against the protocols of the university means taking risks. The group inside Latitude comprised undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, faculty, and community members. They represent different levels of vulnerability to aggression and punishment because of status within the university, socioeconomic situation, race, gender, disability, or a combination of these and other factors. The group attended to these differing vulnerabilities by standing side by side around the card swipe counter, confronting the risk together and committed to responding together, just as they will stand in solidarity with anyone who is persecuted for their presence that day.

Previous dining hall actions, especially those at UCSC during the COLA wildcat strike of 2019-20, inspired the Latitude action. At UCSC, the administration unleashed significant punitive force on the activists. UCD COC doesn’t know if this university plans to get carceral on a group that made one free meal possible on a campus with a 44% food insecurity rate and a posse of administrators protecting their own wealth. But we hope you will support us if they do. More importantly, COC hopes you will ask yourselves and others why the basic human need for sustenance is policed here and how together we might make food free every day for everyone.

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