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Nov 10, 15

What Would It Mean for a Struggle to Expand?: On the Recent Walk-Outs at Berkeley High School

From FireWorks

On Thursday, November 5th, thousands of young people across the world took to the streets for the ‘Million Mask March,’ called for by Anonymous. At the same time, a sub-set of Anonymous was dumping the names of various racists and fascists involved in KKK groups across the US. Meanwhile, thousands of Berkeley High School students walked out of class in response to threats that this week, a racist rally would be held against black students. Up to two thirds of the student body took to the streets and marched through the Downtown and ended at Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, the site of various student occupations in the past.

Continued Rebellion

The recent walkouts are part of a wave of uprisings, rebellions, riots, protests, demonstrations, and walkouts which have taken part across the US in the wake of the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings, as well as a generalized wave of vandalism and resistance to growing right-wing reactionary backlash against this movement, most notably in the aftermath of the racist massacre of black church goers in Charleston, NC by a white nationalist.

The path of the march should be familiar to many people; it is the same route that Berkeley High School students took last year during the peak of the Ferguson inspired rebellion in the Bay Area. But the question must be asked, what would it take for this struggle to expand out more broadly across the social terrain? What would be needed for the student walkouts at Berkeley High to extend beyond just that one school?

Against White Supremacy

In many ways, the students have already shown us one possible path, in their connection between the campuses of Berkeley High School and UC Berkeley. While the campuses are very different and have very different demographics, both have been sites of struggle and represent two areas in which students could act and expand their points of engagement against white supremacy, the State, and capitalism.

The context that the student’s action takes place in is also important. Not only in terms of it happening in the wake of national and local uprisings, but also in an area where many students literally have no future. For those graduating from Berkeley High School, by and large there is nowhere affordable to rent, no jobs that will pay enough, and education, cost of living, and transportation continues to skyrocket in cost.

Meanwhile, the institutions that surround students in Berkeley, from the UC campus which historically has a extremely low percentage of black students, to the murderous local police and aggressive tactics of all law enforcement, from campus police to local Downtown Berkeley security guards, all point to a rampant system of racialized and militarizing policing.

When white nationalists, KKK members, and Neo-Nazis commit acts of violence, they aren’t just striking a blow for their fascist vision of the world, they are reinforcing the existing system’s violent maintenance of white supremacy.

Those in power, from school administrators, to local police, to the heads of student organizations, will often try and disconnect the actions of one person from entire systems of control and domination. In this way, they can try and dampen the fires of revolt and attempt to calm people down. “We got the bad guy,” they’ll claim, and hope that the students will return to class and things will go back to normal. But if the revolt last year in the wake of the Ferguson uprising showed anything, its that despite all the riots and marches, nothing changed, because the systems of control themselves were not dismantled.

Expand the Struggle

But for those of us outside of Berkeley High School, it is entirely possible and plausible that to support the struggle and expand the actions of the Berkeley students in solidarity, we too should carry out actions of our own in an effort to expand them.

In this vein, taking and occupying a building at UC Berkeley makes in the most sense and points to the logic that students have made last week and in the past, between the two campuses.

During last year’s UC occupations, students made the crucial connection between the university and policing. If we understand schools to be a node in the systems of control, interrupting the education system would be to interrupt this control. Perhaps we can also reverse this proposal: can sabotaging the systems of control outside of schools contribute to student struggles?

During the rebellion last winter, a potential opportunity at its expansion was lost as a week long occupation of a student hall ended before the riots in Oakland then spread to Berkeley. What would have happened if such a space could have been held? Could the occupation have been pushed further than it’s limited, liberal conception into an autonomous space for people to organize themselves? Could the occupation have expanded beyond one building, or beyond campus?

Only by taking risks, thinking strategically, and putting our ideas into practice with others around us will we ever find out.

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