Editor’s note: In the spirit of open debate and dialogue, Occupy Everything! is republishing this piece, which is critical of the recent HCC occupation at Evergreen State College. This should not, however, be construed as a condemnation of said occupation on the part of Occupy Everything!. We stand in solidarity with the student insurgents of Evergreen State and all students taking direct action and struggling against the precarity of their lives and futures. ALL POWER TO THE PUPIL!
The Housing Community Center, or the HCC, at Evergreen used to be a space where students could spend time hanging out with friends, sipping coffee, shooting pool, reading, doing laundry, using a courtesy landline, throwing events, doing homework, or just relaxing while watching some television. But this all changed on Friday night when a hip gang of young heroes took the space over – occupying and redefining it. What used to be a space for all the things mentioned above had suddenly become a space for, well, all the things above, but with some slight differences.
One important difference was that if there was an emergency and people needed to vacate the building quickly, they could not do so safely on account of all the stuff piled in front of the doors. Also, if you happened to not be a member of the secret little club who planned this stunt, but wanted to get your clothes out of the dryer or something, you might have found yourself feeling confused and awkward as some kid with shitty facial hair and a crimethinc. patch moved a bunch of chairs out from in front of the door to let you in. And, most importantly of all, no longer would the young geo-ducklings have to endure the hell and misery of returning to their cozy beds in heated rooms that someone else pays for at the stroke of midnight, No!, they could stay up drinking sodas and watching movies as late as they wanted! This was of course a right they had bought and paid for and were now collecting on.
“Everything we paid for is ours, everything is ours!” exclaimed the young anti-capitalist heroes using the logic of capitalism to justify their stunt. And they were right, everything they paid for was and is theirs. They just seemed confused about what it was they paid for.
According capitalist logic (logic they employed to substantiate their caterwauling about their entitlement), what actually happened is that they entered into a contractual agreement with a state institution in which they (or more likely, their parents) paid and continue to pay large sums of money in exchange for use of -which is different than ownership of- buildings, materials, and services. I’ll bet they would be equally “disheartened, discouraged and frustrated” were they to learn that a percentage of their tuition pays for janitorial services but, OMG OMG!!, they don’t actually own any janitors!!! (ah gasp!). It is possible that once they find this out, their next plan of action will be to occupy the janitorial break room until the janitors become their rightfully-owned chattel slaves. Upon completing this, we can expect our heroes (no doubt employing the muscle of their new slave army) to occupy the Greenery (student cafeteria) until the school agrees to have a twenty-four-hour paid kitchen staff that will fix warm milk and cookies for any student who may have had a scary dream in the middle of the night, after all, they did pay for a meal plan.
It may seem that I’m being sarcastic and judgmental, but I can seriously sympathize with these sentiments. Once I paid an auto-mechanic to fix the breaks on my vehicle, and was then flabbergasted to learn that our exchange in no way entitled me to sleep in his garage. “Everything I paid for is mine!”, I shouted at him till my throat was sore, but he was unmoved. I tried to explain to him that capitalism is just fine, but that I’m allowed to randomly and arbitrarily make up rules about how it works, rules that he is then obligated to follow, such as: if I pay you for a service that takes place within a physical structure, then the fee you receive from me for said service also entitles me to full ownership of that physical structure. If only A Communiqué From An Absent Future could have reached that far back in time, from the absent future, I might have had some theory to distort and use to inform some kind of reparative action.
Unlike the occupation of Art Constentino’s office the year before last, which happened because of grievances that students wished to have redressed, this year’s occupation seems to have happened primarily because someone wrote a really good polemic about occupying school buildings. Communiqué from an Absent Future was rather effective at making people feel sorry for college students (I got a little misty), but most of the situations it made emotional appeals about don’t resemble the lives of many evergreen student I’ve known over the years. The despair that accompanies the realization that you are amassing debt only to get into a career to pay off said debt as well as the debt that accumulates as you work toward clearing the initial debt and so on, doesn’t seem to be a problem for the kids whose tuition and living expenses are paid directly from accounts that have been their birth right since before they took their first breath. Yeah the French students took to the streets “as workers protesting their precarious futures” but no one goes to evergreen to get a job! Yeah a university diploma these days may be worth as much as a share of GM, but an evergreen diploma has always been worthless, at least as far as getting lucrative work in the private sector goes (ever since I was a kid I remember seeing graffiti on the toilet seat cover dispensers around town-‘free evergreen diplomas’).
The students occupying the HCC seem to have completely missed the part about “preventing the university from functioning” and “interupt[ing] the normal flow of bodies and things…bring[ing] work and class to a halt”, otherwise they might have chosen to occupy a building closer to the beast’s belly, rather than one on the beast’s ass it wouldn’t scratch even if it had scabies. However, they seem to have taken a shine to the part about a free university within a capitalist society being “like a reading room in a prison”, which of course is why they occupied their own reading room – as one loveable hotheaded student once exclaimed whilst throwing a chair, “Evergreen is a prison!”. But the students here like the comfort, isolation, and privileged irrelevance offered by their insulated reading room, which is probably why no one who could have truly benefited from a liberated space knew anything about this “action”.
Before reading the first olyblog communiqué I assumed there was at least some pretension of mimicking the New School occupation in New York and liberating space back to the community. I asked one of the women who comes into the family support shelter with her kids if she knew anything about a warm safe space on campus that had been liberated for the down trodden and the dispossessed. Of course she had not. I at first attributed this to a failure at outreach, but then I learned from reading the olyblog post that liberating space for the less fortunate was never even a consideration. After all, this woman and her kids never paid evergreen any money, which of course is why the HCC belongs to student anarchists and not to them, right? But that’s not what this was about.
According to the second communiqué and some conversations I’ve had with folks who were there, this was a warm up to gauge where kids were at as a preparatory measure for occupations to come, as well as to demonstrate to others how easily space can be taken over and occupied. Well, so much for the element of surprise! This mockupation was a gift wrapped a tactical dry run for the evergreen police, and they probably appreciated the opportunity to get a feel for what they could expect, and to get all their geo-ducks in a row before the real on-campus, students-only revolution (or collapse, or insurrection, whatever the current hip nomenclature is) happens. At least the police didn’t decide on the obligatory arrests of any number of martyrs which would then have added to the huge money pile of court fees, bail bonds, fines and restitution that radicals in Olympia have been amassing for some time now like they‘re trying to win a prize. As for demonstrating how easily space can be occupied at evergreen, this ‘action’ was nothing but redundancy. Two years back there was an occupation of an administrative official’s office in a building directly across from the police station, and all that came of it was that SDS got all their demands met. If the evergreen police did nothing to stop the occupation of an administrator’s office, one could reasonably assume that they would do even less to stop kids from occupying a play room the school built special for them, especially since it took place from Friday night until Sunday morning. It was like a group of second graders doing an occupation of their swing set from the beginning of lunch recess till the end of lunch recess, no one in charge would notice or even care. It is quit easy to occupy something that no one in power has any interest in defending, and that is why they chose the HCC, so they could “Demand Nothing”.
“Everything is ours” and “Demand Nothing”, sound at first like some badass slogans being sung by radicals who’ve seen through reformism and are ready to just start taking what’s theirs. But when framed within the context of this fake action, these slogans become not just redundant, but disturbing. It is easy to demand nothing when everything actually is yours. The second communiqué insisted that those doing this stunt were not all rich white kids, which is true; only most of them were. The communiqué also stated that they come from a wide and diverse array of backgrounds, also true, they are the sons and daughters of not just doctors and lawyers, but also businessmen and CEO’s, bankers and developers, genetic food crop engineers and Kevin bacon. In this context “demand nothing” would probably embarrass the Greek students the geoducks were attempting to ape by doing something just to do something while keeping it about nothing. NBC used to air a sitcom starring Jerry Seinfeld that proclaimed itself to be “a show about nothing”. Actions about nothing and shows about nothing seem to serve a similar purpose: to entertain and distract the participants who are simultaneously their own spectators. And in a spectacular fashion these modern day gladiators can finish out the day by standing over the slain corpses of relevance and efficacy; shouting to themselves in their best Russell Crowe, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!!!!!!”.
Its pretty hard to fuck up a campus occupation but somehow these kids have managed it. This doesn’t even deserve to be called an occupation anymore than the campus zine library deserves to shamelessly call itself a squat, or what became S.O.F.A. deserved to call itself food not bombs.
It’s almost as insulting as someone saying they feel ‘unsafe’ when what they mean is they feel awkward and/or uncomfortable but not in any actual danger. Bastardizing radical language by using signs to point to referents that having nothing to do with them is nothing but theatrical stage dressing for the masturbatory spectacle/spectator relationship these kids are in with themselves.
One of my favorite quotes is one by Garcia Oliver, he stated that, “revolution is not a question of preparedness, but of will”. Pretend actions like this demonstrate clearly that the Evergreen milieu is completely lacking in both.