Tuesday 30th November witnessed the second national day of action against education cuts. In Leeds, there was a march of around 500 to the city centre and back, followed by the flash occupation of the Ziff administrative building. The flash occupation brought to the fore tensions over the ‘control’ of the unfolding politics; Who gets to make decisions? Who is subject to these decisions? Who is accountable to who?
In the evening general meeting of the occupied Michael Sadler lecture theatre, a vote was carried by a depleted assembly banning ‘any activity that endangers the occupation’, and asserting the general assembly as the sovereign decision making body. As a result, all acts (regardless of their specificities) are now potentially subject to the ‘judicial’ scrutiny of the sovereign body. As one participant commented, there is little difference between this and a quasi-religious ‘defence of the motherland’.
For Federico Venturini, an Erasmus student involved in the occupation, this moment posed an insurmountable limit to his continued participation in the occupation. What follows is his public letter explaining his withdrawal from the process.
Tuesday evening, after the vote on the last proposal (regarding the occupation of the Ziff and with respect to future actions), I decided to abandon my involvement in the occupation of Michael Sadler building. The reasons are manifold.
A few considerations…
The last meeting was told that “the occupation is a serious matter”: I totally agree, if smiling, if laughing, if feeling, if making love, if having fun, are part of being “serious”.
It has been said that this occupation is not a party. Firstly, this consideration is without any logical need. Secondly, what are the parties, concerts, debates, social dinners which have been organized in and by this occupation for? Simple moments to attract new activists? A “contentino” for the insistent militants, a payoff a concession to stop them whining? I am not a flyer-soldier!
An occupation is an experiment, an exploration of the social relations that should be in a future world. Unfortunately in this occupation and during our meetings, was used the same power dynamics that exist in this corrupted society; only they are masked by a “supposed” democracy. Where the proposals and the votes are the core. The control of the majority over the minority.
Where is the consensus? Where is the sharing of choices? Why have we never, or in rare cases, tried to create a synthesis from different positions?
I have full respect for the assembly and I follow its decisions. The vote for the last proposal makes me incompatible with this occupation.
I’m Federico: free thinker, free individual. If the meeting exceeds the limits of my being, I must abandon it.
No one answered my question, this was unpolite, I even repeated it twice. Obviously my question was provocative, to show how stupid and counterproductive the proposal was; however no one wanted to understand. The proposal passed and it is a rule and as a rule (just link a law), it entails punishment.
Let’s look: if a rule does not presuppose a punishment, anyone could break it when ever and as often as they like. I cannot believe that we have discussed and voted on a rule that can always be broken, an unnecessary rule: it would be too stupid.
A possible punishment (expulsion? cleaning the bathrooms? a slap? leafleting in the cold?) would be decided by the assembly … Again the majority and minority. Specifically: whom is that decides what is dangerous for the occupation? The assembly, where an organized majority can decide all. That script has been seen many times in history, to marginalise dissenting minorities.
The assembly and votes are not the only way to make decisions in a proper form. In a demonstration do we fake a vote to resist the police? Or to make a block? A making decisions is not only raising a hand.
I think that the occupation of the Ziff was absolutely positive, an action that showed how the student movement is not rigid and that raises the fight. I think that we have to thank the occupation of Ziff because it proved that we are not locked in a building and we are determined to redouble our actions. I see no logical connection between the occupation of the Ziff and the risk of eviction of Michael Sadler, perhaps we are worried about being evicted by fellow students?
The police evict, they decide, they are the enemies who do not care!
We speak so much about keeping unity and about solidarity, let us show it: we must accept the actions of other groups so we move forward!
Unconditional solidarity to Ziff building occupants!
They were neither leaders nor led!
Neither god nor state.
Neither servants nor masters.
Federico Venturini, Leeds, 1/12/2010