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READING, MARCH 20/2020

To whomever might need it,

I have been spending much of my solitude, in the past few days of corona time, with Tarot cards— which, perhaps unaccountably, give me a much needed sense of hope and consistency. I thought I might begin to share my Tarot practice with you. 

In the coming weeks, I hope to put my theory of Tarot Cartography into writing. My aim is to articulate, eventually, a certain practicality that I’ve intuited in the ritual of reading Tarot. Tarot cartography is not a mystical practice, or a party trick, but a cognitive technique that rehearses the making of meaning. As such, I suspect this deck of cards (or any other deck of cards, numbered and suited, used cartographically) has much to teach us about the ideological refractions of political struggle. Here, I offer a brief sketch of my framework, followed by a reading.

Tarot Cartography— against cartomancy; against therapy— regards Tarot as nothing more than an instrument for the spatial organization of thought. In learning to read Tarot, one begins to use the deck as an instrument to construct, survey, and revise the present topography of thought.

The product of sustained tarot-cartographic survey is, in concrete terms, no more than the deck of cards one started with— the same deck, but with addition strange: the thoughts one has channeled into a revisionary feedback loop with the deck have become audible as the apparent voice of another. One can now use the instrument of Tarot to hear thoughts rehearsing, in the void of thought, for some indeterminate future thought occasion. The cards, in a sense, become an address book for the intellectual resources at your disposal; in another sense, they begin to present you with a hazard map of ideological features. Herein, I think, lies the potential for a liberatory use of Tarot, a Tarot for Communism. If there was ever a time to develop such a Tarot, it is here at the intersection of wildcat time and corona time.

I will elaborate soon, if you’re interested. In the meantime, in the spirit of the meantime, I offer you a cartography of three different timelines— three imagined continuities of past, present, and future to which the cards have alerted me today.

Perhaps these fictions will be useful to you somehow. Personally I find them rather useless.

THREE TIMELINES AND THEIR FICTIONS

1. 9 wands, 9 swords, King swords (upside down)
Once a subject’s capacity for invention has been wounded, the subject takes on a defensive posture, standing on guard against nothing but the direction from which the wounding blow was delivered. Imagination has long been obscured by defensive measures against an imagined (but not therefore unreal) aggressor. A sudden change in circumstance— experienced as an awakening from a terrible nightmare, late on the eve of a concrete occasion that itself promises to be nightmarish— forces relief into alloy with paralysis. Relief: there is no enemy where the enemy used to be. Paralysis: the ‘threat to life’ is gone, the threat to life (present) does not at present come from any one direction. It is an ambient threat; there is relief in the quiet ambience of its form. The future promises illusions of mastery, some of which promise to move the subject in ways that reawaken a capacity to invent, or to pull forgotten inventions from the void of the unstated problem; the future also promises deluded masters. All mastery, henceforth, is understood to be completely illegitimate. 

2. The World, 10 pentacles (upside down), Page cups

The World in the position of the past— does this need explicating? Explain the empty-handed present: that the hands were both full, a candle in each, each candle burning at both ends, and now the candles are gone… at least the hands are free to pet the dog. The future promised in the worldly past— say, the possibility of a peaceful retirement from a satisfying career—has at present been unmasked as the engine of the empty handedness. But it’s only dark out if a dead aspiration goes unmourned. Moving forward, here comes a capacity to care in unanticipated ways. Try talking about this with your pets, your neighbors, your comrades, your tarot cards… 

3. 9 wands, 10 swords, 10 wands (upside down)

Once a subject’s capacity for invention has been wounded, the subject’s gaze is fixed in the direction from which the blow came. What happens next— we’re still in the past— is the subject wants to stay right where they are. Now the subject, looking offstage, acting out old anxieties, becomes irrelevant to the event. How did it happen? It didn’t: something else did, in the blind spot, and it’s still happening. Now the feeling, broadly speaking, is we’re fucked— surely some of the guards are wishing, secretly, that they could pack their toys and leave the scene, which has become a bit more serious for everyone now that something big is happening everywhere else. Even so, I’m hearing they’re still there, and still on guard, and plan to still be there tomorrow. No one’s told them, yet, that it is quite alright to pack the toys and leave.

That’s all for today. 

in solitude,
in solidarity, 

Dr. Tippy DeTourmand

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EITHER OUR CONTRACT IS VOID OR OUR UNION IS: LETTER TO UCI WILDCATS

Comrades,

I heard, yesterday, that a grade withholding strike seems increasingly unlikely to happen on your campus this quarter. I’m writing to encourage you not to give up yet. I firmly believe that with a little bit of work, you can rally enough people to withhold grades effectively. If what you want is practical advice, you might consult my letter to San Diego. I also invite you to reach out to me on Twitter (@DrTippyD). My DMs are always open to wildcats. 

When I began writing this morning, I was going to try and use article 8 of our contract to persuade you that participating in a grade withholding strike is safer than it might seem. We’ve found article 8 useful, here in Santa Cruz, in ways that I’d be happy to discuss with any of you. But times have changed since last I read the contract.The relevant article, now, is surely article 9:

ARTICLE 9
EMERGENCY LAYOFF

A. An emergency layoff is the suspension of an appointment to which an ASE has been assigned or is working, due to acts of nature or forces outside the University’s control to which the University must immediately respond. 

B: The parties agree that the University may, but shall not be required, to pay ASEs during periods of emergency layoff.

9A protects the ‘right’ of administrators to lay us off in the event of an emergency; 9B affords them a further ‘right’ not to pay us anything once they’ve done so. Surely we can all admit that we are experiencing the early stages of a serious emergency. As the pandemic accelerates, straining the markets and driving rates of profit everywhere into the ground, what can we expect to happen next? Do we really think our bosses aren’t aware of the unilateral power that article 9 affords them in this situation? 

Can you imagine not having health insurance right now? I can’t— and I’m scheduled, along with 81 other wildcats, to lose coverage on March 27th. In these conditions— with a real emergency taking root all around us, with our workplace already restructuring in response to it— a wildcat action might begin to seem increasingly unsafe. But even if you intend to do everything in your power to stay employed at the UC, I want to urge you in the strongest terms not to fall for any illusions of safety. I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but it must be said: not even the most perfect obedience can guarantee that you will not lose your job in the coming months. Indeed, in the midst of an emergency, article 9 guarantees your job is not safe anymore.

If we proceed collectively from the standpoint of respect for our contractual obligations— if we allow union leadership to declare when we, the rank-and-file, can or can’t strike— we are tacitly admitting the legitimacy of article 9. If this contract is legitimate, article 9 is legitimate; if article 9 is legitimate, UAW 2865 has no power to protect us from the emergency layoffs that we are almost sure to see in the coming months. 

I spy a fork in the road: UAW 2865 can either 1) join us in declaring this contract illegitimate, declaring that the union will not cede power in a time of emergency; or 2) admit that they are powerless over UCOP. I don’t trust this leadership to arrive at the right choice out of any innate sense of right and wrong. I do trust that the rank-and-file can force our leadership to make the right decision. Only a forceful denial, by rank-and-file, of the 2018 contract’s legitimacy— which is to say, a wildcat strike—can force the union to do the job we expect it to. 

in solidarity,

Dr. Tippy DeTourmand

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IT’S A RIOT TO DO THINGS TOGETHER: LETTER TO DAYTON ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Comrades,

I’m writing to you about what happened last night in Dayton. I know almost nothing about it. I only know that the dorms were closed because of the virus going around, and that the people gathered in the streets, and that eventually there were police there wearing riot gear…

I’m seeing stories that say the gathering was a protest against the mass eviction. Of course, this is no way to treat a protest; and it looks like you’re doing a lot more than just protesting.

I’m also seeing stories like this one in which UD student Justin Tomaselli tells us: “It kind of just came out of nowhere… everyone got kicked off in 24 hours, and we all figured, I guess, we wanted to have one last night hanging out with friends.” This is reasonable, no? One big night out before everyone gets evicted?

I am going to go with Justin’s account: let’s say this all started as a way of blowing off steam after hearing some ugly news. I’m imagining one of those nights when you gather with a few friends, who bring their friends, who bring more friends because it’s fun to do things together; and you move to a bigger space with more people, and you outgrow that space as well; and the mass keeps growing until the places you usually pass through without lingering— the streets, for example— are packed with restless friends, acquaintances, and strangers; whole city blocks begin to glow with a strange potential. 

So let’s say you hadn’t planned on taking the streets; that the party grew organically until the streets belonged wholly to it. At this point, whether you meant to or not, you had already contested the state’s command over public space. This means, of course, that the police were already going to show up and say the party’s over.

Last night, the party— something more than the sum of individuals in attendance—did not want to end. I suspect it didn’t want to end because the friends, acquaintances, strangers, had all become comrades without knowing what was happening.

I’ve seen some videos of what the police brought over towards the end of your party last night. I’m sorry they did that to you. I’m also guessing that they didn’t show up this well-equipped when they were first called to the scene— I’m guessing that they advanced and retreated more than once before bringing in the big guns. For this I congratulate you: it means that for some time, the streets were yours. I’ll bet it was a riot…

I’m willing to bet that many who loudly condemned the UC’s violent strike-breaking tactics last month in Santa Cruz will be silent about what happened in Dayton just because you weren’t on strike. If pressed, these people are likely to justify the police violence you experienced, saying something like “the crowd was out of control, and something had to be done to stop it.” Do not listen to these people: they are wrong to blame the ungovernable crowd. Indeed, when we speak of a crowd gone out of control, we are talking about riot— which is every bit as politically significant as an organized strike. The police response to your gathering can be interpreted as a material expression of the violent panic of the rich– who have for years been making less and less of a profit from making life suck for the rest of us, and who want to make the rest of us pay the difference or die trying. Police violence is always a prominent part of that picture, and frightened people will always try to argue for its necessity. Your stance, last night, was a concrete way of telling the rich they’ve already earned quite enough from making your life suck. Indeed, when you’ve been kicked out of your home with nothing but debt, homework, and a grim horizon, what can you do but hit the streets?

The wildcats of Santa Cruz are with you in the struggle.

in solidarity, 

Dr. Tippy DeTourmand

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COMMUNITY AND CONTAGION: LETTER TO UCD WILDCATS

March 10, 2020

Comrades, 

I’m writing in response to the news that you have had to cancel some of your COLA related gatherings in order to mitigate the spread of COVID19.

I have often spoken of the “contagion” of COLA. At Davis last week, I encouraged you all to find a public space to hold continuously, something like the lawn by our picket in Santa Cruz, where contagious ideas and plans and enthusiasms circulate chaotically through a gathered mass of bodies. These conditions, I maintain, are crucial for COLA’s contagion.

It is a shame that COVID19 can also thrive in the conditions in which our movement has taken form. So, although your choice to cancel these large gatherings was surely a difficult one, in many ways it was the prudent choice. COLA gatherings feed hundreds of people from the same dishes. Hugs and handshakes abound. Bodies do their thing in close proximity to other bodies, and hand sanitizer tends to disappear quickly. Even the mildest, most well-managed OCD becomes a burden of anguish in these conditions. But the fear of pathogens, in this context, is not at all irrational: I don’t know anyone in the movement in Santa Cruz who hasn’t caught at least a mild ‘strike cold.’ In other words, in the situation of a serious pandemic, we are wise to take the conditions our gatherings create for contagion very seriously. We do not want to allow the COLA community to become a COVID superhighway.

I completely trust that you have chosen the right course of action for your situation. But because we’ve seen our administrators smuggle strike-breaking tactics into measures they frame as necessary for public health, it seems necessary to think through what might be required of us to stifle the contagion of COVID19 without also killing COLA. How do we deal with the real dangers of this pandemic without playing into administrative strike breaking tactics?

Administrative responses to COVID19 center the health risks of gathering large groups in small spaces. Reasonably enough, the classroom is deemed risky for the spread of the virus, so UCSC and other campuses have moved the remainder of Winter Quarter classes online. They have also announced that they are cancelling all gatherings where more than 50 people are expected together. Good, my inner germaphobe wants to say— let’s keep that virus away. To some degree I mean it. I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want the people around me to get sick. We can’t fuck up the UC if we’re all sweating and coughing and hurting alone in our beds.

On some level, I feel relieved to see any measure taken to stop the spread of this pathogen. But things get complicated when I remember where we are: in the middle of a labor movement which has built a great deal of power by bringing the masses together. Indeed, the administration has already positioned COVID19 as an excuse to break up our gatherings.

I’m also hearing that UCSD admin has announced that be moving all Spring Quarter classes online– supposedly on account of the pandemic. But here we have to remind ourselves that not only have administrators across the UC been grasping, lately, for ways to break our strike; in the longer run, they have also been awaiting an opportunity to move classes online as a way of further cheapening our labor. COVID19 comes as an absolute gift to their agenda: now, they can say that our strike must be broken and our labor must be cheapened as matters of public health.

It cannot be lost on us that our administrators, though they put on a show for the public in which they have shifted their attentions from COLA to COVID, nevertheless continue to panic specifically about the power of our movement. Indeed, every communication from admin on the subject of COVID contagion is at the same time a declaration of a new strikebreaking tactic. This means that every communication we make on COVID must, at the same time, declare the strength of our organization and the ineptitude of theirs.

Pandemics are terrifying. Indeed, this virus will kill people. But I am far more terrified by the greedy ineptitude of those currently charged with protecting the public from pandemic—administrators of the nation, the state, and the university. Our administrators will take COVID19 and the accompanying panic as license to escalate their violence against the masses in a multitude of ways. We know what happens when the ruling classes close ranks to protect each other. We will, as things unfold, be called upon to protect each other from them.

In this moment, it becomes especially crucial that we find ways to strengthen our wildcat networks. One of the most efficient means of forging the strength we need— the mass gathering— seems to have become unavailable, for now, in Davis. This makes me a little bit sad: when we say cops off campus, we don’t mean everyone else, too.

I am sad, too, because I worry about losing comrades to the loneliness they’ll find in quarantine. Loneliness, even when self-imposed as a safety measure, can only act as obstacle to the success of our movement. We must do whatever we can to make sure that while we cannot gather the masses, we do everything we can to combat the social isolation of quarantine– to make sure no comrade, infected or otherwise, feels alone in these challenging times.

There is, of course, plenty of work to do that doesn’t involve gathering the masses in physical space. We’ve got union bureaucracy to deal with; we’ve got fundraising to do; and we’ve got people to persuade to join us in withholding labor from the UC machine. My dream is that we can use the catastrophe of COVID19 to build a stronger community of wildcats, grounded in solidarity with all who suffer under administrative ineptitude. Can we organize to bring meals to workers who find themselves in quarantine at home? Can we organize rides to the hospital for those who get too sick to stay where they are? Can we organize to make soap and hand sanitizer for those who can’t keep up with price-gouging? We know very well that our administration is not concerned with orchestrating such things without also making a profit. We also know that they are afraid of us being together, and that they want us to be afraid of contact with one another. This means we need to find other ways to tend to our togetherness until it is time to gather the masses again.

There will be a time to gather the masses again. It will be soon. Imagine: the pandemic passes, and the masses reunite in the name of more than a COLA. Magically, everyone’s back on campus but the cops!

Of course, it won’t happen this way. But if we want to work against a nightmare scenario, in which this pandemic (pathogen and panic) succeeds in destroying the power we’ve built, we might have to do a little bit of dreaming.

solid,

Dr. Tippy DeTourmand


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OPEN LETTER FROM DR. TIPPY DETOURMAND TO THE WILDCATS OF UCSD

March 7, 2020

Comrades,

I greet you from Santa Cruz, where we have just finished the fourth week of our picket. There is something in the air here; time is moving differently. I invite you to come visit, if you can find a way. I hear flights are cheap these days on account of COVID-19.
I’m writing to you about a different sort of contagion. I write to congratulate you for catching the COLA bug, and to offer you some words on the art of chaos management that has taken form on the ground in Santa Cruz over the past few months. Perhaps they will be helpful to you as the COLA event unfolds on your campus and across the state. 

You can’t reproduce what happened here in Santa Cruz on your own campus. Even if you could, nobody would be able to tell you exactly how. Accordingly I offer you neither rules, nor guidelines, nor directives. I invite you to use or discard my thoughts as you see fit. 

My hope is that you’ll find something here that you can use to strengthen this wildcat movement on your own campus. If we wildcats are able to gain a strong foothold across the UC system without allowing our current union leadership to co-opt what we’ve built, we are sure to win more than a COLA. 

LESSON: WHEN THERE IS A RUPTURE IN THE VOID OF REPRESENTATION, OTHER DEMANDS WILL RUSH THROUGH IT. WELCOME THEM.
Our movement originates in a space of lack. We lack a wage we can live on— which means we lack food, shelter, medicine, time for taking care. We, as graduate students, are not alone in this lack. We share it with a great deal of the world’s population.
We also lack representation: indeed, our union leadership doesn’t seem to take our accelerating impoverishment very seriously.
We, UCSC wildcats, took steps to represent ourselves, offering our demands directly to the bosses without union mediation. We made the urgency of our demands felt systemwide, and we did it by striking without the protection of a union— which is to say, by withholding our labor, disrupting the system when we were told we had no right to do so.
But we share the space we’ve disrupted with others. Why, in the chaos following our opening shot, should we, graduate students, expect to be the only ones with a demand to make? I’m speaking, here, of more than a COLA.

LESSON: THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT MORE THAN A COLA. 

Shortly after we demanded a COLA for graduate student workers—say, COLA-classic— another demand followed. Why just grad students? — the thinking went—why not everybody? An affinity group came together around this demand: COLA4ALL. Their entry into the conversation was frustrating to some of the COLA-classic organizers, who had put a great deal of work into framing a concrete, limited demand that seemed achievable in the relatively short term. But had those frustrations been allowed to determine the direction of the movement, the movement would surely have sputtered out by now. Indeed, COLA4ALL has in many ways become the heart of the movement in Santa Cruz.

Let it be known that COLA4ALL began as an affinity group comprised of people who are always already struggling in the void of representation— BIPOC, queer, differently abled, undocumented. Whereas COLA-classic centered the demands of graduate students, COLA4ALL opened the movement to undergraduates and workers.
If graduate student wildcats disrupted the workings of the institution by withholding grades, COLA4ALL built an all-inclusive movement within the chaotic space that our disruption opened up.

LESSON: SOLIDARITY FOREVER MEANS SOLIDARITY RIGHT NOW

What does all this mean for those graduate students who feel a COLA for grads is within reach but a COLA for all is not?
If we want a COLA, and we think we are going to get it, we have to know in advance that we will owe our success to comrades with less to win. If we win a COLA, we will be obliged to continue fighting for those who remain stuck in the void of representation. 

In other words, if we want a COLA for ourselves, we must begin right now to organize for more than a COLA. If we do not— that is, if we plan to step away from radical politics at the moment we win for ourselves— ‘solidarity’ becomes a curse in our mouths. 

LESSON: THE UNION IS A POWERFUL INSTRUMENT. IF WE DON’T USE IT, IT WILL USE US. 

The union is there to be used, by rank and file members, to elicit concessions from the boss. It is not there to direct the actions of its rank and file. A union that directs its rank-and-file effectively works for the boss— in our case, by insisting that we rest content with the paltry concessions this leadership ‘won’ in 2018.
We have a union that wants to dictate our course of action from above. It is not difficult to see the ‘use’ to which they are putting our movement. Indeed, they’ve done everything they can to domesticate our energy in service of a diet COLA demand: COLA for grad students who ask politely between now and 2022. 

BEWARE THE ‘SOLIDARITY’ OF THOSE WHO WANT US MANAGED FROM ABOVE

I speak of UAW 2865 leadership— many of whom sign off their emails ‘in solidarity’— and of faculty who speak warmly about our courage and tell us to stand down in the same breath. 

UAW2865: On February 12th— the very day I watched 17 comrades violently arrested; the very day I spent 4 hours holding the intersection of Bay & High with graduate and undergraduate comrades, watching militarized rent-a-cops salivate at the prospect of getting to use their new toys on our bodies— UAW2865 tweeted:

“Union members at Berkeley, Davis, and Merced were out in force today to make the case that more must be done to support rent-burdened grad workers. We are pushing administrators to stop raising our rents because enough is enough. #COLA4ALL.”
What about UC Santa Cruz? Not a word about our demands, delivered months before; not a word about the action we’d been taking to see our demands met; not a word about the concussions, broken fingers, bruised ribs suffered by UCSC wildcats demanding a COLA. On the very day the administration tried hardest to stomp us out, our union erased us from our own campaign. 

Faculty: If they speak supportively but act with the administration, pay them no mind; they’ll only distract you from your solidarity.
With that said, I would not dare make the claim that we have not experienced genuinely supportive faculty. We’ve found, here in Santa Cruz, that some faculty— a precious few, particularly those who participate in FOG (faculty organizing group)— are genuinely committed to materializing the kinds of justice they teach in their classrooms. 

LESSON: THIS UNION WILL WHITEWASH OUR MOVEMENT, IF WE LET IT

Not only did the February 12th tweet from UAW2865 erase the Santa Cruz wildcats from the story of the COLA event; it also appropriated the language of COLA4all. Indeed, shortly after the tweet, a website was launched by union leadership: cola4all.com. Luckily, the website was short-lived: the real COLA4ALL made sure of that. But the damage has been done, and the COLA4ALL language has lost its potency for the very communities by and for whom it was developed.
Any sentient being can see how unethical UAW was in making this appropriation. But I don’t want to dwell on ethics here. Instead, I want to bring up a strategic concern that arises from this appropriation. In practical terms, the whitewashing of #COLA4ALL compromises this language’s potential to bring BIPOC, queer, differently abled, and undocumented students on other UC campuses into the movement for a COLA.
From a coldly strategic standpoint, this act of appropriation compromises the ability of the COLA movement to build the kind of inclusive solidarity we need if we are to take the UC for the people. Indeed, it seems to me to have been calculated to do so. But from the perspective of a fired (up) UCSC wildcat, who stands in solidarity with the real COLA4ALL, this is more than a strategic problem. It is an absolute fucking outrage. Make no mistake: this was an act of violence against marginalized people, those who have lived their entire lives in precarity, who need COLA (and more) the most.
I haven’t given up on the union entirely— I maintain, hesitantly, that our movement can use UAW2865 to win some of the concessions we need. But I also have to ask: if our union works actively to stop its rank and file from building solidarity with the most precarious people in our workplace, why the fuck do we still pay dues?

LESSON: AFFINITY IS BETTER THAN AUTHORITY.

That our movement is grounded in a rejection of authority should be obvious enough from our choice to go out on a wildcat strike. We grow stronger by continuing to reject authority, maintaining that the power to end the strike remains with the wildcats who declared it to begin with. 

Unauthorized should be taken to mean leaderless: we need answer to no one, least of all to an ‘authority’ that denies the legitimacy of our demands. But leaderless need not mean disorganized: a leaderless movement has to be a movement full of bottom-liners.
In practical terms, this means that we have to learn to delegate horizontally. This is a difficult skill to develop, because we have all been trained to respect authority. When we learn to detest authority, the last thing we want to do is feel like we’re giving an order. And yet, as I’m sure you’ve seen already, so much of the organizing work falls on so few people that it becomes necessary to delegate aggressively— to pass along burdensome tasks to others without a) feeling guilty for doing so or b) worrying that they will do a bad job. 

However necessary an organizer/supporter model might be for orchestrating the triggering tactic— the withholding of labor— it is limiting to the project of building solidarity among and beyond the rank and file. It is also limiting to the capacities of the movement. To people unpracticed in labor organizing— the people we need to motivate most— the duality of organizer/supporter engages a counterproductive kind of heirarchical thinking: organizing sovereigns, supportive subjects. Experienced organizers know this to be untrue. But passionate supporters, new to the game, do not: I am here for the organizers, they will say; I won’t compromise their ability to organize by adding my ideas into the mix. This is how the revolution loses precisely the resources it needs most— the revolutionary subject’s abundance of capacity.

LESSON: PEOPLE ORGANIZE THEMSELVES BETTER THAN ORGANIZERS ORGANIZE PEOPLE. THEY JUST NEED SPACE TO DO SO. If it is true that the fiction of authority tends to persist wherever a line is drawn between organizers and supporters, and that it tends to choke people’s sense of their own capacities wherever it persists, then we need to introduce another way of thinking about the composition of the movement for a COLA. Instead of organizers and supporters, think affinity groups.
Who likes to sew banners? Who likes to design and/or screeprint shirts? Who likes to build things? Who likes to sneak around in the middle of the night? Who likes to cook? Who likes to ride bikes? Who can play music? Who can write well? Who is good with computers? Who is good at math?
Make it known that a task must be completed. Give the people who are able to do the task the space and the opportunity to find each other. They will organize themselves around what work there is to do. Dabblers in organizing will become bottom liners. The movement will grow, and the dominant attitude will change: from a storm of organizers asking each other how the fuck do we get this done ourselves? emerges, eventually, a dynamic in which it seems that if you ask, you shall recieve.

LESSON: PEOPLE ORGANIZE THEMSELVES WITHOUT KNOWING IT. LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM.

Affinity groups will arise without identifying themselves as a group. Not all of them will be good. I have in mind, here, a type of individual who feels that having a voice matters more than getting organized. Individuals of this type work together without knowing it, and they work against the movement. They are obnoxious, and they will make demands of time better spent getting organized. They will hijack your email threads indiscriminately, and they will turn every strategic conversation into a discourse on tone. They will not go away, no matter how badly you wish they would.
I don’t know what to tell you. Start an affinity group? Find your saltiest, your most sarcastic, your most unconcerned with tone, manners, etiquette. Allow them to architect email threads that can act as shitcatchers, so that important conversations have a small chance of not being drowned out by liberal nonsense. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it can mitigate the suffocation of radical action by reformist concerns. 

LESSON: MEETING MANAGEMENT
I speak of managing General Assemblies, and I speak of speaking with management.
Caveat: I have never been accused of being a very effective organizer. I am just a middle-aged man who thinks he knows things. Some of what follows will be obvious. Some of this will be wrong. I offer it anyway.
GA:
These are precious meetings: time is limited, and voices are many. To get the most out of them, plan them carefully, strategically, and collaboratively; stick to your plan, and learn from its failures for the next GA. For example, the grade-withholding tactic needs to be discussed at an assembly that consists entirely (or almost entirely) of folks who are able to participate in the action— that is, graduate student workers. Otherwise, other demands— which, I maintain, should be welcomed enthusiastically into the movement— will flood in, and distract possible grade withholders from the nuts-and-bolts conversations they need to be having if their action is to succeed.
But grade withholding is just one tactic in the movement for more than a COLA. After you’ve nailed down your execution of that limited tactic, hold general assemblies for all, in which other tactics can be proposed and discussed. Set an agenda beforehand with a team of facilitators at an organizing council. After each meeting, make it well known that your organizing council welcomes newcomers; they will come, and they will bring good ideas to put on the agenda; they will begin to pick up on the work the strike requires without waiting around for instruction.
They will also bring ideas that are obsolete, inapplicable, strategically misguided— which you will be able (to some degree) to get out of the way before the general assembly. 

For the first few meetings, it will inevitably seem to the masses as though an elite cadre is pulling all the strings and making all the calls. But as newcomers grow into their capacities to facilitate, things will no longer appear to be predetermined by a small group. It will become clear to everyone present that the people are organizing themselves.
Meeting with management (from department chairs to administration): You’ll have to do it. It will mostly suck. Department chairs will be department chairs: they play a long game incompatible with the urgency of our movement. Administrators will listen to your arguments without hearing the suffering that compels you to make them. Find your comrades as soon as the meeting is over: their company is the antidote to administrative poison. 

LESSON: GIVE HESITANT FOLKS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ACTION WITHOUT FORCING AN IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN ROUTINE
I cringe as I say this— you all have declared a full grading strike, and what I’m telling you may seem like a less militant option— but I say it because it may help you find ways to increase participation in your action.
Consider the distinction between a grading strike and a grade-withholding strike. The former withholds much more labor-time, and immediately disrupts the relationship between student and instructor/TA. The latter withholds about a minute and a half of grading time, and delays the real disruption until after the end of the quarter.
Consider this distinction from the perspective of a supporter who loves to teach, who feels a strong sense of obligation to their students. If the picket line is drawn within the last ninety seconds of the quarter— in such a way that the relationship between TA/GSI and student is not abruptly brought to a halt— this kind of supporter will participate in the action much more readily. Moreover, the extra time this option allows strikers to spend with undergrads will provide an opportunity for you to get out ahead of the administrative narrative which says that the strike does undergrads harm. 

It is much easier to persuade people to withhold ninety seconds of labor than it is to persuade them to stop going to work altogether, particularly when they feel they do their job for something more than $$$. Not everyone who participates will hold the line: indeed, as warning letters come out, your numbers will begin to decline. But as the submitters fall away from the line, the withholders— many of whom will have begun the action cautiously, apprehensively— will become more invested in the movement, and begin to participate actively in the organizational work that directs the chaotic energy of the collective towards a concrete goal. 

LESSON: STOP LEARNING FROM TENURED FACULTY. START LEARNING FROM UNDERGRADUATES. 


Undergraduates face the same future we face. Full professors do not. It’s as simple as that. Encourage your students to start affinity groups, and to join existing ones; let them know how they can help you, and make it known (by your actions and your words) that you are invested in helping them thrive outside of the classroom. We owe our successes, in large part, to the principled militancy of undergraduates in the People’s Coalition and the Snail Movement (among other groups). These alliances began in the classroom, when the strike was only an idea.
Do not scoff at the scale of undergraduates’ demands, or push away the enthusiasm they bring to the movement. Fold them into your organizing, amplify their demands. Remember, we are talking about much more than a COLA. 

LESSONS, LESSONS, LESSONS…

I’ve learned precisely nothing from getting fired. Before receiving my termination letter, I’d already met with callous administrators, faced off with overeager cops, argued with the hopeless about the necessity and promise of our movement. In other words, I was already well acquainted with the evils of the UC machine, the lengths to which these fuckers will go to make sure we’re kept just barely alive, and the heartbreaking limits this system imposes on the imaginations of those who work within it.

Comrades— you already know what I know, and more. I am at peace with having lost my job. I’ll find another income, and I have plenty of work to do which promises nothing in return. I am not at peace with the continued bullshit of the UC system that gaslights us all into thinking we are doomed to spend our lives in the space of lack they’ve constructed for us. 

We, UC grad workers, share a boss and a landlord with a staggering number of people— workers in maintenance, food service, sanitation; undergraduate students whose rising tuition is pledged in advance to the parasites of financial capital; adjuncts; administrative staff; the list goes on. We share our space of lack with most of them. Let’s fire the architects of our misery and rebuild the UC for the people who need it.
I am absolutely positive that we can succeed, and that we will. But again, what do I know? I’m just some fool who got himself fired. 

solidarity,

Dr. Tippy DeTourmand