New School Occupation

New Lessons from the New School

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The occupation of the New School in New York City will go down as one of the most important developments of 2008. By the final act, over 150 students were involved in the victorious show of force, having won some of the most important demands placed on the University bigwigs.

The initial occupation took place on December 16th at approximately 7:00 pm. The students held their “autonomous students’ center” (ASC) – the occupied cafeteria in the graduate building – for three days. The first occupiers totaled no more than 75 people, with numbers varying throughout the occupation.

Throughout the first day, a number of communications left the occupied zone of the school and messages of support and solidarity flooded in from universities around the U.S. and the rest of the world. They urged the New School occupiers to hold on until victory, which they did with the vigor befitting occupations in the tradition of Berkeley and the Sorbonne.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the New School occupation was the fact that the initial 75 activists involved did not all come from the school itself but from other universities as well. This proved an important feature in the latter part of the action and made some of the demands they won all the more important and impressive.

The immediate response of students in the New York area was one of support and the desire to get involved in the struggle at the New School. Because of this, a number of important solidarity demonstrations and pickets were organized throughout the days of the occupation. At each of these, and even between demos, people tried their best to get into the ASC.

Even during the periods when the barricades had been removed from the doors to the building, the police and school security made it impossible for people to get in without New School identification, essentially locking non-New School students inside the building until the action came to a close, so as to keep up the occupiers’ numbers.

While it is true that some press were allowed inside the ASC, such as Democracy Now! and some newspapers, the police were extremely selective and refused entry to others, including our own comrades reporting for Socialist Appeal.

On the second night of the occupation, the New School in Exile (the nom de guerre of the students) got a big confidence boost when over 100 students and some faculty members from the City University of New York showed up outside to demonstrate in solidarity with the struggle. Throughout the evening their numbers swelled and the block around the autonomous zone was effectively shut down by the sheer number of people on the street.

It is at this point that the episode reached its peak, as the demonstrators outnumbered the police and the school security forces were overwhelmed. Students poured into the building and the entire facility was taken by the redoubled force. People followed University President Bob Kerry to his home and protested outside his front door by the dozens. The entire student left in New York City and the surrounding area was electrified, with students, youth and workers from all over the country up all night waiting for the latest communiques to hit the blog of the newly re-named New York Schools in Exile. This new name was chosen to reflect the new blended character of the occupation, as at a certain point the majority of people inside were probably not even New School students!

Eventually the police and security were able to confine the occupiers back into the cafeteria and denied them access to leave that area whatsoever, even to go to the rest room. The students hung in, however, and refused to budge for the President, the police, or anyone else for that matter.

Because of their militant attitude and resolve, the students won some important demands, including student representation in the choosing of new provosts, presidents and executive vice presidents of the University, for student spaces to be saved from being destroyed, and importantly, that no charges would be pressed against those who occupied the building.

The ripples of the New School occupation are still being felt. The New York Schools in Exile encouraged other students to occupy their own schools and for workers to occupy their workplaces to level their demands against administrations and bosses around the country. Radical student listservs are still bustling with talk about the action and future actions.

As the Republic Windows and Doors factory occupation showed, these tactics are definitely on the order of the day. These kinds of situations could spread more widely and lead to even greater victories in the coming period, provided that bold, class struggle methods are adopted by student and labor leaders.

Students from across the U.S. were inspired by the December actions and wanted to occupy their own schools. This is precisely what has to happen! The future bodes well for the militant workers and students and with a Marxist orientation, important victories are achievable.

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