An Open Letter to the ‘All NYC Student Occupation’ from Autonomous CUNY Students

November 23rd, 2011

Dear All NYC Student Occupiers,

We an autonomous group of CUNY students who were in attendance at the events of November 21st at 90 Fifth Avenue, have a personal and collective responsibility to call upon the members of the ‘All City Student Occupation’ for their autonomous and collective actions, which had a detrimental effect on our hopes for mutual solidarity within the occupation. The following events did occur between the hours of 9:00pm and 8:00am:

  1. A four hour-long General Assembly took place involving all city students during which proposals were consensed upon and lively and respectful dialogue took place about the politics of the occupied space.
  2. Following the GA small groups of individuals began to hold meetings behind closed doors, no announcements were made as to what these meetings were about, if and or why they were not open to the general occupants.
  3. Between the hours of 2:00am and 3:00am an emergency ‘General Assembly’ was announced by those attending the close door meeting, for which people were awaken and brought to a meeting space.
  4. A person stood on top of the windowsill and introduced themselves as a lawyer. They began a fiery and emotionally charged speech by which we were informed that our ability to hold onto the occupied space was now in jeopardy because of legally binding fire codes of the building we were in.
  5. This lawyer then declared that we had to immediately follow the instructions of the non-introduced and unknown decision making body who came to this tactical decision.
  6. We were told that in the wake of police brutality against the Occupy Movement–in particular, the earlier confrontation of the NYPD and Baruch College campus police of CUNY student protesters at the public Board of Trustees hearing that was held at 5:00PM on 11/22/11, we needed to change the nature of the occupation immediately, so as to comply with the now mentioned fire codes and avoid police antagonism. This restriction included access of the space to the broader New York City community, number of occupants, and finally, the restriction of previously intended uses of the space resulting in 90 Fifth Avenue no longer resembling anything close to a political occupation.
  7. We were told that all actions leading up to this decision were the most rational response of a few people ‘in the know’ who could act quickly and effectively during a time-sensitive moment of ‘crisis’. We are familiar with this tactic; however, as CUNY students, we were particularly disturbed by the use of scare tactics and tokenism of CUNY’s current place in the movement to achieve the desired proposal of cleaning out the space to reflect the fire code.
  8. The CUNY representatives of the occupation were outraged to hear a level of consideration for our struggle used to strategically force the hand of the occupation in the favor of a small number of occupiers, who we felt had already made the decision as to how the situation would play out for the rest of the early morning.
  9. Immediately following these orders, concerns rang out by mostly members of our CUNY contingency, who felt an incredible level of discomfort with what had just taken place and a demand for an actual General Assembly (consensus-driven facilitation and stack taker in all) to immediately occur to address these grievances.
  10. What followed was one of the most disrespectful, antagonistic and aggressive General Assemblies that any of us had witnessed or been subject to before.
  11. We the CUNY representatives of the occupation, as well as non-CUNY occupiers within the space, called into question the highly undemocratic nature of what appeared to be a shadow decision-making body within the ‘All City Student Occupation’. We demanded that other possible tactical options in response to the Fire Marshall visit be discussed, explored and consented upon. We demanded that our voices be listened to and accounted for amongst the rest of the occupiers.
  12. Our voices were silenced, our concerns left unaccounted for, our reasoning for questioning what the decision making processes were villainized, our persons antagonized and the space surrounding our bodies yet again, reminded us that we were not safe.

We call upon the members of the ‘All City Student Occupation’ to heed your own words. In your Solidarity Statement to us, the students of CUNY, on Nov. 22nd, in reference to the Board of Trustees, you stated: “This appointed body is unaccountable, undemocratic, and therefore illegitimate” As well as the banner that hangs on the wall of our occupation that reads: “This is NOT a New School Occupation.” With this, we ask of you to redress your commitment to non-hierarchical, and participatory democratic based organization. We ask that you not defend the actions of aggressive and divisive individuals because they are autonomous, rather reclaim your responsibility to one another as a collective body. We ask that you acknowledge and take immediate efforts to address the deeply entrenched systems of privilege and oppression in the occupation that our buried in all of our hearts because we cannot escape our history. In the same way we must address our internalized racism, classism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, trans and homophobia as well as other internalized systems of oppression and privilege, we must acknowledge that even in radical and thoughtful movements we still play out these same old systematic modes of behavior that are repressive and not in line with our own rhetoric.

We demand the implementation of an inclusive CUNY community caucus, a CUNY-led component of the safer spaces working group, as well as continuous direct action training devoted to ensuring the education of our community on the safety tactics that can be used in situations of (un)documentation of immigrant status, queer, trans and gender non-conforming people, women and other marginalized voices that make up our university. The prioritization of these realities should also be taken into account when implementing the ‘progressive stack’ process that is upheld during any General Assembly or working group meeting within the occupation. These physical efforts to achieve direct democracy and transparency within our space will ensure the return of our CUNY contigency for the remainder of the occupation and lend a significant hand in the overall success of the relocated All NYC Student Occupation at 2 w13th Street.

We believe in the power of our unity as a student movement in the context of the national and global movement at large, but more importantly we understand the weight of our failure when we turn against each other.

Another world is possible. Escalate your possibilities. Expand your unity. Let us decolonize our own occupations.

In Solidarity,

Autonomous CUNY Students