On 4th March thousands of workers and students across California took action in protest against budget cuts, lay-offs and fee hikes caused by the state’s financial crisis. This article from Indybay was written after 157 people were arrested for occupying the I-880 motorway.
“Why the hell did you get on that highway?” asked the cops, our cell mates, our coworkers, our classmates. There are many responses that could be given that have been outlined by banners, occupation demands, student leaders, or budget statistics, but none of them really connect to why one would take over a highway. Obviously there are no libraries on a highway. The funding for schools isn’t going to be found on any one of those lanes of oncoming traffic. And, in fact, a lot of people who were arrested on the highway were not students or teachers. This is because the highway takeover is an action against a power structure that is much larger than this year’s budget crisis.
That morning we awakened to newspaper headlines stating the governor’s support for sanctioned student protests. We weren’t the least bit impressed by this patronising rhetoric. Our motivations for walking up that on ramp to 880 were far deeper and broader than some piddly demand for a return of the same: an education system that has for a long time been the bedrock to our highly divided class system in the United States.
The myth that change will come to this society by poor people reaching middle class status through the university makes no sense; a school degree does not impact the condition of the neighborhoods and families we come from. It should also now be clear to everyone that ritualized demonstrations that fail to break out of the normal functioning of society represent nothing more than the further consolidation of state power.
What fails to concretely disrupt the system ultimately strengthens it. We know that if we “win” funding from Governor Schwarzenegger this is no victory, but a diversion of funds from one group of already-struggling people to pacify another, without changing shit. For example, plans are in the works that will take money from the health care of prisoners in order to fatten university administrators’ pockets. We refuse to accept a shallow bribe that places “our” interests in competition with those of our potential comrades.
It was our experience on the highway that made the question of who our allies and adversaries are infinitely clear. As we ran up the on-ramp behind hand-held flares declaring our occupation of the freeway, inmates in the adjacent jail pounded on their cell windows in excitement. Later, after the police beatings, as we sat in cuffs on the other side of the freeway, yuppies held a sign in the windows of their condominiums reading “Fuck U Protesters,” as commuters who were stuck in traffic honked and cheered for us.
For a few hours we substantially disrupted commerce; shipments of products were delayed and crowds at local shopping malls dwindled. On the day-to-day we don’t, in any tangible way, have any sway over the systems that rule our lives. We had many slogans and ideas in each of our individual brains from all the speeches and banners having to do with fee hikes, demands to Sacramento, blah blah. But underneath all of our different reasons we could formulate for media quotes and skeptical friends was a desire to exercise some sort of power over a system that we really have no control over.
For those of us who are not students, those who labour in the service industry, who live precariously on welfare benefits, who share overcrowded rooms, who can’t pay the rent and are months behind on the utilities, for those of us who are told everyday that we are nothing, taking over the highway was an assertion of our collective power.
It is unlikely that anything we have ever done has had as great an effect on our surroundings. The sight of miles of traffic brought to a standstill was an indication of a true, if fleeting, glimpse of the havoc we are capable of.
As has been echoed many times since the fall of 2008, we are not making this shit up: We Are The Crisis.
Each action brings another inspiration and another lesson. The highway takeover was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. We sat in our jail cells shaking our heads asking ourselves and others why we decided to march on the 880. Some of us felt pressure to connect the action to the education budget crisis. Some of us felt like it was a huge tactical error to enter onto a freeway overpass without escape routes. But somehow, despite these apprehensions and valid concerns, we decided to go anyway.
This is a message to affirm and congratulate that instinct that forced our feet forward to shut down a major artery of the bay area.
Next time we will strike when it is even more unexpected; when the state is not prepared. We will choose terrain that is to our tactical advantage and not allow ourselves to be so caught up in symbolic locations. We will continue to wait long hours outside of jail houses and in courtrooms for each other. In each action we take we gain confidence in the power we have together. Soon we will be unfuckwithable.
During a police charge on the 880, 15 year-old Francois Zimany fell from the 25 foot high overpass, sustaining fractures to his skull, pelvis, and wrist. Initial reports suggested that he was pushed by police officers, newer information indicates that he most likely fell trying to escape arrest. In either situation, we hold the Oakland Police Department responsible for his injuries. Francois, we don’t know you, but we love you. We are comrades for life.