Originally posted to It’s Going Down by an anonymous participant in the autonomous student network on November 18th, 2017
This time last year, comrades took to the streets of Oakland, Pittsburgh to express anger over Trump’s election and demand an end to tuition hikes and student debt. Campus and City police responded to our action by kettling us in Tower’s lobby, beating us with batons, threatening us with police dogs, pointing rubber bullets at our faces and ultimately arresting two march participants. The school condoned the police violence, congratulating the cops for maintaining University order. For simply wanting a more just school and society, the University enacted an assault on our bodies, minds, and spirits.
But we already knew the University to be fundamentally positioned against our free existence. We’ve seen the campus police stop and ID comrades for nothing more than dyeing their hair, piercing their bodies or kissing their queer partners. We’ve seen them harass students at Black Lives Matter protests and die-ins. The brutality that took place in Tower’s was just further affirmation that the University is a colonial machine that exists to uphold the capitalist State.
As anarchists we challenge any institution that perpetuates classism, racism and gendered violence. So we turn to our University and question the rising tuition which inhibits so many lower income students from attending school, the overwhelming whiteness of our student population, the failure of the school to hold anyone accountable for enacting violence against women and those of marginalized genders. Our questioning leads us right back to what we’ve always known: our school exploits its students and workers in order to maintain its institutional authority and wealth, and the Pitt Police force is the University’s private army that protects it from being penetrable.
So we demand change. We demand a world without police so we can create a world for each other, so we might be able to gather and grow with one another in a less alienating way.
Tuesday, November 14th, 2017, a small group of us entered the Chancellor’s office and stated that we would not leave until the Chancellor met our list of demands. We sat together on the floor of the office and read zines to one another while comrades stood outside the office doors telling fellow students what was happening. After less than ten minutes, security guards and police arrived and removed us from the office. After checking our student IDs, they told us that we were banned from all campus offices.
Not surprised at the administration’s routine disregard for student voices, we decided to continue our occupation of University space. Excited, scared and pissed, we brought flags, posters, zines, coloring supplies, books and snacks to a student study area on the second floor of the Cathedral of Learning. We sat down with confidence and declared that we were occupying the space. With comrades new and old, we plastered the walls with fliers, flags and art. We used the space for everything our teachers scolded us for doing in school: we shared food, played games, held political discussions and worked through interpersonal conflicts. After writing space agreements for our self-governance, we felt more at peace than we ever have walking the halls of our University.
Initially, campus police harassed us and repeatedly asked us to leave. They claimed we were singing too loud, disrupting the University’s normal flow of business. Essentially, they admitted that we were accomplishing our task. We ensured that there would be no business-as-usual that day.
When we told the police we wouldn’t leave the space, our desires grew into direct subversions of the system that has controlled us our entire lives. The police stared at us, not expecting anyone to refuse their command. We were able to say “no” with ease because the majority of the group was white, privileged variously under the social order. Our ability to refuse the police must be problematized by race, since our whiteness allows us to chip away at the hegemony of police power from a position of relative safety.
We know that our white comrades are not the primary target for policing. The violence of policing stems from the white supremacy and colonialism that built this country, and is continuously more devastating and prevalent in communities of color than in the lives of white people. We are enraged that police routinely terrorize students of color on our campus. We see the need for more dialogue on race and the role it plays in our theory and practice. Our actions are intended as acts of solidarity and resistance in the broader movement against police led by anarchist comrades and communities of color.
We occupy in hopes that all students can feel empowered to organize and resist autonomously; in hopes that one day we will occupy the entire University, and finally set it free.
By continuing to occupy, we undermined the police’s normal ability to rule spaces unchallenged. The space quickly became centered around sharing—students donated cookies, sleeping bags and pillows on their way to class. We played games, created art and invited people into conversations about the violence of policing and the capitalist hegemony inherent in the University. We experienced a free flow of resources and ideas, and remembered that we can create joy through vulnerability and trusting that we are capable of caring for one another.
We had intentions of sleeping in the space, but at 11 PM the Dean of Students led police in to the remove us. This was another reminder that the police and school administration serve each other, and that the force maintaining order within the University is the fear of violence and retribution. When the Dean of Students gave us the choice to leave, many cops stood behind him, reinforcing his words with the threat of their arms.
We decided not to occupy the inside of the Cathedral yesterday after receiving critiques about our strategy claiming that there is nothing radical about white people occupying space—white people have been taking and occupying space from the inception of this country. We take these critiques seriously and know that there are many more ways to center racism and the role of white supremacy in our politics and organizing. It is important that we continue to take time to slow down and listen to our friends as maintaining relationships and staying accountable to our broader community feels more important than sticking to a strict strategy that aligns with our political ideals.
Instead of occupying the space yesterday, Wednesday, we handed out 70 burritos and many zines with comrades from Food Not Bombs in efforts to strike up conversations with other students about anarchism, police violence and the politics of free food. This was an act of defiance in its own right. We have been harassed in the past for trying to set up Food Not Bombs and share fairs on campus grounds. The distribution of food is not permitted on campus, and our share fairs were seen as ‘demonstrations’ instead of movements towards mutual aid. But we will continue to provide for each other in the ways that the University will not.
Other crews did banner drops to keep up the spirit of dissent.
Even if our occupation lasted for only 15 hours, the power of that brief departure from daily life will fuel our fight against all that suffocates our autonomy. For a moment, we created a space where the authority of the University fell away and we could answer to the needs of the students by our own collective means.
This is one perspective of the many people who participated in the occupation. Different analyses may come.
-Steel City Autonomous Movement (SCAM) // Autonomous Student Network PGH