The Ides of October
October 7th was the occasion of many actions at college campus nationally with a heavy concentration in California. There were rallies, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, and merriment at nearly every UC campus, UCLA not being an exception. Organized by the UC Fights Back Coalition which unites student groups and unions, the events at UCLA included balloon drops, teach-ins on various aspects of the economic crisis, a rally, and a march/radical tour of UCLA which stopped at different sites on campus where students spoke of past radical actions that have happened or the effects of budget cuts on various aspects of the university. The march paraded through the halls of these buildings, momentarily interrupting the normality of campus life to evoke UCLA’s radical history and find ways to collectively name the unannounced effects of austerity measures. We disrupted the quiet of the library and tumbled into lecture halls full of 300 students with drums and festivity.
The actions on October 7th at UCLA and more broadly at campuses state-wide highlight two connections between the arts and student organizing. First, student activism frequently invokes the slippage between a political event and an art event. Students use artistic media – particularly music, paintings, poetry, dance – in how they organize, how politics is done. Student movements, like other social movements, have their own cultural production. This use of artistic media within student organizing helps to give an action a performativity; organizers do not direct the mobilizations to some imagined listener but enact a certain kind of politics amongst those present.
However, one must be a bit wary of foregrounding the artist in social movements. The artist is often a figure that is instrumentalized behind her back and used for any number of political interests. The artist has become the poster child for neoliberal labor markets: the continued expansion of professionalization accompanied by the simultaneous eclipse of full-time work and a decent wage. So while the artist may be useful to student movements, one must not reify the work of the artist without interrogating the politics that are at play.
Olive Odille is a PHD student in Culture and Performance at UCLA.