The signal fires from the third precinct in Minneapolis are clear: the end of this world is coming. The University of California will have no place in it. The modern university is woven into a system of settler colonialism, racial capitalism, anti-Blackness, and state violence. As the current Black-led anticolonial wave gestures toward the implosion of colonial-capitalist civilization, the University must come to terms with its own negation.
California is the fifth largest economy in the world, and the University of California is the third-largest employer in the state. The UC system was not only sedimented on the stolen lands of the Ohlone, Nisenan, Patwin, Tongva, Chumash, Kumeyaay, Acjachemen, Miwok, Cahuilla, Luiseño, and Serrano; it generated its early operating capital via the land-grab process afforded by the Morrill Act. In their investigative piece, “Land-grab universities: Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system,” Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone reveal that:
The University of California located all of its grant among these stolen lands. To capitalize on its 150,000 acres, the university ran a real estate operation that sold plots on installment plans, generating a lucrative combination of principal and interest payments. In the late 19th century, income from the fund — traceable to the lands of the Miwok, Yokuts, Gabrieleño, Maidu, Pomo and many more — covered as much as a third of the University of California’s annual operating expenses. (2020)
The endowment funds generated by the University of California’s wholesale theft and speculation of Indigenous lands amounted to over $19 million, as represented in 2020 USD. As Dene scholar Glen Coulthard argues, “settler-colonialism is territorially acquisitive in perpetuity” (Coulthard 2014, 152). For the UC system, this “primitive accumulation” — the outright dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands — is constitutive of both its real estate investments (the UC is also the largest landlord in California) and the initial operating capital that seeded its historical and ongoing accumulation and dispossession.
In “Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation”, Abigail Boggs, Eli Meyerhoff, Nick Mitchell, and Zach Schwartz-Weinstein critique the university as an institution that makes itself legible through shifting regimes of accumulation. Inspired by the work and analysis of abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore (e.g. Golden Gulag), they argue that historical cycles of global capital accumulation have continuously reconstituted the university as a malleable site to secure and mobilize surpluses of finance capital, land, labor, and state capacity. Thus, what we see critiqued today as the “neoliberal university” is merely the most recent materialization of austerity and privatization, underwritten by Indigenous dispossession, settler coloniality, anti-Blackness, border imperialism, and racial capitalism. The University is mutually constituted through these social relations of colonial and imperial violence. It is a stabilizing force within the system of global accumulation. The full scale violence of white settler capital in the United States, and California specifically, would be unintelligible without it.
The UC cannot be saved, nor should it be reformed. As Audre Lorde tells us, “the masters’ tools will never dismantle the masters’ house.” Abolition is the only option.
Abolish the UC is a formation of BIPOC, queer, and first-generation graduate student workers and our accomplices, drawn together by shared visions and antagonisms. The University wasn’t made for us, nor is it the locus of our desires. Some of us have been fired and cast aside by the administration, while others wrestle with the discomfort of our own complicity and the understanding that we’ll soon face a future of debt with little hope of employment anyway. We’ve used this space as an opportunity to talk with one another and to tell each other how we got here: how we arrived at abolition; what we mean when we say it; and importantly, why it matters, especially for our communities. We have come together with stories to tell and with lessons learned. We know more are forthcoming, but we want to mark this moment with our words, because we are now consciously reimagining a world beyond the University.
We are here for many reasons, arriving from just as many different paths. We’ve come here from places of frustration, despair, hope, love, and inspiration. Exhausted by the patronizing language of so-called allies and the tokenization of our identities and struggles, we’ve found refuge among comraderie and community.
For first-gen and poor students of color in particular, the university conjures up feelings of cognitive dissonance. Commonly viewed as a site of refuge for those on the underside of capitalist society, the university banks (literally) on its myth of erudition and progress. Yet once they arrive, students are forced to conform to the folly of professionalism and the performance of class-belonging that are as discomfiting as they are false. Our feelings of uneasiness and anxiety are dismissed as maladjustment, to be remedied by acclamations and more conformity. This is our sentipensar, our holistic way of thinking with feelings bestowed on us by our ancestors. It is our way of recognizing that something is wrong, that we are conflicted — caught between the hopes and dreams of our community and the violent nature of the university we encounter once we arrive.
As we build towards strong and viable alternatives, we will count on those on the inside, the saboteurs and subversives. Until we have our alternatives, we will rely on accomplices and guides in the undercommons, while we conspire and protect one another. The University cannot be recovered because, as revolutionary Assata Shakur reminds us, “no one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. No one is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that knowledge will help set you free.”
Abolition is a political tradition — rooted in the tactics, ideas, and efforts to end slavery, colonialism, patriarchy and the nation-state. Abolition is a framework that asks us to radically reimagine institutions such as the UC, in light of the entity’s complicity with genocide, slavery and the military and prison industrial complexes. Resisting neoliberalism, dismantling capitalism, and class struggle at large transform within this abolitionist framework. Thinking and moving deeper and beyond, abolition asks us to make these intersectional, complex connections and to operate from a politic that renders oppressive systems obsolete by building radical and community-grounded alternatives. One example of this is the abolitionist work to close prisons and detention centers while building restorative systems of community care and transformative justice in their place. For the UC, this would mean dismantling the increasingly privatized, corporatized and militarized university — an institution that is itself already built on the foundational violence of settler colonialism, genocide, and slavery — while also creating new ways of knowing and educating each other. We follow the path of our abolitionist ancestors such as Harriet Tubman, WEB DuBois, and Frantz Fanon, as well as (r)evolutionary elders and teachers such as Angela Davis, Ruthie Gilmore, and Dean Spade. Historical movements such as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) also guide this work, especially at the UC, as they envisioned and won a Third World College in 1969. As an ongoing struggle, we continue to be guided by the TWLF’s principles of self-determination, solidarity, and the creation of an education directly relevant to the needs of Black, Indigenous and POC communities.
However, more than a political vision of a world without prisons or policing, abolition is a project (or series of projects) of generative negation of the world as it exists, and of its racialized and gendered violences. Drawn from the Black Radical Tradition, abolition’s genealogy comes from hundreds of years of anticolonial struggles against conquest, white supremacy, and racial capitalism. It exceeds the utility of the “political,” and forces us to grapple with the implication that abolition really might mean abolishing everything. In the face of this, what is a vision?
We propose to start with a feeling, a visceral one. A feeling of yearning to be free from. Of practicing freedom in spite of. Of finding freedom in each other. Of failing ourselves and each other often, and living in our imperfection. Of acknowledging what is incommensurable within and between our visions of freedom. Of lighting (metaphorical) fires and letting them spread without knowing if the world(s) we desire will be found in the ashes. Of anarchic practices of freedom that render unintelligible the “well-meaning” non-profit types who gatekeep our struggles and our dreams. Of these anti-political antagonisms against racialized policing and the State that escape the narrow language and politics of “organizing,” and the lofty “radical” academic theorizations of freedom.
To “Abolish the UC” goes beyond the reform-minded proposals to transform the UC into a worker-student coop, and beyond the now-ubiquitous calls from within student movements to “democratize” the University. Democratize what? And for whom? We realize that there is nothing to be gained from appealing to an ideal. As a social relation, the University is a site for the reproduction of the structural violences of settler colonialism and racial capitalism. The same institution exploits our labor, and forces students and workers into ever greater levels of precarity. Much like the institution of policing, it cannot be reformed, democratized, or “saved.” It is absolutely inseparable from state violence and capital accumulation, and serves to reproduce The World — the one dependent on the labor of the people whom it will not hesitate to teargas, fire upon, surveil, charge, and expel should they protest their conditions or refuse to work. We are not here to render the incommensurable commensurate. We are not interested in securing the futurity of the “public” and “democratic” university — whether as an institution, as a formation, as a structure, or a constellation of social and more-than-human relations. We will not resign “abolition” to the metaphorical. Abolition is not a metaphor.
Coalescing through the wave of labor and student organizing that kicked off within and beyond the UC system in 2019, we share common frustrations with the approaches, visions, and whiteness of the mainstream student movement. To “Abolish the UC” means resisting interpellation by white radicals who can’t hope to grasp the content (or even the form) of our desires. It means pushing back against the reformism of those “middle managers” of the struggle — liberals, social-democrats, and “socialists” — who retain an idealist investment in the University and their positions within it. And it means a steadfast antagonism to all forms of hierarchy, coercion, and control: to prisons, borders, property, and policing. Stopping short of imagining a world beyond the University — beyond the institutionalization of knowledge formation and praxis — is to resign ourselves to the logics of racial capitalism, accumulation, dispossession, settler colonialism, and anti-Blackness. We reject the limits of the University; we reject the University itself. Instead, we ask, what exists beyond its horizons?
We are interested in models of organizing, strategies, and tactics that refuse recuperation into the University’s mechanisms of self-valorization. What strategies can we imagine that subvert and destabilize the structural relations on which this institution depends, rather than concretize them via the rhetoric of the “public university” or “democratizing the university”? What are strategies that instead center expropriation of resources that both systemically challenge accumulation while also ensuring the ability to support and center the communities most targeted by its violence?
There is no salvation for an institution invested in dispossession, deportation, and immiseration. The UC has destroyed communities that came before us and continues to enact violence on the people and communities to whom we are accountable. We’ve been left with no other option. This is why we say: “Abolish the UC!”
While we inhabit various levels of engagement and complicity with the University and its violences, we view our various positionalities as a means to expropriate resources and institutional access to serve the larger project of abolition. Academia is dangerously recuperative, so we aspire to remain forever (if imperfectly and incompletely) unintelligible and antagonistic to those who would have us compromise our desires for something else. We’re here to cause a fuckin ruckus.
What follows is a collection of articles, creative works, personal reflections, and skill shares from comrades, accomplices, and homies across the UC (and beyond) who dare to reckon with the world-ending implications of abolition, and who share a dissatisfaction with the ‘radical’ visions currently on offer in campus-based organizing. These contributions mean to disorient and subvert the narrative that the UC tells us about itself. They expose the violence that is constitutional to this miserable configuration of debt, dispossession, and exploitation, which the UC likes to refer to as “teaching, research and public service.”
We hope this Guide serves to elaborate an emergent (anti)political tendency rooted in uncompromising anticolonialism, anticapitalism, and abolition. This is by nature an incomplete project, and we invite you all to continue, expand, and challenge these conversations wherever you are. While we engage deeply with various ideas and theories, we do not aspire to form another banal academic journal for armchair radicals. We do not want to be legible to the University. We want to destroy its gaze. Our goal is to spark something different across the physical (and virtual) spaces of the colonial-capitalist University, widening and expanding the cracks in its foundation, and using its ruins as kindling for insurrectionary fires. Don’t get it twisted: this is a declaration of war.
Out of the seminars and into the streets!
Love, rage, and solidarity always,
‘Abolish the UC!’