This extract introduces the struggle across California against cuts and fee increases, and the meaning of solidarity in action.

From the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010, the struggle in California to ‘defend public education’ became something very different. On 24 September 2009, thousands of students, staff, workers and faculty across the University of California (UC) system walked out in protest of fee hikes, layoffs, furloughs and cuts to departments and services.

At the end of that day, a group of students and teachers entered the Graduate Student Commons building at UC Santa Cruz and occupied it for a week. The months to come saw a sequence of direct actions up and down the state, too many to detail here. Later in September and October, there were study-ins, sit-ins, and open occupations at libraries in the UC and California State University (CSU) system.

In November, while the UC Regents met at UCLA to discuss – and ultimately approve – a 32 percent fee hike, along with further cuts and layoffs, campuses erupted across the state, setting off an intense three-day wave of occupations, marches, sit-ins, blockades, demonstrations, arrests and shut-downs in Davis, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Fresno and San Francisco.

They held assemblies and argued about what to do and how to do it, dropped banners that declared WE ARE THE CRISIS, angered some, impelled others. They threw dance parties in common spaces and wore masks to hide their faces.

They wrote anonymous texts and built analyses together. They made demands they knew wouldn’t be met, and they refused to make demands. Afar, there were solidarity marches in New York City and Vienna, two cities where university occupations before and during this period furthered the sense both of a shared crisis and an explicitly anti-capitalist response that exceeded the particular ‘budget squeeze’ of California.

In December, students at San Francisco State University occupied the business building and renamed it Oscar Grant Memorial Hall after a young black man murdered by police a year before. The ‘Live Week’ at Berkeley, where Wheeler Hall was held open during the ‘dead week’ before finals, ended when police came in the early morning and arrested the occupiers.

That night, a mob with torches attacked the chancellor’s mansion. In the new year: library sit-ins at Davis, arrests and police confrontations at a benefit party for prior arrestees in San Francisco, a street party and riot in Berkeley following an occupation, and tireless planning for the long-anticipated state-wide strike on 4 March and week of actions. The 4th was a day of massive marches, rallies, demonstrations and occupations as students blocked entrances to their schools, made it possible for workers to join the picket lines, brought businesses to a halt, and spilled from their campuses into their cities and, in Oakland and Davis, onto the freeways.

The texts which follow – a thin slice of the mass of writing across the state during those months – speak for themselves. However, two guiding points should be made to help situate them alongside texts and analyses from other struggles in other parts of the world.

First, one will notice the particular emphasis throughout on occupations and on barricades, of seizing buildings and blocking entrance to them. This should not be taken as a mere rhetorical deployment or theoretical figure, as the practice of occupation means something quite distinct in the American context – a meaning elaborated in the texts that follow. Unlike occupations of university buildings in England, Austria, Germany, and elsewhere, where students are often allowed to remain undisturbed for extended periods of time without an invasive police presence, the events in California, like those in New York the previous spring, showed again and again that those taking the space have a very limited period of time before police will attempt to enter the building.

To speak of barricades is therefore not, first and foremost, a hearkening back to a language of street-fighting and revolutionary situations. It is a practical issue: if the doors are not blocked and controlled by those inside, occupiers will – and did – shortly find themselves forcibly removed, beaten and arrested.

Second, many of the texts included here were ascribed to, and helped develop the theoretical direction of, what was variously called the adventurist, insurrectionary, anarchist, communist, ultra-left, or anti-capitalist tendency within the ‘movement’. I cannot clarify the murkier questions of what that tendency looked like ‘as a whole’ or its degree of internal cohesion. Instead, I will add only a qualification that may not be immediately apparent in the texts themselves.

One of the more striking aspects of this sequence of struggle was that, however significant the divisions may have been between the desired ends, relations to the university system, and declared political stances of those involved, the genuine moments of advance and rupture were the instances, however fleeting, when these divisions proved irrelevant in the face of tactical considerations and the fact of coming together not in abstract solidarity, but in acts.

An anecdote from Santa Cruz may help to clarify this. Before one of the state-wide days of action in the spring, it became evident that many of the unionized service workers who had faced the nastiest effects of the cuts would be legally unable to join the mass of students, faculty, workers and those who didn’t fit cleanly into one of those three positions – legally unable and subject to punishment, that is, unless they could ‘get safely’ onto campus.

On the morning of the action, every point of access to the campus was blocked with rows of bodies, including many of those ‘anarchists in black’ designated as anti-union, or with material barricades. Consequently, those workers had to be given the day off, and they joined with everyone gathered outside the shut-down campus. That is to say: there is no solidarity that is not a doing – nothing other than a recognition of what is not held in common, the distances separating where we begin apart from each other, and, above all, what it takes to come together against the order of the day.