“Scenes from the Wildcat Strike” is not your typical political education document. It is extended in its analysis and epistolary in its form; it is also authored in three voices. And on its surface, it is not explicitly a story about borders. Yet we have nonetheless positioned it squarely and deliberately as the political education document in our special issue on borderland regimes and resistance in global perspectives. For us, the story of the 2019–20 graduate strike at UC Santa Cruz for a living wage—including the university-funded, violent police repression of the strike, the sustained disciplinary actions taken against striking students, the threats of de facto deportation leveled at international and undocumented students, and the subtle and not-so-subtle warnings directed at faculty allies—is a story about borders, violence, and resistance.
Borders are both policed and troubled in this story. The illusory border between student and worker was laid bare by the strikers. The border between the university and its community was weaponized as it became clear how quickly membership in the university community could be revoked and how the language of “community” could be seized by police through “mutual aid” collaborations between different campus branches of the University of California Police Department (UCPD) to suppress the strike. The “open borders” of knowledge to which the university lays claim, particularly with its emphasis on “diversity and inclusion,” were rendered farcical as students’ citizenship status became yet another strike-breaking tool. Indeed, the authors of this political education document detail multiple kinds of borders and bordering processes, both material and discursive—from the deadline, to the picket line, to the police line.
This story is also simultaneously a local and a global one. The local police crackdown on striking graduate students in a small coastal California town was enabled in part by military surveillance technologies that are deployed against those subjected to US militarism abroad.1 The local display of California cops converging on Santa Cruz at the rate of $300,000 per day2 also unearthed the symbiotic relationship between policing and immigration enforcement—a relationship that is not limited to the territorial borders of the United States but is instead characterized by technologies that are shared between borderland regimes.
Finally, this archive of the strike is a political education document because it tells us something about tactics and organizing in the face of violent repression. This document has much to teach about tactics not because grad students “won”—they have yet to receive the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) they were striking for, as much as the university would like to position a $2,500 annual housing stipend and the reinstatement of fired graduate students as a win for the movement and a satisfying conclusion to months of political “unrest” on campus. Instead, this document teaches us about tactics because the strike articulated a political vision that continues to resonate with students and faculty organizing across University of California campuses and beyond, one summarized in the ubiquitous strike chant, “Cops off campus, COLA in our bank accounts!” These twinned goals are not naive, impractical, or impossible demands; they represent a concrete vision for the future that the students on our campuses deserve: campuses free of police and the racialized violence they bring with them and a future where they can afford to live where they work. The strikers’ analysis of the connection between labor and policing was a powerful political intervention about the dynamics of racial capitalism in the university, and so it is also no surprise that many from the COLA struggle have now turned their efforts toward the goal of abolishing UCPD in 2021.
As you will see in the account that follows, those who organized in support of the COLA strike crafted new relationships with each other that resisted the university’s business as usual, named the multiple violences that greeted their mobilizations, and found joy in the in-between.
Lauren Kaori Gurley, “California Police Used Military Surveillance Tech at Grad Student Strike,” VICE, May 15, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en/article/7kppna/california-police-used-military-surveillance-tech-at-grad-student-strike.
Elena Neale, “Graduate Students on Strike,” City on a Hill Press, February 13, 2020, https://www.cityonahillpress.com/2020/02/13/graduate-students-on-strike/.