Take Back the Balcony!, Thursday night, Bob Burdalski
From 10 pm on February 18th 2009 to 2 pm on February 20th, students of Take Back NYU! occupied the Kimmel Center for University Life in a historic effort to bring pressure on NYU for its administrative and ethical failings regarding transparency, democracy and protection of human rights.
During the occupation students rallied hundreds of supporters to the streets of New York, drew national and international press coverage, and sparked a long-needed discussion about the NYU community. For these reasons and more, Take Back NYU! believes the occupation represents a historic moment, and by many measures a success.
However, we also recognize that our occupation was not a full success. When we succeeded, we did so because the passion of our movement shone through the smoke and mirrors cast by the NYU administration. When we failed it was only because we underestimated the lengths NYU will go to in order to deter any real criticism of its policies.
The administration demonstrated their steadfast commitment to ignoring its students. Members of Take Back NYU! didn”t even see the face of NYU negotiator Lynne Brown until 26 hours into the occupation. Throughout, the administration only gave disingenuous offers of discussion without negotiation, which the students readily rejected. NYU”s refusal to negotiate contrasts sharply with good-faith negotiations made by other universities during similar occupations.
We believe that our occupation gave NYU the opportunity to become a leader among universities and to build our community around strong commitments to democracy, transparency and respect for human rights. Instead, NYU said “pass” and chose to stick to its narrow interests at the expense of genuine discussion.
In the course of defending its secrets, NYU put students and its security guards at risk by encouraging the use of physical force to end a non-violent protest. NYPD officers used billy-clubs and mace against demonstrators outside the building. These acts of aggression have gone unmentioned and unquestioned in the course of NYU”s handling of the occupation.
This protest is just a beginning to what is to come. The action made national and international news, and showcased the real power of the new student movement sweeping the globe. Here in New York, a City Council member, Charles Barron, has publicly endorsed our campaign and shamed the University for its mishandling of student protest. Actions at universities around the city will continue in the weeks to come.
No doubt NYU will begin attempting disciplinary action, but no suspensions, expulsions or arrests can contain what began in the last two days. This fight will carry on in the hands of the dozens of people who made it inside, and the hundreds more who came out to support the occupation. NYU showed its irrational need to defend secrecy and its exclusive hold on power, and that alone will drive this movement forward.
In the immediate future, we hope to have the opportunity to discuss the core issues of the occupation with the NYU community, including the administration. Take Back NYU! remains willing to open negotiations about these issues, should NYU decided to come forth in good-faith. In the mean time, we encourage supporters to contact administrators to ask that NYU end suspensions, drop threats of expulsion and that students be allowed to remain in their residences on campus. The willingness to express and act on dissent should not result in the disruption of students” education or housing.
For everyone showing support: the real lesson here is that you can act and you can make a difference. Take the lessons from the occupation on to your own struggle, and begin to act yourself.